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Chestnut Street

New England, 1972

By CJ MillerPublished 3 months ago Updated 2 months ago 11 min read

If walls could talk, lavish vowels and exquisite consonants at my disposal, I would use them to beg for your forgiveness.

I would tell you how sorry I am for what transpired, what a fool I was to possess a gift so rare, only to mistreat it.

I'd remind you of what we had, what I pray to have again, not knowing if it's possible.

I'd attempt, at once, to contain my rage; my lingering, consuming resentment over the money.

Over what you have become in my presence and, I suppose, in my absence.

Over him.

That method of communication has eluded me, and so I speak in coarser, less specific ways, hoping to be heard, aching for more.

For intimacy.

For you. My lovely, sinful wife.

A Study in Decorum

Despite the whispers, and there were many floating about her seaside town, no one ever claimed that Evelyn Pruitt was less than a proper lady.

She waved at her neighbors with enthusiasm, likable or otherwise. She attended all manner of fundraisers, wallet at the ready and a smile in place.

Her house, a Victorian on the corner of a busy street, was meticulously maintained. Daily, she styled her tresses into a neat chignon, nails buffed to a glow, clothing classic and ironed within an inch of its integrity.

She sent out greeting cards in advance of minor holidays and made a mean pot roast, pearl onions to boot.

Even Norbert, her cookies 'n' cream cocker spaniel, was a joy to encounter, always polite and done up in plaid collars that coordinated with the seasons.

She was, in sum, the sort of woman most would consider themselves lucky to take as a bride. On this bracing day, however, autumn air fresh as a mint julep, matrimony was the furthest objective from her mind.

Afternoon Delight

Per their annual tradition, Hank Sullivan came knocking at three o'clock on the dot. He was dressed in his work uniform, name embroidered in cursive across the navy pocket.

She answered in a rush, her girlish charm on display, while Norbert yammered in the foyer, eager to greet his friend.

"Hello, handsome!"

"Hey, Evelyn. Great to see you," he said, a hint bashful as he kissed her cheek.

After locking the door, she returned the gesture. Prying eyes and whatnot.

"May I get you a drink? Sidecars are still your poison of choice, I assume?"

"I'll have to take a rain check. In a hurry, I'm afraid."

"Say no more."

Evelyn grabbed him by the wrist and led him up the main staircase, stopping at the first room along the corridor.

The original owners had dubbed it la chambre de la mer in honor of its oceanic palette—a feature she adored.

As she turned the knob, a rumbling emanated from deep within the walls. Beware, it warned, no decoder ring necessary.

She shot Hank a look of apology.

His discomfort was palpable.

"Old pipes, if you'll recall. They groan something fierce when the weather turns nippy. That's New England for ya. Anyhow, where were we?"

"Right about here."

Cupping her chin, he aimed for her rosy pout.

"Mmm," she purred, a thrill creeping up her spine. "You haven't lost your touch. There's just one teensy catch."

"What's that?"

He was already undoing her blouse, engrossed in the task at hand.

She held out her palm.

"Cash, please."

In response, the noisy plumbing became downright thunderous, leading Norbert to run for cover.

O, Come Ye Merry Gentlemen

Evelyn had, in recent memory, entertained a small assortment of others on similar terms.

The majority were like Hank, game for anything, but to her surprise, a few had no need for sexual congress. They paid her to warm their sides, her finely shaped skull coming to rest atop tufted chest hair, and listen to their woes—

How Phil or Larry at the office pulled some emasculating stunt.

How they were overworked and undervalued, thus unable to fulfill their dreams.

The Freudian types even bemoaned a lack of Mommy's hugs, and those were the visitors she dreaded most.

Following an especially wild confession, she made a decision to tamp down the chatter. Had she wanted to dabble in psychotherapy, she would've attended Wellesley for something more than her Mrs.

Fact was, she liked sex better than conversation. The herbs she took to stave off the ravages of time left her in want of a partner, if only on a coital basis.

But the real aphrodisiac–the reason she chose this hobby to begin with—was the latitude to do as she fancied, when she fancied and with whom, knowing Stanley was powerless.

That he had no alternative but to watch from behind the headboard, horrified.

Sometimes, while in the throes, she would angle her neck backwards and stare up at his plaster palace, ensuring him a front row seat to every whimper, gasp, and twitch.

