Sometimes things happen that just beggar belief – not the muddled-up head-scratching kind, but the holy-crap-get-me-outta-here kind. A person starts to think in terms of that old cliché: “This could only happen to me.” The following events occurred over eleven years ago and are as truthful as I can recollect, even the dialogue, mostly because the experience is soldered into my brain. Besides my husband and myself, the names and places have been changed to protect identities.
Our honeymoon began in March 2008. Our destination was Cypress Villa, a bed & breakfast in Biloxi, Mississippi. Every bedroom in the Villa had an international theme: the “Oriental room,” the “Caribbean room,” the “Egyptian room.” A small abode called “the African safari cottage” was set apart from the main house. My husband spoke to the owner, Agnes Jensen, and reserved the Egyptian room – the “best room in the place.”
We reached the Villa, a white, two-story Victorian. Rocking chairs were positioned around the wrap-around porch; two gazebos book-ended the house. Scented white gardenias, fresh snowball bushes, and pink roses decorated the home’s perimeter, while a beautiful fountain streamed water into a large birdbath out front.
We entered the home and passed the dining room set with fine china, crystal, and silver. Ahead, a meeting area came with a fully-stocked bar and a large screen TV. Still ahead was a parlor where soft, plush loveseats and chairs surrounded a beautiful fireplace edged with that colorful marble so popular during the Victorian era.
We were greeted by a man I’ll call “Martin.” His hair was a dirty blonde, feathered eighties-style. He was medium built, about five feet eight, and was in his mid to late thirties. He wore jeans and a flannel shirt, and walked with a little arrogant bounce-step. He took us on a pretty short tour of Cypress Villa’s interior. The Oriental room was decorated with cherrywood furniture, Chinese fans, and vases filled with faux flowering lotus and orchids. Geisha paintings decorated the walls and the window flowed with sheer and silk curtains. Martin kept picking up the curtains and peeking out the window. I thought it was odd, but, being from the holler, I quite understood “odd.” I was on foreign soil, so to speak, so I convinced myself his window curiosity was just some kind of Deep South idiosyncrasy.
Next, we reached the “room in progress.” He surmised it would be the “Italian room.” Then, we took a quick gander into the Caribbean room, full of light and decorated with seashells, starfish, and island paintings.
When we reached the backdoor threshold, he suddenly stopped and craned his neck left and right. He led us outside to the African cottage. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his front pocket, pulled out a cigarette, and shakily lit it. His eyes were wide and alert and he smoked in a fury.
Tom and I headed back inside to our Egyptian honeymoon suite on the top floor. A lifted stage was built in the center of the room, where two large golden thrones sat in front of a huge floor-to-ceiling mirror. The bed was king-sized with a gold-threaded comforter. The room was equipped with a loveseat, lounge chairs, and a large Cleopatra chaise. A gorgeous six-person hot tub sat in the corner with gold plumbing attachments and golden soap bowls. Egyptian décor was found throughout – Tutankhamen and Nefertiti statuettes, framed hieroglyphic parchment paper, etc.
Tom and I unloaded our things, then went downstairs to take advantage of the bar. Martin was there, pacing like a guinea bird. He went from window to window, and cautiously fanned back curtains with trembling hands. Did we want a drink, he asked? Seeing his state of mind, we declined, so he poured one for himself. He gulped it down and poured another. He apologized profusely and said Ms. Agnes wasn’t there to greet us. He talked about Katrina.
“I was around during Katrina,” Martin said, lighting up a cigarette. “Awful.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said sincerely. “But it’s good you survived.”
“Damndest thing happened,” he said, disregarding me. “I lived with my brother at the time. In an apartment. Just had three floors and he was on the top floor. Water kept rising. Reached the third floor and we climbed on the roof. My brother and me. We climbed on the roof and held onto an antenna. I dove down and retrieved a ladder. Took the cable and secured it to the ladder. Here we were holding onto an antenna and a ladder. All of a sudden – and you won’t believe this – I see a python, big as shit, swimming near my damned face! A python!”
“Really?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Big as shit! Damndest thing.” He put out the cigarette, lit another, and took a big drag.
“What happened to your brother?” I asked.
“Current. Got swept away by the current. Never saw him after that,” he said, exhaling smoke. He swallowed the liquor and poured another glass.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, biting my lip.
“If it wasn’t for Ms. Agnes, I don’t know what I’d do. She gave me this job. Said I could stay as long as I wanted. All I had to do was take care of her.” He sped toward the window, eased back the curtain, and peeked; then hurriedly turned and sat down near the bar. He stubbed out the cigarette, then lit another.
“I got plans, you know. Plans I haven’t talked to her about,” he said, excitedly flicking ashes in an ornate ashtray. “She’s got plans, too. For this place, here. Wants to make it into five-star-dining. That’s why she hired Vince. He’s from New York City. He’s a big-time chef or something. You’ll like him. Good food. I’m really sorry Ms. Agnes isn’t here. She’s . . . uh . . . shopping for you two. Bringing something special for you both. To celebrate your wedding, you know. She’s . . . have you met her?”
