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This was the catalyst for long-dormant drinking he had been waiting for. And it now burst out into the open, unfettered and without his wife to temper it, and all routines fell into their dark alternative. For every fun bridge session at the retirement center, he nursed his hard liquor alone at home as the winter rains flooded gutters and burst into the basement, unheeded.

Two days before his eviction, he gave the shaved-headed boy a call. He needed him to dig, then bury again.

And at that moment, it finally occurred to Gabe the identity of the odd woman at his wife's funeral that he had previously only seen around the church. "Crossing the border to Jesus," Claudia had said then, as a promise. Or threat.


Gabe moved into the only apartment that he could afford; a tiny studio in the shadow of a large condo development in Ballena Bay, a picturesque enclave by the east shore of the bay.

After the movers left, their accumulated belongings of forty years had been reduced to a dozen of so boxes, with cardboard walls buckling in moistness of their basement hideaway. All crammed into the single room.

It took a month for Gabe to adjust to this new home before he took a long ride to Jack London Square to reclaim Ana's presence, and the scrapbook he brought along was of the high school years, but he realized this too late as he cracked it open. Intrigued, he kept looking for want of explaining a mystery.

What happened that summer when they were in their late teens? He couldn't tell much by the scrapbook, except that it was after they graduated high school, and their parents had sent them up to Rhode Island to stay with aunt and uncle.

He opened the pages and had to carefully pry the photos apart, glued together through water, tears or sweat. Unfortunately, only patches of the photos were spared as he wrenched them free, and he finally saw the face that had been shunned.

Initially the two sisters didn't look at all similar. Where Ana was blond, her older sister's hair was dark and her eyebrows like strong slashes across a broad forehead. Looking at the two of them side by side, he was caught by the fact that although the shade was on Claudia's face, her smile shined through. In contrast, Ana's face was in full force of the summer sun, but wore a disturbed and cloudy expression, a dark purpose behind the grimace.

When Gabe returned from Jack London Square, he stood at the voice recorder, and played back the messages that he knew were there. But as he pressed down on the switch, he saw that there were nine voicemails.

Since the time of her death, Gabe had kept the last series of eight voicemails that Ana had left for him. Like opening up the windows to freshen the air, hearing her voice coated his depression with a salve of the sweetest melody.

He played back the eight voicemails, but was distracted by the mystery of the ninth. Who could have left him a message? It must have been in the past hour, while he was at Jack London Square. He made strict instructions to his lawyers and the few friends he still kept in touch with, that they should write to him. He didn't want to risk erasing her voice.

Finally the ninth message clicked on.

Static for the longest while, until he began to panic that this was a wrong number and they left the phone off the hook, and it would eat up all of the remaining tape on the spool.

Then he heard the voice, and knew it was Claudia.

"I am coming…"

Her voice was froggy and cracked with the weight and force of her intense emotions, as if summoning the words directly from the deepest pit of her hatred.

"…I am coming for her tomorrow…"

His panic slid into frenzied heartbeats as he listened to this hot poker of a voice stab him repeatedly.

"…at the marina, noontime…"

Then the line clicked silent.

Gabe sank to the floor, and the feeling he had was that all of the elastic and connections and ligaments that held his arms and legs together had disappeared and he fell like a tumbling sack. He blacked out, as the recordings were automatically erased; all evidence gone. Except for the searing wound in the pit of his stomach that had registered the voice of Claudia.

When he awoke and revived his strength, he checked the calendar to be sure.

Yes, Claudia had been dead for two weeks. His lawyer told him just after he moved that she had a massive stroke while in a confessional at her church.

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 Gallery and Photos by Mike McCaffrey © 2002 Artzar - All Rights Reserved