Today, pinned beneath the Maytag man for the fourth consecutive year, she threw in a wink, prompting her paint-clad husband to rattle the foundation.

Startled, Hank felt around for his pants.

It Happened One Night

Their difficulties began on a brisk Tuesday in the fall of 1967.

Mr. Pruitt arrived home early from his accounting firm to find her with the nice fellow repairing their washing machine.

Hank had been showing Evelyn the newly improved spin cycle. Both were leaning forward to observe the magic, their silhouettes gently skimming.

"What in blazes is going on here?"

Once alone, Stanley had pretended to accept her explanation. To understand. To trust in his wife's denials, promises, and declarations of loyalty, each delivered in earnest.

Then he backhanded her.

He made sure to put his weight behind it, causing her balance to give out. She hit the floor with an injurious thud, ticker in her throat and fury in her veins.

This lanky noodle of a gent, mild in bearing and a smug patron of the humanities–ballet in the spring, Manet at the Met, Chopin in concert on a winter's eve—shed any pretense of civility in the moment it took her to blink.

What loomed large was a glimpse of his jealous brethren through the ages. His knuckles had been raised and wanting, lower jaw protruding, pupils dilated with the urge to dominate.

Crouching to meet her glare, he'd spewed the words she would never forget.

"You belong to me and me alone. Get that through your empty noggin. And don't you ever disrespect me in my house again, or I'll give you something to cry about."

With Norbert tending to her tears, she settled on the swine's destiny then and there, selecting the northernmost wall in their master suite.

The view would be spectacular.

A week later, under the watchful gleam of a Hunter's moon, she fixed her husband a meal unlike those that had come before.

"Smells delicious," he'd remarked of the turkey feast. "I'm relieved that you seem humbled by our talk. It's important to remedy one's mistakes. Builds character."

It took only a couple of bites for him to lose consciousness, his face landing in the mashed potatoes.

The rest was simple as pie.

So Evelyn thought, anyway, until the banging set in. Potions are finicky devils. Wolfsbane paired with mugwort has a perpetual effect, give or take, but she may have been a speck short on the Irish moss, allowing him enough oomph to create this ruckus.

No plan is without its flaws.

Toil Meets Trouble

Once Hank had zipped up and departed, Evelyn let loose.

"Darn you, Stanley!" she hissed, Colgate-white teeth clenched in anger. "Must you ruin everything? I should've imprisoned you in Atlantis!"

Remembering Gram's lessons on composure, she paused, clamped her lids shut, and took a slow, controlled breath, negotiating her tensions into a détente.

Smoothing her skirt, she approached the offending wall at a clip. When she spoke again, it was in the honeyed tone usually reserved for clientele—more Monroe than Hepburn.

"Now, dear. We've been over this. You mustn't fuss when I have company. It lends credence to the rumors that I did you in, and we both know that's untrue."

Locals were quite keen to believe in hauntings.

She lowered her voice to a hush, relishing the next bit. It had been her secret.

"Transmutation isn't permanent. I could reverse the hex in a minute, and poof, you'd appear in the same loafers you were wearing that October, five years ago, unaltered."

In the wake of this revelation, the rumbling shifted to a mournful creak, its vibration strong enough to tug at even her well-concealed heartstrings.

She started to turn away, regardless, when an unfamiliar sound stopped her dead.

Mice? No.

An utterance?

Doubtful. In light of his tantrum, she hadn't granted him the privilege of speech.

She pressed an ear against the French blue surface and, to her amazement, was swiftly proven wrong.

With effort, she could—just barely—detect his frantic appeals.

Let me out. Let. Me. Out. Evelyn! I'm suffocating!


His desperation was so thick that instinct kicked in.

Standing on pointe, the soles of her suede pumps dangling, Evelyn stroked the partition from head to would-be toe. Then she ran her lips and tongue across a sparse patch on the frosted bulb.

She couldn't help but think of this sconce as a proxy for Stanley's balding pate.

There was a slight sizzle upon contact, moisture mingling with heat, but it didn't register as painful.

Everybody, including the damned, needs a little affection once in a while.

Her spouse-cum-structural-support relaxed, his relief apparent in the wall's posture, but she had to stay the course.

