Chapter no 9

Hidden Pictures

Caroline is home from work at five thirty and I resist the temptation to ambush her as soon as she walks through the door. She’s busy, she’s distracted, she needs to greet her son and start making dinner. So when she asks about our day, I just smile and tell her everything is fine.

I go out for a run but I’m still tired from the night before and after thirty minutes I give up. I walk past the Flower Castle, but there’s no sign of Adrian or his family. I go home and shower; I microwave a frozen burrito and try to lose myself in a Hallmark movie. But I’m too distracted to concentrate. My mind keeps going back to the last drawing, to the picture of the hands squeezed tight around Anya’s throat.

I wait until nine o’clock, until I’m certain Teddy will be asleep in his bedroom. Then I gather the three most recent drawings and step outside. I hear voices whispering in the wind and I recognize two figures sitting out by the pool. Ted and Caroline are dressed in white robes and sharing a bottle of wine. They look like the happy couples you see in advertisements for cruise ships—like they’ve just embarked on a seven-day excursion with Royal Caribbean. Caroline is lying back in Ted’s lap and he is gently massaging her shoulders.

“Just a quick dip,” he’s saying. “To relax you.” “I’m already relaxed.”

“Then should we go upstairs?” “What about Teddy?”

“What about Teddy? He’s asleep.”

I step lightly over the soft springy grass and I’m halfway across the yard when my heel comes down on a sprinkler head. My ankle twists and I fall on my tailbone, slamming my elbow into the ground, and I can’t help it: I cry out in pain.

Caroline and Ted come running across the yard. “Mallory? Are you all right?” I’ve got my hand cupped over my elbow

—the pain is so sudden and searing, I’m certain I’m bleeding. But when I lift my fingers to look, I see the skin is bruised but not broken.

“I’m okay. I just tripped.”

“Let’s get you into the light,” Ted says. “Can you stand up?”

“I just need a minute.”

Ted doesn’t wait. He slides his arm under my knees, then stands and carries me like a child. He walks me back to the pool deck and gently lowers me into a patio chair.

“I’m fine,” I tell them. “Really.”

Caroline inspects my elbow anyway. “What were you doing in the yard? Did you need something?”

“It can wait.”

Through it all, I’ve managed to keep my grip on the three drawings, and Caroline sees them. “Did Teddy do these?”

At this point I decide I have nothing left to lose. “He asked me not to show you. But I think you ought to look at them.”

Caroline studies the pictures and her face falls. Then she shoves the papers into her husband’s hands.

“This is your fault,” she says.

Ted sees the first picture and laughs. “Oh, dear. Is this person being strangled?”

“Yes, Ted, she’s being murdered and her body is being dragged through a forest and I wonder where our sweet gentle little boy got all these terrible ideas?”

Ted raises both hands in a show of surrender. “Brothers Grimm,” he explains. “I read him a different story every night.”

“These aren’t the Disney versions,” Caroline tells me. “The original stories are much more violent. You know that scene in Cinderella, where the wicked stepsister tries on the glass slipper? In the original, she slices off her toes to make it fit. The slipper fills with blood. It’s horrifying!”

“He’s a boy, Caroline. Boys love this stuff!”

“I don’t care. It’s not healthy. Tomorrow I’m going to the library and getting some Disney storybooks. No strangling, no murders, just good clean G-rated fun.”

Ted tips the bottle of wine into his glass and gives himself an extra-large pour. “Now that’s my idea of horror,” he says. “But what do I know? I’m just the boy’s father.”

“And I’m the licensed psychiatrist.”

They look at me like they’re waiting for me to choose a side, to declare which parent is right.

“I don’t think this is a fairy tale,” I tell them. “Teddy says he’s getting these ideas from Anya. He says Anya is telling him what to draw.”

“Of course he does,” Caroline says. “Teddy knows we won’t approve of these pictures. He knows it’s wrong to draw women being strangled and killed and buried. But if Anya says it’s okay, then he’s allowed to proceed. He can achieve a kind of cognitive dissonance.”

Ted’s nodding along with his wife, like this all makes perfect sense, but I have no idea what she’s talking about. Cognitive dissonance?

“Teddy says he’s drawing Anya’s story. He says the man in the pictures stole Anya’s little girl.”

“That’s classic Brothers Grimm,” Ted explains. “Half their stories have children gone missing. Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, Godfather Death—”

“Godfather Death?” Caroline shakes her head. “Please, Ted. These stories. They’re too much. You need to stop.”

Ted takes another look at the drawings and at last he surrenders. “All right, fine. From now on, I’ll stick with Dr. Seuss. Or Richard Scarry. But I will not read those awful Berenstain Bears, that’s where I draw the line.” He puts an arm around Caroline and squeezes her shoulder. “You win, hon, okay?”

And he’s acting like the matter is resolved, like now we should all go inside and call it a night. But I worry that if I don’t ask my question now, I might never have another opportunity. “I just thought of one other possibility,” I tell them. “What if Anya is Annie Barrett?”

Caroline is confused. “Who?”

“The woman murdered in my cottage. In the 1940s. What if Teddy goes into his bedroom for Quiet Time and communicates with her spirit?”

Ted laughs like I’ve made a joke—and Caroline shoots another angry look in his direction. “What, seriously? You mean like a ghost?”

