I'm Sorry

She closed the book, placed it on the table and, finally, decided to walk through the door. Rose glanced once again at the journal. It had been there when she entered the room, open to the page that could have been written just for her.

“I am going in there now. It’s time to tell John goodbye.”

Had her father died here?

Five years ago he had walked out of the house. His car, his clothes, his personal effects all left behind. Hospitals had been searched, accident reports examined, and morgues investigated. Nothing.

Rose had thrown herself into school, then work. But her mother remained lost in grief and guilt for something she could never define. Searching for some fault she could have remedied in time. Last month, her mother had killed herself, somehow plunging a knife into her own throat. Rose had found her, lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, one hand clenched in rigor around the bone handle of her weapon.

She wondered if her father knew, if he were alive somewhere, reading about the bizarre suicide of the woman who had been his wife.

And then, after the funeral… The stranger, veiled in black, stepped out of the shrubbery near the chapel entrance and handed Sophie a card. “This is where your father lived,” she whispered and, before Rose could voice a reply, vanished the way she had come.

Now her heels clicked on the parquet floor as she walked across the library to a small door almost hidden between the towering book stacks. Her enameled nails were bright as drops of fresh blood against the old wood as she grasped an antique brass knob.

Rose tugged at the belt of her coat, as if a tighter fit would somehow shield her from whatever she would find, and opened the door. The dark beyond the threshold had a physical presence.

She trailed one hand over the wall, feeling for a light switch, but encountered nothing. Then the light from the library crept over the doorsill and Rose picked out a window, swathed in heavy drapery, on the further wall.

She crossed the room and pushed the drapes aside, admitting a soft shaft of early evening light. The room was small, bare except for an enormous four-poster bed, enclosed by a heavy brocaded bed curtain. Rose stayed rooted to the floor. She had discovered the dead body of her mother. Was she about to discover that of her father, as well?

Then, feeling like someone moving through water, she approached the bed. Curtain pulls hung at the corners. She moved around the room in a daze, methodically pulling each one, until the bed stood swathed in light. A white coverlet billowed where it had been pushed to the foot.

The stake cast a dark shadow on the snowy sheets where it stood embedded. Other shadows lay among the creases in the crumpled bed clothes. Rose reached out a tentative finger. Ash. The bed was coated with ashes.

“He asked me to do it.”

Rose nearly fell as she whirled about, but caught herself on a bed post.

“He missed your mother so. He finally went to her, hoping she would join him. But when he saw the horror in her eyes, he stopped. It was too late to save her life, but he had to cover his tracks. It broke his heart.”

The woman stayed in the shadows, her veil covering all but her face. “I thought he would want you to know.” Small white teeth gleamed fleetingly in the ambient light.