Secluded among Saints
Kids dart unpredictably. They have too much energy and intuition. Elderly couples are the best, but the Frazer’s are only middle aged. The Frazer’s have been more of a challenge for that reason; they’re not spry, but they can get around pretty quickly. I’ve been with the Frazer’s for nearly two years now. Two years next month. I don’t do families with kids.
I’ve learned a lot about this couple in my time in their home, especially Gerry. Mrs. Geraldine Frazer is forty-eight years old. In her journal, she says she feels inadequate. She wants more from her life. She paints and teaches art at the nearby middle school, but she had imagined being a great artist like Pablo Picasso when she was younger. She describes wanting to lose weight and be beautiful and more talented than she actually is.
In my opinion, Gerry’s paintings are magnificent. When they’re both gone, I like to spend time in her studio above the garage amidst her images of saints doing everyday things. She paints St. Francis of Assisi in his brown robe with a faint halo over his head, but he’s frying an egg with a cat winding around his feet and plants on the windowsill in a modern day kitchen. There’s St. Joan of Arc sitting at a desk in a dark gray suit with a dagger-looking letter opener in hand as she peels an envelope undone. There’s a flag in a floor stand in the corner of the room. On the wall hangs a picture of a white horse. The glow from her halo is reflected in a mirror, a wonderful touch.
I’ve grown to admire Gerry a great deal in the hours I’ve spent sitting in various places on the floor and in chairs I’ve moved around in her studio to see her work from different angles. When I do move a chair, I have to take a picture with my cell phone of where it was before I moved it in order to move it back just so. It makes me sad to read her journal and realize how under-appreciated she is, and how it would just take the right art maven to walk through these doors to put her in the position she deserves in the artistic community. Her work is so deliciously sacrilegious, and they love that sort of deep-seated irony in the art world. But the chances of the right person walking through the doors of this house in Noblesville, Indiana are exceedingly slim. I want to make the phone call from her home to a New York art dealer and pose as her husband, insisting he come see her work, sending the dealer pictures via email. But that is too bold an action for me. I would surely be discovered.
You see, the Frazer’s don’t know I’m here, skulking about their home. I have remaining undetected down to a science now. For one thing, I travel light. It’s just me and my cell phone that move from home to home every few years or so, recording bits of the lives of the people I live with and observe. This is my art project, in a way, my life’s work. The idea struck me when I was in college and got kicked out of my apartment. I had nowhere to go so I lived in the bowels of the giant Science & Technology building on campus for years. They never found me there. I became like a ghost, and I realized I enjoyed it but that it would be so much more interesting to be among the same people every day, to get to know them.
The first home I invaded belonged to a dean of the university’s sister and her husband, the Wasserstein’s. That’s where I perfected my craft. Eat only little bits of the cottage cheese from the container in the refrigerator. Cut off one piece of cheese from the block. Put it on two crackers removed from the box. Eat one slice of ham from the package. Leftovers are the easiest, though, as no one ever remembers precisely how much was left the night or two nights before. I show such restraint! It truly is an art form to eat from people’s cupboards and pantries and refrigerators without their noticing. Oh, how careful I am. I learned to shower when the couples are gone to work shortly after they’ve showered themselves so there is not a suspicious amount of water on the walls when they return. I don’t shower every day, just often enough not to smell and reveal myself. I learned to sleep in short spurts in carefully selected and highly concealed spots when they are gone during the day and to creep about when they sleep. But it’s not like I don’t have to adjust according to their schedules either! I am so adaptable.
I’ve had to amend the policy of sleeping during the day at the Frazer’s because they have a first floor alarm system they set at night. I settle myself among stored items, tucked back behind boxes in the attic cubby hole and sleep when they do. I cannot creep about the first floor because of the alarm or the second floor because I might wake them from their slumber. It’s actually been kind of nice to join the rest of North America in sleeping at night.
Mr. Frazer, Tom, is a banker. He works at a local bank as a VP. On the weekends, he likes to sit in his office and shuffle papers around, punch numbers on his calculator. Tom is not an artist like Gerry and me. He’s very regimented in his ways. He eats breakfast at the same time every morning, and he wants Gerry to have dinner ready when he gets home from work, typically at seven on the dot. Gerry will ask him on weekends to go to the park and take a walk, but he usually refuses. She will say, “Let’s go to the movies,” and he usually says, “Why don’t we watch something at home?” Gerry never complains about Tom in her journal, but I can tell she is dissatisfied with his lack of spontaneity.
The closest I ever came to being caught in my fifteen years of being a ghost occurred after an argument Gerry and Tom had about whether to go out to the movies or watch one at home. Gerry pouted after Tom’s refusal and then spat out, “You never want to go anywhere!” I was upstairs lounging on their bed and listening to their doings downstairs through the vent when suddenly, Gerry was marching up the stairs. “I’m going to take a nap,” she said, and then she was charging up the stairs. I threw myself as quietly as possible off the bed, took a mere second to straighten the comforter, and then sprinted – quietly, very quietly – into the closet. I was just drawing the door to when Gerry came into the master bedroom, tossed herself on the bed, and cried. Eventually, she fell asleep, but I was stuck. I had to remain in the closet until she finally woke up and went back downstairs to start dinner.
Gerry is a magnificent cook. Her leftovers are the best I’ve ever had. I take pictures of the leftovers of the dishes she’s made as I do of her paintings and the pages of her journals for mementos. I know I will have to leave the Frazer’s soon. I am growing too attached to Gerry, as typically happens. There’s always one person in each household that I feel particularly akin to, and eventually I must tear myself away and move on. My project needs variety. I have to keep myself on my toes. I get dangerously comfortable once I’ve figured out the patterns and how to work around them, and I need to remain vigilant in order not to be detected.
My final act as I leave a home is to move something they will notice in a significant way and to leave the door unlocked when I go. At the Frazer’s, I plan to move my favorite of Gerry’s paintings, the one of St. Michael the Archangel at an easel painting a dragon writhing under a sword, to the middle of the studio, facing the door so she can’t miss it staring at her as she walks through the door the next time. Maybe she will see it as a sign and feel inspired. That is my hope anyway. I will warily look for prying neighbors and approaching vehicles before I cautiously step out of the Frazer home for the first time in two years. I can imagine how the sun will feel beating down on the top of my head, an exquisite feeling — so direct, so sublime.
About the Author
Amanda Bradley is the author of three books of poems: Queen Kong (2017), Oz at Night (2011), and Hints and Allegations (2009). She has published poetry and essays in many journals including Paterson Literary Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Kin Poetry Journal, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, and Poetry Bay. Amanda is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School, and she holds a PhD in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Beacon, New York.