There’s no turning back now. I need to outline my case: “The names are so similar. Annie and Anya. Plus, you said that Teddy never liked to draw in Barcelona. But as soon as you moved back to the United States—as soon as you moved onto this property—where Annie Barrett disappeared

—he started drawing like crazy. Those were your exact words: ‘like crazy.’”

“I just meant he has an active imagination.”

“But he’s talking to someone. In his bedroom. I stand at his door listening, and he’s having long conversations.”

Caroline narrows her eyes. “Do you hear the ghost, too? Do you hear the sad baleful voice of Annie Barrett giving art direction to my son?” I admit that I don’t, and Caroline reacts like this proves something. “Because he’s talking to himself, Mallory. It’s a sign of intelligence. Gifted children do it all the time.”

“But what about his other problems?” “Problems? Teddy has problems?”

“He wets his bed. He wears the same striped shirt every day. He refuses to play with other children. And now he’s drawing pictures of a woman getting murdered. You add all that up, Caroline, I don’t know. I’m worried. I think he should see a doctor.”

“I am a doctor,” Caroline says, and all-too-late I realize I’ve struck a nerve.

Ted reaches for her wineglass and fills it. “Honey, here.”

She waves it off. “I am fully capable of assessing my child’s mental health.”

“I know—”

“Really? You don’t sound like you do.”

“I’m just worried. Teddy is such a sweet, gentle, innocent boy. But these drawings feel like they’re coming from a different place. They feel dirty to me. Impure. Mitzi thinks—”

“Mitzi? You showed these pictures to Mitzi?”

“She thinks maybe you disturbed something. When you renovated the guest cottage.”

“You talked to Mitzi before you came to us?” “Because I knew you would react this way!”

“If you mean rationally, then yes, you’re right, I don’t believe a word that woman says. Neither should you. She’s a burnout, Mallory. She’s a drugged-up, fucked-up mess!”

And the words just hang between us. I’ve never heard Caroline swear before. I’ve never heard her use this kind of language to describe an addict.

“Look,” Ted says. “We appreciate your concern, Mallory.” He rests a hand on his wife’s knee. “Don’t we, hon? We’re big believers in honest communication.”

“But we will not blame Teddy’s bedwetting on ghosts,” Caroline says. “You understand that, right? The state would take away my license. Bedwetting is normal. Being shy is normal. Having a pretend playmate is normal. And these pictures—”


We all turn and there’s Teddy—standing on the far side of the pool fence, dressed in his fire truck pajamas and holding his Godzilla doll. I have no idea how long he’s been waiting or how much he’s heard.

“I can’t fall asleep.”

“Go back to your room and try again,” Caroline says. “It’s late, big guy,” Ted says.

Their son looks down at his bare feet. The light from the swimming pool casts his body in a murky blue glow. He looks anxious, like maybe he doesn’t want to go back alone. “Go on,” Caroline tells him. “I’ll check on you in twenty

minutes. But you need to try on your own.”

“Oh, and buddy?” Ted calls. “No more pictures of Anya, okay? You’re scaring Mallory.”

Teddy turns to me—wounded, eyes wide with betrayal. “No, no, no,” I tell him. “It’s fine—”

Ted holds up the three drawings. “No one wants to see these, buddy. They’re too scary. From now on, draw nice things, okay? Horses, sunflowers.”

Teddy turns and runs across the lawn.

Caroline scowls at her husband. “That was not the right thing to say.”

Ted shrugs and takes another sip of wine. “The kid needs to hear it sooner or later. He starts school in two months. You think his teachers won’t have the same concerns?”

She stands up. “I’m going inside.”

I stand up, too. “Caroline, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just worried.”

She doesn’t stop or turn around, just marches across the lawn toward the house. “It’s fine, Mallory. Good night.”

But it’s obviously not fine. This is even worse than the last time she yelled at me. She’s so angry, she won’t even look at me. And I feel silly for crying but I can’t help myself.

Why did I have to mention Mitzi? Why couldn’t I keep my mouth shut?

Ted pulls me close and lets me rest my head on his chest. “Listen, it’s okay, you were just being honest. But when it comes to raising children, the mother is always right. Even when she’s wrong. Do you know what I mean?”

“I’m just worried—”

“Leave the worrying to Caroline. She’ll worry enough for the both of you. She’s very protective of Teddy, haven’t you noticed? We struggled a long time to have him. It was a lot of work. And the ordeal—I guess it left her feeling insecure. Now, on top of all that, she’s gone back to work—a whole new reason to feel guilty! So anytime something goes wrong, my wife takes it very personally.”

I hadn’t considered this before, but everything Ted is saying rings true. In the mornings, when Caroline is running out the door for work, she always seems guilty about leaving the house. Maybe even jealous that I’m the person who gets to stay home and bake cupcakes with Teddy. I’ve been so busy admiring Caroline, I’ve never stopped to think that she might be envious of me.

I’ve managed to catch my breath and stop crying. Ted seems anxious to get back to his house, to check on his wife, and I have one more request before he goes. I hand him the three drawings, absolving myself of all responsibility. “Would you mind taking these? So I don’t have to look at them anymore?”

“Of course.” Ted folds the pages in half and then rips them into pieces. “You’ll never have to see these pictures again.”


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