“No,” we answered in unison. Martin smiled.
“She’s . . . she’s at an antique auction. Been there for days. Unfortunately, Vincent went with her. So, there goes your dinner, huh? He helps her, you know, driving her here and there. Carries heavy stuff. She’s gonna bring you something special. Told me herself. She’s been there two days, maybe more. You ever met her?”
“No,” we answered again.
“She’s . . . eccentric . . .” He poured another drink, roamed past all the windows, and looked out. He stopped and stood at one of the windows for a few minutes, then dug his hands deep in his jeans pocket and handed Tom a hundred dollars.
“Here,” he said. “Go get yourself some food. Agnes’d want this. Since the chef isn’t here. For your honeymoon.”
He attempted a half-hearted yet wild-eyed smile. Tom and I looked befuddled at one another and politely declined the offer.
“No, here, really.” He crushed the bill into Tom’s hand. “Take it and eat somewhere special. For your honeymoon.” He rushed over and looked outside the window and returned to Tom’s side.
“Agnes’ll reimburse me. Don’t worry. So, go. Go eat.”
Tom shrugged his shoulders and reluctantly accepted. I grabbed my purse. We spruced up a little and drove off. We had our meal, enjoyed a little walk in the luminous twilight, and spent the remaining money on snacks for the room at the Villa. We returned, tired with full bellies. We both wanted a little nightcap. We walked inside and were stunned to find Martin standing near the bar, his left hand cut all to hell. Bandages were wrapped haphazardly and blood trickled down his arm. His eyes narrowed and honed in on us.
“Did you call them?” he asked.
“Who?” I asked.
“Did you call the police?” he asked.
I looked at him, at his hand, and memories of his peculiar behavior pinged in my head. We’re dead, I thought to myself. He ain’t all there. This man’s gonna kill us. We’re in the middle of nowhere, in Mississippi of all places, and . . . What if Agnes wasn’t coming back? Like ever. Permanently. I scanned the room for escape routes and potential weapons. Poker beside the fireplace, liquor bottles galore, heavy knick-knacks. Backdoor. French doors. Tom answered,
“We haven’t called anybody.”
“What reason would we have to do that?” I asked. His demeanor softened slightly.
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “I got in a fight with the people in the safari cottage. Agnes wanted them gone and they wouldn’t leave. One of those bastards had a knife.” He looked at his hand. “The police came pretty much right after you left, so I thought you called them about this situation.”
“No. We’re not from here,” Tom said.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been to Mississippi,” I said.
“Well, I guess you wouldn’t know, would you?” He walked toward the bar. “You wanna drink?”
“No,” we said in unison. At that point, we were ready to shag ass out of there. We told him we were tired and wanted to go to our room.
When we got to the room, Tom locked the door and we both whispered our disbelief at the situation. We both agreed that, even though we’d receive no refund, we should leave early. But, if we left in the middle of the night, we might have to confront Martin. We settled on the next day. We’d (hopefully) see Ms. Agnes and tell her we had to leave early. My eyes veered toward the jacuzzi. Nice, warm, fizzy jet streams sounded heavenly. So, Tom turned on the water and we lounged as it filled. We couldn’t wait to wind down the day. We stepped into the water and it was tepid.
“The water’s cold!” I exclaimed.
“This is shitty,” I said.
The next morning, we were still alive. We dressed for the day and came downstairs. Ms. Agnes sat at the end of the kitchen counter. She was around seventy-five years old with a medium build and rather frail health. She had a face full of makeup, dressed nice, and maintained an eternally black coiffure. She greeted us boisterously and waved us over. Martin was in the room, so was Vince. Agnes apologized for not greeting us sooner. She asked us all kinds of odd, somewhat personal, questions. She talked about how exciting it would be for us to come back every year on our wedding anniversary. Tom and I stiffened. Her subject matter flew all over the place. She discussed her plans for the Villa, additions to make it a five-star dining experience, etc. Then her discussion took a hard pivot and she told us about her dreadful, boring marriage. She had children, though she wondered how, because her husband was asexual. “But I wasn’t,” she said. She told us all the things he refused to do in bed and his sanitary rituals when they actually did “the deed.” Yes, he was asexual (She kept throwing that word around.), she said; and she’d lived in dullness for years before she began a decades-long affair with an army general. He was married, too. Her face softened when she spoke about him. She never mentioned his name.
“We met when I was in Hawaii. He used to say I looked just like Hedy Lamarr,” she said, holding her head high and smiling. “Said it to me all the time. Hedy Lamarr.”
She smiled and told us how in love they were, how romantic, how passionate, how exciting their lives became. She motioned for Martin.
“Bring me the picture,” she ordered. His face reddened.
“Not that picture,” he said. “They don’t wanna see that.”
“Bring it to me.”
