John Eyre

(A modern day re-imagining of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë) 

 

By Marjory Kaptanoglu

 

I lose myself in my thoughts during my afternoon walk and go farther than I intend, nearly all the way to the thrashing sea. Finally glancing up to find ominous clouds gathered overhead, I stop and stare at them, reminded of my own dark, turbulent soul.

The rumble of thunder breaks my reverie and I begin the trek back to the house. I don’t want to risk my new au pair job by arriving late to pick up little Adele from school. What other employment would leave me with hours to sit by the window brooding every day?

It’s a perfect house for brooding, too. Like some ancient vestige of Victorian times, all over- stuffed rooms, rickety stairs, and shadowy corners.

I haven’t met my employer yet. She’s been traveling on business. Mrs. Fairfax, the geriatric housekeeper who greeted me, gave me a tour of the place. When I asked what was on the third floor, she said, “You’re not allowed to go up there.” Her voice got all hushed, and her eyes darted around like she thought someone might be hiding behind the credenza.

I thought about checking it out the first night, but then I heard some squeaking and thumping that made me reconsider. Instead, I just lay in bed imagining what sort of terrifying creature might live in the attic. I had a flash of nostalgia, recalling the fear I felt every day as a foster kid.

I reach Thornhill Drive from the trail. The house lies another mile down the street, past two homes that can barely be seen through the trees. The road is narrow with no sidewalks, but I don’t think I have to worry about traffic, until I hear the brakes screeching behind me. I leap to the side as a Bronco skids past and swerves into a tree.

I race to the car and throw open the door. “You okay?” I say.

A woman beats at the airbag pressing against her. “Help me out of here!” she cries.

“Maybe you should wait for the ambulance.” As if I actually called one instead of having left my phone back at the house.

“Screw that,” she says, and I’m inclined to agree. I help pull her out and get a better look at her. She’s no beauty, but her long, jet black hair, wide forehead, and inky eyes lend her an angry, tortured look I can’t help but relate to.

She walks around to look at the front of the car, rubbing her neck. The bumper’s dented, nothing more. She shoots me a glance.

“What the hell were you doing in the road?”

“Sorry. I was on my way to 666 Thornfield.”

“Oh?” she says. “Do you know who lives there?”

“Ms. Rochester. I haven’t met her yet.”

“And you are… what… a mountain elf? You looked like part of the mist, standing there on the road.”

“I’m John Eyre.”

“Ah,” she says. “The au pair.” Before I can respond, she starts to make a call on her cell, but then she pauses. “Don’t wait for me. I have to take care of this.”

I return to the house, and when I leave to pick up Adele, I see the car is gone. It isn’t until after dinner that the door opens from the garage, and the woman walks into the house like she owns it, because she does. “Mommy!” Adele shouts.

Ms. Rochester nods coolly at me, and I slip away to allow them a private mother/daughter reunion. Actually, I start packing my things because I’m pretty sure she’s going to fire me for getting in the way of her car. An hour later, Adele knocks on my door and says, “Mommy wants you to come to the living room.”

I follow her there. Ms. Rochester is seated comfortably by the gas fireplace. Adele goes to the corner to play with her dollhouse and some new miniature furniture her mother must’ve given her. I notice it eerily matches the furnishings in the real house, and I wonder if small, sinister versions of ourselves might appear there soon, magically shifting to new locations in the dollhouse overnight.

“Sit,” Ms. Rochester says, without looking up from the fire. “Adele tells me you draw.” “A little,” I say.

“Oh, come now. Don’t be modest.”

“All right,” I say. “I’m the next Da Vinci.”

“I’ll be the judge. Let’s see your work.”

I wonder why she cares. According to Mrs. Fairfax, Ms. Rochester runs a biotech startup. But I fetch my drawings anyway to humor her.

She flips through them dismissively, until she comes to my favorite, a sketch of the coastal hills. If you look closely, you can make out a giant pair of melancholy eyes staring at you from within the swirls of gray fog.

“This one isn’t bad,” she says, and by that I can tell she means she’s really into it. She hands back my pad. “Where did you go to school?” she says.

“Lowood.”

“Really? It’s a wonder you survived. What were your parents thinking?”

“I’m an orphan.”

“That explains a lot,” she says. “Well, I hope you’re comfortable here.”

“I’ve heard some noises coming from the third floor.”

“That’s my Airbnb lodger. He’s harmless enough.” She glances at me. “You can go now. I’ll put Adele to bed tonight.”

I get up. “Good night, Ms. Rochester.”

She looks as if the name amuses her.

I return to my room on the second floor, isolated in the back of the house. It’s quite a distance from Ms. Rochester’s and Adele’s bedrooms in the front, with several vacant rooms between us. It’s early still, so I lie down with my Kindle to continue reading The Woman in Black. After several hours I can’t keep my eyes open and I doze off.

