The Mansion, the Chandelier, and the Belle


While working for his older brother, Butch Collier was staying in a twenty-room brick mansion scheduled to be demolished for a subdivision. Since I also worked for his brother, I met Butch there one afternoon to pick up my paycheck. The mansion’s opening foyer was huge and tall—it missed just fifteen years being antebellum, that was the rumor. Another rumor was that the original owners had made their money during the Civil War in manufacturing hemp for the Union Navy’s rope, and also in charcoal for the Union Army’s gunpowder. So, the chandelier on the ceiling seemed hung, not like a star, but more like a harvest moon, dangling finger bones of Confederate soldiers as glittering champagne pendants. I stepped on something and looked down to see a tooth.

“There’s a big yellow dog hangs around here. Leaves stuff everywhere. They’re going to sell that chandelier before they tear this place down. My brother says it’ll probably bring three thousand bucks.”

I nodded. “My friend, Galen, used to come here and screw the owner’s daughter.”

The chandelier gave a tinkle that caught my attention, but which Butch ignored.

“This your friend I met who’s screwed every woman in Lexington between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five?”

“Sixteen and forty,” I corrected. “He’s says the older ones teach him what he doesn’t know.”

Butch gave a grin. His teeth were small and even, and he was a stocky fellow who’d played football two years in our high school but had to drop out to work for his brother. Butch was one of those young people you occasionally meet whose hormones hadn’t kicked in, might never kick in. Or maybe he just busied himself with other matters to avoid them.

I was a sophomore at the university, and Butch saved me economically, getting me out of shoveling pizzas into ovens for four dollars an hour. I even dropped weight from installing insulation for Butch’s brother, maybe because of all the itching and hot baths, which I learned later were just the opposite of what I should have taken, since heat opened my pores to let in the fibers. Maybe I should have slept with a forty-year-old to improve my knowledge base.

“The daughter you’re talking about hung herself,” Butch said. “That’s why this place went up for sale.”

“From that chandelier?”

“You’ve seen too many movies. How would she get up there?” Butch reappraised the chandelier. “It would have held her, though.” He walked to a roll-top desk and retrieved my check.

“No insulating tomorrow. Rick wants us to get some things here ready for auction. You want to spend the night?”

I looked up from my check, which was larger than three weeks of pizza work, minus all the cheese calories and draft beer I could sneak, still being underage—another reason that I’d lost weight.

“If you stayed, we could get an early start.” Butch’s eye twitched. Butch was a pale fellow, from working inside all the time, I supposed. His haircut matched his name. “I’ll order some pizza,” he said. “Or something else, if….”

“Oh, no, I still love pizza. I need to go home and get a change of clothes.”

“Just be back before dark. There’s a security patrol to keep vandalism down in the outlying property. Besides, this place turns creepy at night. That yellow dog’s the least of the weirdness.”

I nodded and drove home.

Galen was my prime source of beer. When I told him where I was going, and asked him to buy beer for me, he looked up from the mask he was carving, replying, “I need to get something from that place.”

“They’ve cleaned a lot of it out.”

“It’ll be there.”

I called Butch to let him know about the new plan. He chuckled and said that Galen would either need to spend the night too or leave before the security patrol started.

“I’ll take my truck,” Galen said, his attention back to the mask, which vaguely resembled a woman I’d seen around the campus’s hippie bar. Galen had started woodworking just that year, but he was like one of those kids who picked up a guitar and played like McCartney within a week. He’d already gotten a job in an antique furniture shop repairing or flat out re-creating broken newels, knobs, and spindles.

“What is it you left out there?”

“You’ll see. That woman was as hot as burning charcoal,” he added. “Flaming red hair and freckles everywhere. Even on her ass.”

It was hard to beat Galen for instant pornography. We drove to the liquor store for beer and a bottle of Medoc wine, which struck me as hardly compatible with pizza.

“I’m not planning on hanging around long for pizza. I’m meeting someone.”

Of course, I thought.

“That woman, the freckled redhead, she was wound-up crazy.” Galen managed to open the wine and pour some in a coffee cup. “She wanted me to marry her and run the plantation. Thought we could raise goats and sell the cheese on those two hundred acres in the middle of Fayette County. Had a dog named Louie, Louie.”

“A big yellow dog?” Galen looked up again and nodded. “He’s still there,” I told him.