Martin shuffled away and came back with an ornate picture frame. He gave it to her, then put his head down, and stepped back. She turned the picture around.
“See? Don’t I look like Hedy Lamarr?”
The photograph. Her mouth had a waggish Mona Lisa smile. Her long, dark tresses accentuated her beautiful, pale face. Light blue eyes with even lashes. A floral, Maui-pink lei rested atop her naked, pert breasts. She was quite endowed. She wore a green grass Hula across sharp, curved hips. And she did, in fact, resemble Hedy Lamarr.
“Yes,” I said. “I can see it. Absolutely.”
“Uh Huh,” she said. Tom was silent. She studied me for a minute, then asked,
“What does your father do for a living, dear?”
“He’s a security inspector in Oak Ridge, Tennessee,” I answered.
“And you?” She directed the question to Tom “What does your father do for a living?”
Tom studied for a minute, looked down again at the picture, and smiled.
“He’s a chaplain for hospice in Wichita, Kansas.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ!” exclaimed Martin, putting his head in his hand. “Give me that.”
He moved forward and reached for the frame.
“It’s okay. Really,” I said.
“See?” Agnes retorted. “They don’t mind . . . have you thought about what you might want for breakfast? Anything you want, Vince can make it. He makes especially great omelets.”
“Martin, be a dear and bring me my breakfast,” she said. He came forward with a box of about a dozen small bottles of Jägermeister. She chose one, opened the lid, poured the liqueur into a glass, then drank it all down.
“I love my breakfast. Have it every morning,” she said, pouring another. “Some people eat. I prefer to drink mine. Starts the day off right.”
We decided on those omelets and a little bowl of fruit. I have to say, that was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had in my life. Tom agreed. But it certainly wasn’t worth staying. After breakfast, I went upstairs to pack while Tom informed Agnes that something came up and we had to leave. As he and I carried luggage down to the car, Martin pulled Tom aside and asked,
“Do you still have my hundred dollars?”
Tom’s eyes widened.
“Did you have any money left at all?”
“No,” Tom said, irritated. “You said spend it on food, so that’s what we did. Sorry, man.”
“Oh, no. Naw, man. Don’t worry. Don’t say anything to Agnes that I gave it to you and asked about it.”
Tom loaded our stuff in the car while I agreed to pay our bill. I agreed. God help me, I agreed.
I asked Martin for the whereabouts of Ms. Agnes. He was pale, his mouth slightly agape, and his eyes carried a lost look.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No,” he said. He curled one side of his lip. “Can you please do me a favor?” His eyes were pleading.
“I can try,” I said.
“Ms. Agnes – she’s taking a bath. She needs help out of the tub. And I . . . I . . . Can you help her?” He formed a prayer gesture with his hands. “Pleeeease?”
I think my whole body went numb. Here’s what I was thinking. I wanted to pay what we owed and get the hell out of there. I knew I’d never see this woman or any of these people again, unless by some fluke. And I knew for certain I could hold my own against that old woman.
“I’ll help,” I said.
He sighed so hard I thought he’d deflate before my very eyes. He directed me to her quarters. I was surprised at how cramped it was, given the size of the house. He tapped on the bathroom door and told Agnes I was there to help her. I gingerly opened the door and saw her sitting there, vulnerable, in a claw-foot tub. I read a story in her eyes. They told me she was struck with a sudden realization that she couldn’t rely on anyone; that a time was fast approaching when no one would come help. I felt bad for her.
“What can I do? How can I best help you?” I asked.
“Come over here and let me balance myself on your shoulder,” she said. She got out of the tub and sat on a bench.
“Bring me my robe,” she ordered. I did so. But, instead of wearing it or wrapping it around her shoulders, she sat on it. “You’re here to pay?” She was all business.
I told her I was. She told me the amount and held out her hand. I paid her there in cash.
“Hand me my calculator, pen, and book,” she said, pointing. So, I did. She sat there – naked as a jaybird – clicked the calculator keys, printed out a receipt, and discharged our bill. Then, she balanced her own account.
That’s how I left her, sitting on the bench, hunched over papers, naked and sagging, fervently clicking calculator keys.
I rushed to the car. I was afraid I might be asked to dress her. I hurried into the passenger seat, fastened my seatbelt, and gave Tom a wounded look.
“I was wondering what took you so long,” he said. “I was getting ready to come in there and get you.”
“I wish you would’ve,” I said.
“I had to help her out of the tub. I paid her and she sat and figured out our bill – naked.”
“Oh my God. Are you serious? I’m so sorry,” he said.
“Pencils!” I screamed.
“Pencils. Get me pencils so I can jab them into my eyes and pluck out the image!”
“No! No, you can’t do that.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because that’s the last thing you’ll remember seeing.”
**Featured Image by Erika Wittlieb on Pixabay
Thanks for treating us to some Appalachian tall tale telling, even if you did have to travel all the way to Mississippi to do it!
Oh, the horror! The horror! Thank you.