"What were we discussing? Ah, yes. Unless you start watching quietly, I'll be forced to remodel. Have you stripped from these studs, horsehair and all. Who knows where you'd end up? Could be at the bottom of an incinerator. Could be a refuse yard in the far-off bowels of Sheboygan."

The fixture's too-bright output dimmed, the fight within it waning. Encouraged, she offered her closing argument.

"Isn't it preferable to remain with me and Norbie? As a unit, strange though it may be?"

At this, the crown molding went still, and the baseboard ceased its quivering. The wall no longer quaked and the creaking no longer creaked.

"I'm glad we could reach an agreement," she said, giving him a final pat on his wainscoting.


Pleased to have struck a note between stern and kind, Evelyn gathered her needlepoint and took up residence by the window. Norbert plopped down on top of her shoes, his fur blanketing her soul and ankles in coziness.

Chastened, Stanley provided the ideal luminescence for her handiwork, and it came to feel like a team effort, vanquishing her fear of solitude.

Incantation had preserved her youth, but she'd yet to discover a spell for the lonesomes.

Her gaze traveled to the bureau, a smirk forming in the mirror, playing at the edges of her mouth.

The money that had changed hands? That she'd tucked discreetly into her lingerie drawer among sachets of lilac?

The same funds she often donated to a soup kitchen or struggling mom-to-be?

Strictly payment for her time, thank you, not a smidge else. What constitutes a life if not the passage of hours? She learned the hard way not to sacrifice hers for free, lest she fail to make her ownership clear.

Stanley, she concluded, didn't need to know as much. She carried on with the tawdry-seeming transactions—with the theatrics—for his benefit.

Or rather, his punishment.

Some Enchanted Evening

As she stitched, dusk fell over the coast, breezes swirling and ebbing about her property like benevolent tides. They permeated the open sash and blew around the gauzy curtains, the motion of which was captivating.

Evelyn sighed, content. Soon as she finished outlining this cat's tail, she'd whip up dinner.

Chicken à la King. Hubby's favorite, once upon a wall-less era.

Trouble was, she didn't much care for leftovers, and her recipes were tough to halve...

Maybe she'd release him, one day, when she could be relatively certain of contrition. Another nickel in the joint should get the job done.

And if the malignant behavior persisted? If he tried to muscle her into submission again, violating her autonomy?

Well, she'd find a cleverer spot for Stanley James Pruitt on the second go-round.

Perhaps choking on the dust of royalty or lying amid the bones of a shipwreck. With skilled practice, the options were unlimited. Some around these parts had been working to dull the divine feminine for centuries, and yet the sisterhood grew more potent with each generation.

Her father, a germaphobe if ever one existed, was currently trapped in a rest stop on Route 16, cursed to live out his tenure as a mucky sink in atonement for myriad misdeeds.

That, as her mother taught her, is the enduring beauty of Salem, Massachusetts: nineteen hanged and a legion born from the ash, sworn to take no one's shit.


Evelyn laid the hoop-in-progress on her vanity.

"Come on, Norbie!" Let's serve you up some supper. I've got that chipped beef you love."

Norbert sprang to his paws and beat feet down the hall, eclipsing her pace in a flash.

With a glance over his shoulder, he replied, "I dined on steak yesterday, Evie. Might we have any salmon?"

She laughed, descending the stairs two at a try.

"Of course! Bad boys get tricks and good boys get treats. You, my darling, are the perfect male specimen."

Short Story

About the Creator

CJ Miller

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insight

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (8)

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  • Joe O’Connor3 months ago

    This story is well-crafted, with reveals that add to the mystery of it all. A very original take on the idea of a talking well CJ! Well done:)

  • Samia Afra3 months ago

    So witty, and fun. An excellent read! You, ma dear, have gotta new subscriber :)

  • Winner grace!!3 months ago


  • DJ Robbins3 months ago

    Hi. Did you draw that picture? It is beautiful

  • Hafees Riyas3 months ago

    nice useful

  • Caroline Jane3 months ago

    Wonderful. I enjoyed every line of this. Great concept, fabulous characters, excellent structure, delightfully witty, elegant prose, refreshingly different and thoroughly engaging. This has to be a contender for the win. LOVE it!

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Fabulous story. Well done and congrats on the Top Story

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Splendid!!! Loving it!!!

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