What Does Doris Know?
My cheek stings sharply as the wet April wind whips in from the sea.
The blood has rushed to the finger lined mark and I hope the redness doesn't show, inviting the familiar questions which I don't want to answer. The salt air licks, hiding my tears in its droplets. My footsteps break the silence in the darkening Victoria twilight. The steady and swift clack of every footstep pounding the pavement, the steadiness, the conviction of my steps help alleviate my tears and slowly, I am beginning to breath normally again.
My senses broaden and I smile. I have walked away, finally. The sound of the sea crashing amongst the rocks is a comforting song, far more sweet to listen to then the drunken insults hurled by Victor twenty minutes ago. Words which stung more then the welt on my face. Words from the man I had fallen deeply and desperately, all too hopelessly, in love with.
I watch what is left of the sun, shifting below the darkening blue horizon and the air grows suddenly colder. I know people, especially Victor, would say I was a fool and I should be in, but I feel safe in the darkness. There is no fear in being alone within the night's embrace. It spreads out like a warm blanket, shadowing the welt on my cheek and hiding my red puffy eyes.
I have become oblivious to my surroundings and quite by chance, I find myself by the Ross Bay Cemetery. The night sounds hollow here, the roar of the ocean seems a distant whisper caught within a shell. The long oblong shadows grow deeper across each of the plots. Some would be frightened by this, but not I. Graveyards have never frightened me.
As a child I would often wander amongst the headstones wondering about the people who lay underneath in the soft scented earth. I would create storybook lives for them in my head. I would touch the old patterned names cut in the cold smooth stones when no other child would dare and once, I had even walked on the newly closed earth to see how far I would sink in.
I am aware of footsteps falling on the tender grass behind me. I turn quite quietly, hoping not to disturb whoever enters in their time of grief.
A middle aged woman is walking amongst the stones, running her fingers over the tops of some, caressing the names with her fingertips. I wonder for a moment if she is blind and is feeling for a loved ones name chipped out of the granite.
She is pale and wet. I can sense the damp ocean on her from where I stand, water vapours encircling her with wet clouds. I feel an icy breeze cutting a path over the hallowed ground.
Slowly she turns, all too aware of my presence, as an animal might react to a scent of prey carried on the wind. She lifts up her head and smiles vacantly, knowingly at me. Her mouth opens, a blackened void with no tongue to be seen and words spill out it, ringing hollow in my ears.
"He's not here." she whispers soullessly. The words hang in the night air and I am frozen in place by their coldness.
She is white as a silken pillowcase, her eyes, darting capsules of amber. Auburn hair tied in a delicate bun atop her thin face. She is dressed in an old fashioned skirt and jacket, dark brown and reaching to her knees. Curiously she has no shoes and her feet are caked with mud and blood. Curious as well, her face looks like it is melded with some of my features, that this could be me in years to come. Even her face is wet with a mixture of tears and rain, not unlike mine.
Her eyes look straight through me, longingly, willing me. My eyes close.
I feel my mind being dragged back to Victor and the horrible scene. It flashes like a home movie rewinding itself, replaying my pain over and over again until I am dizzy and sickened by the repetition. I no longer want to see my pain and I rub my eyes. I open them and glare at the spot where she should be standing.
Without a sound she has vanished. It feels as if she has passed right through me and I am suddenly so very cold. I pull my parka tightly around me and cautiously circle around, searching. At last I can make out her figure in the darkness.
She has moved a fair distance away from me, gliding soundlessly by the gate and out to road edge. As she moves onto the road I notice a shadow following her, a shadow with a rope entwined in it's hand. I try to cry out, but my voice only whispers. Then just as suddenly as she came, she is gone, vanished back into the wet and lonely Victoria night.
Abruptly the last stems of light penetrate the stones around me, illuminated up the shadows for one brief second. Then the cool damp darkness swallows me up. I shiver in the sudden black void left behind by her prescience.
The roar of a car outside the cemetery jolts me back to life. Leanne, my friend, flings opens the door on the red Datsun's passenger side and waves me over. I walk quickly over to her, as I hear the engine cut and splutter in the April dampness.
"Doris, are you alright ?" she asks, studying my face where the red mark of Vincent's insult still lingers. Leanne had been there at the party and had heard Victor's slurs. She, and the rest of the hearing world for two blocks had heard the argument we had had outside on the deck. She had seen me run off in the fading light. She looked at my face and she hissed in anger "That bastard!"
Leanne checked the traffic with a menacing glance and then floored it towards my apartment. "Well, what are you going to do now? I hope you ditch him good and hard. To hell with him and the rest of those boardheads!" she started in on me, as she always had before.
Leanne didn't think much of Victor and his group of surfing friends and I didn't blame her. The all day surfing and drinking parties hadn't helped our relationship any. We drove in silence the rest of the way. My mind was not on Victor and what a fool I was to still be thinking of staying with him. Perhaps it should have been.
Instead my thought were of the strange woman with the vacant face at the graveyard and the menacing shadow that had followed her.