Galen spilled wine and licked his fingers. After driving back to get Galen’s pick-up, we arrived at the mansion right after Butch, who was carrying in three pizzas. Galen held his bottle of wine in one hand, his cup in the other, and was staring at the house, almost tripping. I followed his gaze and saw it concentrated on a window with one pane missing.

“The crazy bitch threw my boot through that window.”

Hearing this, Butch shook his head. A crow hopped on the bottom of the empty pane, from inside the room. It looked at us and then flew away with something shiny dangling from its mouth.

“Hope that’s not what you wanted to get,” Butch commented.

“It’s not.”

“That crow comes and goes in that room. What do I care?”

“That was her room, her bedroom.”

“Got any hot stories?”

“So how long did you date her?”

Butch and I asked our questions at the same time. I was surprised at Butch’s fervor, the way his hormones were on the rise, or maybe that’s how he kept them at bay, vicarious sex.

“Too long, seven months. And yeah, that redhead stayed one long, hot story. Let’s go in and I’ll tell you some.”

Outside, Galen had been jaunty and cavalier. Inside, his mood changed when he spotted the chandelier, which began to sway when we entered.

“Wind from the door?” I asked.

“That damn thing weighs two hundred pounds. No wind….”

Galen stopped Butch. “She hung herself nude from that. The handyman found her. We were friends and he told me. She’d gotten a ladder from the shed, then kicked it away. He took the ladder back out before calling the cops. They fussed at him for interfering with a crime scene. He also cleaned up what was underneath. She’d aborted a fetus. He didn’t think it was anyone’s business.”

I popped a beer, which seemed the only answer to that tidbit. I handed one to Butch. The chandelier was still tinkling and swaying.

“I’m here, Regina.” Galen half-yelled. He didn’t have much of a yell, maybe Navy saltwater took it out of him, or maybe being inside the mansion upset him. He stared at the chandelier. “She knew she’d get me back here.”

“Was it your baby?”

Galen took a sip of wine, still staring at the chandelier. “Let’s go up to her room,” he said.

“Pizza?” Butch asked.

“You two go ahead. I have somewhere to be.”

But we didn’t go ahead. We followed Galen up the stairs.

“I don’t come up here unless I have to,” Butch repeated. “It gives me the willies.”

“How’s that?” I asked, since Galen kept mum.

“Things shift. Something knocks things over, that crow maybe. There are small grunts, like ‘Ugh, ugh,’ and then a long ‘ooooh.’”

Galen stopped on the stairs. “She always made that sound right before she climaxed.”

Butch and I looked at one another and rolled our eyes, figuring Galen was putting us on. We bumped into him and he started up again. The chandelier below kept up its insistent tinkling. The Confederate finger bones were getting a workout.

“My brother says the house is shifting. He thinks it might be because they’ve cut down so many trees and messed up the water table. I’m not sure where that big yellow dog manages to hide.”

“Louie, Louie,” Galen called out.


“That’s his name, like the Kingsmen song.”

We reached the top step and looked across the hallway stretching to our right. Daylight still came in one window at the head of the steps before us, and from another at the end of the hallway, a good eighty feet off.

“There it is.” Galen pointed to a closed door. “Her bedroom.”

I grabbed his arm and nodded toward the crack at bottom of the door, where a shadow moved back and forth. I thought I heard footsteps.

Butch moved forward. “Hey, no one is supposed to be up here!” He opened the door. A crow, its total blackness pervading the room, hopped on the windowsill with the empty pane. Once more, clutching something in its beak.

“Shoo!” Butch said.

The crow stayed on the sill and just stared at us. Rather, it stared at Galen.

“Let it be. As you said, ‘What’s it matter?’” Galen tilted his head at the crow, which held a white feather in its beak. Then he looked over to what I supposed had been her bed. “They left that fancy poster bed?” he asked.

“The first workers freaked out and refused to go back into this room. They swore and told my brother that blood and flesh dripped from the wallpaper, that a baby whimpered.”

Galen walked to the bed and sat on it, putting a hand on the ripped pillow that the crow was evidently pilfering feathers from. “You wanted me to slap you when we made love once, remember? . . . And when I did, you screamed out, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And I answered, ‘That’s what you said you wanted me to do.’” Galen looked from the crow to us. “She was crazy as hell.”