A noise coming from outside wakes me in the early hours of the morning. I get up and look out. A man who must be the lodger walks below my window, weaving like he’s hammered. I hope he grabbed an Uber and didn’t drive like that. He has a bent-over, lurch-y way of moving. That and his long messed up hair make him resemble a wild animal. When he mutters to himself it sounds like a growl.

He goes in through the back and I hear his steps coming up the stairs. They stop on the second floor, and then continue until the floor board creaks right outside my door. There’s a sound like heavy breathing that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I’m frozen in place, staring at the knob, realizing I never locked my door.

Then the footsteps move away. I hear him climb the third flight and go into his room. He bangs around up there for another hour, and I hear glass shattering too. I lock my door and get back in bed, but I don’t manage to sleep anymore.

In the morning I get Adele off to school without seeing Ms. Rochester. In fact, I don’t see her until after dinner, when she asks me to join her in the living room again. This time she’s sipping red wine but doesn’t offer me any. Whatever, I’m just the help.

She fascinates me by being all silent and moody tonight, just staring at the fire. Noticing my eyes on her, she says, “Do you think I’m beautiful?”

“No,” comes out of my mouth before I think what I’m saying.

“Ha, well, you’re not so hot yourself,” she says.

I start to feel a little turned on. She’s probably in her mid-30s, no more than ten years older than me.

“People tell me I have soulful eyes,” I say.

“Do you think my forehead is too broad?” she says.

Maybe she doesn’t like my hair. “I’ve been meaning to get a haircut,” I say.

“Bangs might help.”

Bangs? Then I realize she’s talking about herself.

To change the subject, I suggest watching Penny Dreadful on Netflix. She agrees right away,

showing how much we have in common at a deep, elemental level. After the show I go to bed, since I hardly slept the night before.

A second sense, or maybe just the burning odor, wakes me near midnight. I get up and run out into the hall, where the smell is stronger. Following it to Ms. Rochester’s bedroom, I find tendrils of smoke seeping out from the crack under her door.

I rush into her room. She lies unconscious in bed, while clothing burns inside her open closet. I dash to the window and tear down the drapes. Throwing them over the flames, I stamp down on them, smothering the fire.

Ms. Rochester stirs and wakes up. “Oh my god!” she says.

“It’s okay, I put it out,” I say. “Don’t you have smoke alarms?”

“I was going to tell you to change the batteries.”

So now I’m the handyman too?

She stands up, and I try not to stare at the shape of her body through her thin nightgown. She grabs a robe and wraps it around her.

“Wait here,” she says, and rushes out.

I hear the sound of her footsteps going toward the back of the house and up the stairs. I sit at the edge of her bed, checking out her collection of gothic novels in the bookshelf. It doesn’t take long for her to return. I stand up to leave.

She gets very close to me. “I knew from the first moment that you were a good omen,” she whispers.

“I made you crash your car,” I say.

“I needed an excuse to replace it.”

We stare at each other for what feels like an eternity. I yawn.

“You should get some sleep,” she says.

“Did he start the fire?” I glance up at the ceiling.

She shakes her head. “It was me. I had a cigarette earlier. Stupid, I know.”

I don’t believe it. Why would she smoke in her closet? But if that’s a lie, why is she protecting her lodger? Is she that desperate for the Airbnb income? Or is she unable to evict him due to tenant protection laws? Why am I asking myself these questions?

My head starts to ache from over-thinking. I go back to my room but can’t sleep. Noises resume overhead, and I can’t stand it any longer. I go out in bare feet, and slip up the stairs. At the top there’s a small landing, and a single door into the Airbnb unit. I knock lightly.

All goes silent inside the room.

After a minute, I turn the knob. Surprisingly, the door is unlocked. I push it open and enter the unlit space.

“Hello?” I say.

A hand grabs my arm roughly and drags me forward. I barely make out the glint of a knife flashing toward me. I dodge and throw myself against the wall. As my eyes grow accustomed to the dark, I make out a figure. He lunges toward me.

“Get back!” I cry out. I feel a chair next to me, lift it up, and thrust it toward the man.

The light comes on, revealing Ms. Rochester at the door. “Stop!” she shouts. The lodger drops the knife.

I finally get a clear glimpse of him. He’s small, with a crooked spine. His features are repugnant, almost pre-human, like a Neanderthal. He wears an expression of pure evil.

“I’m sorry, John,” she says. “He’s my chief scientist, developing a new drug for our company. But he’s a little eccentric. Wouldn’t you say, Dr. Jekyll?”

“It’s Mr. Hyde at the moment,” he snarls.

I breathe out a heavy sigh of relief. I’d been afraid he was her husband.

 


All rights reserved. Please ask permission of the author to reproduce or use this work in any form.