When I got home there were already several messages waiting for me from Victor. Some apologizing, some proposing marriage, some wanting me to go watch him surf the next day and finally some getting down right nasty as he drank more and the calls became ugly. I began to cry again, helpless, angry tears. But it was finished this time, it had to be. For my sanity, it had to be.
Victor used up an entire tape on the answering machine trying to get under my skin. I took a long hot bath and when I got out, erased his voice with a push of a button.
The next day I woke up early intending to get some work done at home, keeping my mind off Victor. My cheek at least was no longer red, slightly purple now. It was a gentle reminder to me never to go back to him. My mind kept returning to the old graveyard and the strange lonely woman I had seen the night before. Did it really happen?
I studied my face in the mirror. Taking my hands I piled my hair on my head in a simple bun. I stared into my own eyes, feeling strange. An impulse electrified the air space around me and I began to feel transported back in time. Behind me the room felt wet as if someone had opened the entire sea into my room. I felt pressure steadily growing on my neck. Staring into the mirror I could make out an outline of rope forming from wisps of cold moisture.
Suddenly the phone rang and I pulled away from the mirror gasping. I let it ring, once, twice then the machine kicked in.
"Hey, I know you're angry but come on now, forgive a guy aye? I know we can make it work, we've made it work before. Just gotta give me another chance. I'll be surfing off the point. I'd like to see you." Then there was a pause and under his breath Victor coughed. " By the way, I was serious about the wedding stuff."
The line went dead on the machine and the moisture in the room seemed to slowly dissipate. Gasping, still, almost wheezing by the machine, I could feel my tears welling up. I needed to get some air. I needed to get away.
Outside the weather was fiercely unpredictable. Sun streaked down through the black storm clouds. I had gotten used to the cold damp days of Victoria. Even though it was Spring, it was still warm and fragrant by the ocean. It was not the same suffocating dampness I had felt only moments before. I put on my slicker and walking shoes and headed for the cliffs.
By the waters edge, grey and white gulls rose and fell, playing in the wind. They hung like puppets suspended on invisible strings waiting to snatch bit of fish corpses or pieces of bread thrown out of car windows by the locals.
Standing by the point watching the windsurfers I thought I recognized a familiar figure. It was the same pale lady from the cemetery. She stood transfixed in time as the air currents swirled around her. Her eyes watched the sea, searching, searching for someone.
As I approached I saw her smile and cross her arms in contemplation. She turned in my direction as if she had expected me to always be there. I was again cold. My fingers ached as I wrapped my parka protectively around me.
Straight into my face she smiled deeper and ever deeper, her cold staring eyes aching in my brain. I remembered the feeling of the night before when my memory had been pulled from my head. I knew now who she had been looking for. She turned and slowly nodded her head towards the open ocean. I felt my feet turn to clay and my heart throb in fear. Slowly I watched her fade as she stepped off the cliff into oblivion.
When I finally felt myself released I ran to the cliff edge. The rocks slashed vertically to form a sheer wall to the beach below. Wind surfers looking like ants, came in from the ocean to mass around a makeshift fire.
All the surfers had come in for the day, all except for one.
Victor was stylishly cutting across the ever growing waves with his board going further and further out. A storm was brewing rapidly and the ocean had swelled into a savage monster, leaping and swallowing up small boats and birds alike. Victor didn't seem to notice as he slipped foolishly across the waves ever closer to the rocks.
From my vantage point above I could just make out a girl in a white wedding dress with brown auburn hair beckoning to him. In his drunken state Victor must have imagined the short dark haired girl to be me and he plunged himself towards her.
A final black wave leaped upon the board and dashed it and Victor unto the needlelike outcrop and broke them both apart. A splintered board and a splintered man. The girl vanished from sight. That was the last time I ever saw her.
Victor's body was recovered from the sea several days later. The storm had kept the searchers from finding it before then, the worst storm they had seen in a while. When the found him his body had been hung up in loose mooring from a wreck beneath the surface. The rope was entwined tightly around his neck.
Victor was buried in the Ross Bay Cemetery. Among the flowers left on the grave I noticed a pair of wedding slippers, damp from the ocean and encrusted with blood.
I took them with me and sometimes at night I wear them as I walk through the graveyard, searching.
Years later I read of a fabled ghost who haunts the area, another Doris searching for the man who loved and was thought to have murdered her, her own beloved Victor. She is often seen in a wedding dress by those who search for love and wish to know if their choices are true.
I pity those girls who cannot tell the good from the bad choices and sometimes I help them along. I shall dance among the rocks, like a siren I shall whisper the words they wish to hear. Those who are good shall leave me be, those who are bad will join the sea. Like Doris I know, I can always tell...
Nancy Bennett is a practising Pagan and a founding member of HAGS ( Honourable Aging Goddess Society.)
Note: Doris Gravlin actually existed. She was murdered in the 1930's and her body found near the ocean. Her husband's body was found three weeks later, Doris shoes still in his coat pocket when they pulled him from the sea.
She still is believed to appear as a ghost who haunts the Victoria Golf Course. According to local legend she is seen only by young couples. But beware, for if you and your beloved spot her when you are together, you will never marry. The best time to see Doris is on moonlit nights in April.
Published by permission of the author.