The crow perched motionless. Butch made a flapping motion, but Galen once more admonished him to let the bird be.

“Well, you got me back here. I want my ring. I want my necklace.”

The bird shifted, hanging onto the feather it had filched from the pillow.

“I’m wise to your nuthead tricks,” Galen insisted, now speaking to the crow, his voice cracking. He turned to us. “I made a bone ring and necklace for her. She said it was an engagement set. Who has ever heard of an engagement set made of bone?” He looked at the corner baseboard and walked over to it. “You two ever seen that Hitchcock movie where the guy opens a safe and sets off a revolver rigged to fire in his face?”

We nodded.

“Wise to your tricks,” Galen mumbled, bending toward the corner baseboard. He looked around, then opened the closet and took out a coat hanger, which he used to pry at the baseboard, but it wouldn’t budge.

“You have a crowbar, a large screwdriver?”

“Downstairs,” Butch answered, already turned and heading down.

Butch was about halfway down the stairs when Galen flicked at the floorboard again with the coat hanger. This time the board clattered and sprang toward him, shooting out a two-foot long board on tiny rollers. On one end, the bone ring and a necklace were perched on a pinecone affixed to the board. But on the other end, what lay in a makeshift cradle was what bent me over.

“Is it real?”

“That crazy bitch,” Galen muttered.

We were looking at a mummified fetus in the cradle, bedded in a gore-bloodied, white silken pillowcase. The fetus had a sixteen-penny nail driven through its heart. There was scuffling at the window, in flew the crow, right at us, then it dropped the feather on the fetus’s head before retreating to the windowpane. Galen kicked back from the board, and fetus’s tiny arms jerked, as if to grab the feather. Mummified skin flaked onto the silk, and the arms fell back. The feather was blue. That hadn’t been the case, had it? Hadn’t it been white?

Galen jerked up the pinecone holding the engagement set and threw them both at the crow, breaking another widow and sending the crow fleeing outside. He leaned out the window and screamed at the flapping crow, “It’s over, you rotten bitch!”

I heard a deep bark below. Then I heard Butch running up the stairs. He arrived at the top, carrying a crowbar painted red.

“Over! You hear me, Over!” Galen yelled again, running past Butch and down the stairs.

Not a minute later, I heard his truck start. Butch and I went to the window, now missing two panes. A yellow lab—Louie, Louie—jumped into the truck’s cab, and Galen rode off, the yellow dog sitting tall next to him. Butch turned and noticed the fetus in the tiny doll cradle. I told him what Galen had thrown out the window.

“No wonder the wallpaper runs blood,” Butch commented.

We looked again at the fetus with the sixteen-penny nail through its heart. We looked at the blue feather. Butch thought that meant it was a boy. He said we should bury it, but I said this room was the only home it had ever known.

“He,” Butch corrected. “We at least need to….” Butch nodded at the nail, and I nodded back. We both leaned to pull the nail out of the brittle little chest. To me, the nail looked wet, as if dripping fresh blood. I wound up holding it. I looked around, but then Butch said, “Wait, that nail’s the only thing it’s ever owned. Just like this room.”

I nodded and placed the nail inside the cradle, on the white silk, by the fetus’s right arm, something like a sword to help it through the afterlife. We pushed the wood back into the wall and replaced the floorboard. When we walked down to retrieve the bone ring and necklace, we agreed that they made no kind of engagement set. I put the ring and necklace in my glove compartment. Butch and I walked back inside to eat pizza, sitting close to the open door.

Despite what Galen yelled, it wasn’t over. Around midnight, the chandelier fell with a huge crash. Butch and I ran from our separate downstairs rooms to find the mess. I thought I heard the crow upstairs, scratching at the window.

“Holy crap.” Butch said, hefting the red crowbar.

The next morning when we cleaned up the broken chandelier, we found a pool of blood underneath, which took a gallon of bleach to clean. The house remained silent—no crow, no moans, no tinkling Confederate fingers.

The glove compartment in my car, which had been locked at Butch’s suggestion, held no bone ring, no bone necklace.

Eleven days later, over a week ahead of schedule, Butch and I watched as the mansion, the belle’s bedroom, the fetus, the sixteen-penny nail, the two-foot long board, and the tiny satin cradle were all demolished and then cleaned up like the chandelier. It was as if nothing had ever happened, nothing had ever been there. By noon, we began to construct a new house.