George kept meaning to clean out the gutters on the next warm day, but Indian summer passed and it didn’t happen. His procrastination had dire consequences. Twelve inches of cold November rain dumped waterfalls around the foundation of the old house and flooded the unused basement apartment. To avoid a bloom of mold down there, he quickly mustered the gumption to clean things up.

The moisture had really damaged the walls, with old paint-covered wallpaper peeling in many spots. Using a spackle knife, he worked to get down to the original painted plaster. On one surface, it all yanked off quite easily, and revealed a surprising array of messages and artwork, mostly done in bright red paint. First to emerge was the drawing of an old-fashioned four-panel door, upon which the couplet “REMEMBER WHAT THE DOORKNOB SAID//FEED YOUR HEAD!” had been scribed. He knew this to be from Grace Slick’s vocal to “White Rabbit,” on Jefferson Airplane’s first album, Surrealistic Pillow.

Then he saw a beautiful pair of long-lashed brown eyes gracing “SEE ME,” followed by a sketch suggesting a sensual female form and the line “FEEL ME.” As he expected, next came “TOUCH ME,” along with a palm print formed by spraying painting over a hand held against the wall (reminding him of prehistoric cave paintings). Finally, there was “HEAL ME,” all these lines from The Who’s rock opera Tommy. Next to the last quote the artist had crayoned a well-executed version of the cover of The Grateful Dead’s Live Dead LP, featuring a beautiful bare-breasted young woman resurrecting triumphantly from her coffin. All these music references were from the late 1960s, so he figured this must have been when the artwork was created. He knew that before he bought the house, the basement had served as a cheap rental for students at the local universities.

His curiosity was aroused and he continued scraping away. He discovered “KISS ME,” accompanied by a series of inviting pairs of bright red lips, rendered with what appeared to be actual lipstick. Down by the baseboard he found the artist’s signature, “Ophelia Oleander,” done in highly stylized calligraphy.

He wondered about this apparently wild hippie chick, probably a princess of the rock and drug subculture back in 1969. He figured she must be in her seventies now. What was she like today? Probably a Republican! He did some digging online, and managed to unearth an article from the November 17, 1969 Franklinsville Gazette:

The body found yesterday in Hillsdale Park has been identified as Agnes Kowalski, age 23, formerly of Lawrencetown. Presumed cause of death was drug overdose, as illegal substances were found on the premises, remnants of a party Friday night. An autopsy is being performed. Kowalski, who was also known as “Ophelia Oleander” to those in the local arts and youth music scene, reportedly pursued art and English literature studies at Chatlow College and Laurel School of Professional Art.

Oh well; no more to build on there. He decided to paint over the wall, but before he did, he thought to make a final gesture to a life snuffed out too soon, and placed his palm over the image of the hand there on the wall.

It was as if he had plugged his brain into a USB port and downloaded all the information from that night in November long ago. A wild party, and she decided to make it wilder by blending her lipstick with her chemistry grad student boyfriend’s home-made LSD. She went around kissing everyone to give them a dose, while taking care not to lick her lips. She even loaded up the lips she had drawn on the wall. Whenever she got any uninvited tongue action, she would rinse out her mouth with a swig of Mateus Rosé to avoid an overdose. Unfortunately, she came down with a bad case of the munchies, and gobbled up half a bag of Fritos. She forgot what she was doing, and kept smacking her lips to get off the salt that was encrusting them. There followed the longest, strangest trip she’d ever been on. When she returned, her body was gone, and she wound up stuck to the artwork she’d created. The landlord had quickly papered it over, and she’d been trapped for over fifty years.

Then George heard the voice of Ophelia herself: “Georgie, Georgie, I know you like me; you like the wild side. I’m still 23, and I’ve been sooo lonely for sooo long, like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince. Join me in my two-dimensional boudoir. You’ll feel just as you did in 1969. We can overlap and superimpose again and again. Please Georgie, please. I know you want to. All you have to do is kiss the lips; kiss the lips, please.”

To some extent, she was right about George—their connection through the hand on the wall allowed information to flow both ways. In 1969, he was making an effort to maintain the persona of a straight arrow engineer just out of school, but also took every possible opportunity to “take a walk on the wild side.” Eventually, marriage and a bourgeois lifestyle had put an end to any bohemian pretensions. Now at this late stage his life had evolved into something totally new, a somewhat monkish existence, beyond the sticky silken trappings of the world. An eternity with Ophelia held no allure.

He managed to pull his hand away from the wall to break the connection, grabbed his sledgehammer and smashed the plasterboard into little pieces. He cranked up the firepit in the yard, and fed the remnants of Ophelia’s art into the flames, while downing half a bottle of Canadian Club and listening to Live Dead. Later, he dumped the residue, not unlike the granular ash from a crematorium, in the far corner of the yard. In Spring, he’d grow something there, but not oleander, an exotically beautiful but highly toxic plant.


Richard Krepski (RICHSKI) is retired from a 30-year career as research scientist and educator. He currently resides in the twilight zone between scientific rationality and poetic lunacy. His writing often deals with spiritual or supernatural themes. Stories have appeared at RavensPerch, Esoterica, and Uppagus, and been published by Quillkeepers Press.