Death on Christmas Eve

Stanley Ellin

As a child I had been impressed by the Boerum House. It was fairly new then, and shiny with new paint - a huge Victorian building. Standing in front of it this early Christmas Eve, however, I could find no echo of that youthful impression. It was all a depressing gray now, and the curtains behind the windows were drawn completely so that the house seemed to present blindly staring eyes to the passerby.

When I knocked my stick sharply on the door, Celia opened it. 'There is a doorbell,' she said.

She was still wearing the long unfashionable and badly wrinkled black dress which must have been her mother's, and she looked more than ever like old Katrin had in her later years: the thin bony body, the tight thin line of her lips, the colorless hair pulled back hard enough to remove every wrinkle from her forehead. She reminded me of a steel trap ready to shut down on anyone who touched her incautiously.

I said, 'I am aware that the doorbell is not connected, Celia,' and walked past her into the hall. She banged the door shut, and instantly we were in half-darkness.

I put out my hand for the light switch, but Celia said sharply, 'This is no time for lights! There's been a death in this house, you know that.'

'I have good reason to know,' I said, 'but your manner now does not impress me.'

'She was my brother's wife, and very dear to me.'

I moved towards her and rested my stick on her shoulder. 'Celia,' I said, 'as your family's lawyer, let me give you a word of advice. The inquest is over, and you've been cleared. But nobody believed you then, and nobody ever will. Remember that.'

She pulled away. 'Is that what you came to tell me?'

'I came because I knew your brother would want to see me today. I suggest you keep away while I talk to him.'

'Keep away from him yourself!' she cried. 'He was at the inquest and saw them clear my name. In a little while he'll forget the terrible things he thinks about me. Keep away from him so that he can forget.'

I started walking cautiously up the dark stairs, but she followed me. 'I prayed,' she said, 'and was told that life is too short for hatred. So when he comes to me, I'll forgive him.'