THAT NIGHT I picked up some pizza on the way home. Good thing I did, too, because there was no dinner. I came home to find Gwen wandering through the house, chanting, and waving a bunch of incense around.
“Gwenny? Baby? Whatcha doing?” I sat the pizza down and turned on the oven. “Just to let you know, setting the house on fire voids our insurance policy.”
Gwen marched into the kitchen, a smoldering bundle of sticks in her hand. “I’m not setting the house on fire!” She tossed the sticks into the sink and turned on the water. “I’m burning sage.”
I shoved the pizza into the oven. “Oh. I prefer oregano myself, but burnt sage works, too.”
She fought a smile. “Burning sage purifies a house, Sam.”
“Doesn’t Lysol do that, too? And without the risk of burning the house down?”
“Sam,” she groaned and rolled her eyes. “Sage purifies the house from spirits, Sammy.”
I eyed her. “There’s a spirit?”
She flushed, her cheeks a bright red. “I know, I know… I kind of owe you an apology, Sam. The house is haunted. Way haunted.”
I got a beer out and chugged half of it. “Cool. Think we can make some money on it this Halloween?”
“I’m serious, Sam!” She flipped her hair and folded her arms. “This morning, I was doing my shavasana when I felt water dripping on me. I opened my eyes, and there was this girl… she was all wet… ” She paused for a moment, choking back tears. “Something bad happened to her, Sammy. We have to help her.”
My eyes caught a movement on the patio. The girl stood on the patio, her back to me. “Can we have pizza first? I do better helping dead people when I’m on a full stomach.”
Gwen shook her head. “Yes. Of course.” She came over and hugged me. “Oh, baby, it’s been a bad day. I’m so sorry. I should have seen it… and now I forgot to say welcome home.”
I kissed the top of her head. “You said it when you assured me you weren’t burning down the house.”
“Welcome home.” I felt her smile. “Thank you for the pizza.”
“Thank you for marrying me.”
She smiled up at me and gave me a quick peck. “Best decision I’ve ever made.”
I chased her lips and gave her more than a peck to show her I agreed.
After dinner, I stayed up and read the diary. It was one of those fancy ones that have the calligraphy and whatnot. It opened with the Carl Sagan quote, “Even through your hardest days, remember we are all made of stardust.”
I always liked that quote, too.
It was a beautiful diary. Lots of sketches and quotes, some in English, more in Arabic. Fatima was an artsy girl.
On one page was a fairly decent sketch of Ezekiel. Underneath was written, “L’amor che move ‘l sole e l’altre.” A love that moves the sun and stars. Dante. I wondered how an ultra conservative Muslim girl knew Dante.
I looked up as a shadow passed by me. Gwen had gone to bed a long while ago. “You were complicated, weren’t you, Fatima?”
I turned off the light and headed for bed. I had a feeling I knew what Tony was going to tell me tomorrow.
That night the dream changed.
I woke up to the sound of running water. The bathroom light was on. I got up to turn it off. “Gwen?”
The girl stood by the tub, watching it fill up.
“Fatima?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
She glanced at me; the handprint bruises standing out on her pale skin like a morbid necklace. “I can’t see the stars.”
“Why can’t you see the stars, Fatima?”
She breezed past me. I followed in that weird dream way where you’re in one room and then another.
Fatima and I stood stood side by side on the patio, looking up at the sky. “That’s Orion,” she said, pointing. “The Big Dipper… and there, there’s the Little Dipper.”
“Even through your hardest day,” I murmured, “remember we are all made of stardust.”
She glanced at me and smiled. “Carl Sagan. I always liked that quote.”
“Me, too.” I wanted to take her hand, but I didn’t know if I should. “I’m going to find you, Fatima. It’s what I do.”
She reached for my arm.
I’m back in the bathroom. My brother pushes me into the tub. I’m being held down. I’m not me… I’m her. I’m Fatima.
I’m screaming… thrashing… I can’t breath.
He’s holding me down. I see the hatred on Tariq’s face as he holds me down. As he chokes me.
“Dirty girl.” I see my mother spit on me as I sink to the bottom. “Better you never have been born.”
“Don’t prepare the body,” my father says as Tariq pulls me out of the tub. “She’s not worthy.”
My brother drops me into a box. My head is turned up. I see the stars… then nothing. A wall of black washes over me.
I sit up in bed, clutching my throat, gasping for breath.
I knew two things. The first was that Fatima Zaidi was dead. The second was that Fatima Zaidi was buried somewhere in or around this house.