The Horror of the Hamptons

It was around this time that the Dimity house began to lose some of its outward splendor and the grounds of Quee’s Jaw took on a distinctly shabby appearance. Clive and Clarisse dismissed many of their servants, leaving only a skeleton staff, as though reluctant to invite witnesses to their misfortune. Those who left their employ told lurid tales of the so-called poet Callahan and his acts of sacrilege against family tradition—acts which the presence of Ann Dimity had somehow sanctified. But now Callahan no longer stood between Ann and her parents. She appeared in public several times after Callahan’s disappearance, drifting among the tourist shops of Montauk, turning diners from their lobster and clams, her belly swelling with child at an alarming rate. And then, in a belated attempt to hush the scandal, her parents confined her to the house—an act which merely heightened the curiosity of the Hamptons and added to the aura of shame which already surrounded the Dimities. It was some time during this period that the windows of the manor were first shuttered and the rest of the staff dismissed, except for a few old family retainers who could not have survived outside those walls.

Ann was not seen again until months later, when a Dr. August Sinclair of Amagansett was called to Dimity House to examine a newborn male child. He found Ann Dimity in wretched condition, concluded that she had been abusing intravenous drugs, and pronounced it a miracle that the child had survived what had obviously been several days of withdrawal from a wide variety of illicit pharmaceuticals. While the doctor’s examination of the patient was obviously a matter of strictest confidence, a secretary in his office—later fired for this and similar indiscretions—studied the patient’s files and soon spread a detailed account of the Dimity condition among her friends. The gossip went winging….

Ann Dimity’s health worsened after the delivery of her child, as though her life had been required to sustain the newborn and now there was nothing left for her. She died within the month of a self-administered heroin overdose. Rumors of suicide were inevitable, if inconclusive.

And now there was another male Dimity to carry on the family name. This might have delighted Clive and Clarisse, but they were rarely seen to be congratulated. Clive’s neglect of the family business became chronic. Financial advisers, old friends of the family, were forced to sell vast parts of the Dimity holdings in order to protect their own salaries. Soon, ratlike, even these oldest of allies began to abandon the sinking Dimity ship.

The house itself foundered in decay. Without continual upkeep, skilled gardeners and carpenters, a place of that size quickly turns ruinous. The salt air eats away at metalwork and trim; it warps the boards and peels up the roof, scouring the paint to an ever grayer splintered sheen daily. Once or twice, a small shape was seen scurrying over the rimed porch, but either Clive or Clarisse would shoot out like a timid polyp to snatch the child back inside.

There were no elaborate parties to celebrate the boy’s birthday, but the Hamptons were counting. Two years, three, four years passed with hardly any sight of the child. A birth certificate listed him as Clarence MacWallader Dimity, and little more was known of him. But in time he must emerge. The law required schooling, after all.

Five years passed with still no sign of the boy. Six years, and the whispering rose to a frantic if muted pitch. Clive and Clarisse were sometimes seen outside the house, directing the carpenters who now occupied themselves around the place day and night, their pick-up trucks raising a constant din on the narrow Hamptons roads, their beer cans littering the sands of Quag Harbor. The Dimities, with their still ample supply of money, had begun the first of those expansions which were to transform the house into such a monstrosity and drain their resources to the bedrock.

Eventually the Hamptons realized that the Dimity boy must have been smuggled away in secrecy to some distant private school. He ceased to be a topic of conversation. Instead the dizzying ugliness of the house occupied all the neighbors’ attention.

It was generally agreed that the Dimities’ disgrace had driven them mad. No one sought any other reason for the expansion of the house. The Dimities were so engrossed in their own misfortunes that they could have had no thought of impressing neighbors with the vastness of their home; otherwise they would never have given it such a grotesque, haphazard appearance. The most logical explanation anyone could give to the phenomenon was to compare it to the celebrated Winchester House in San Jose, California. Sarah Winchester, wife of that inventor whose rifle had slain countless Indians in the cause of Manifest Destiny, believed herself pursued by the vengeful souls of innocent redskins; an oracle informed her that so long as she kept adding on to her house, the spirits would be appeased, though the logic in this bargain could only have been acceptable to the dead. So in her madness she constructed seemingly endless additions to the house, stairs that led nowhere, impassable doors, queerly angled parlors and doors, keeping a battery of carpenters busy at building and rebuilding her porches and porticos until the day of her death. There was little similarity between Sarah Winchester and the Dimities, except for the Dimities’ long-past dabbling in arms trafficking; but there is something in humanity that must contrive explanations, fabricating them out of thin-air if no sturdier raw material comes to hand.

For years things went on in this manner. The house sprawled out to the very tip of Quee’s Jaw, then began to work its way back toward the jointure of jaw with harbor. Carpenters were hired in force, but none worked at the house for very long; those who could stand the Dimities’ strange and conflicting orders were fired without reason after they had been at work for several months; most simply could not tolerate the Dimities. They said that Clive and Clarisse inhabited only a tiny forward portion of the house, the rest of it being pronounced “uninhabitable.” With each extension, the portion of uninhabitable area grew; Clive and Clarisse remained like caretakers of a great emptiness, huddled in their single room. Clive busied himself removing quantities of wood and masonry from the interior of the house; Clarisse sang quietly to no one, until one morning a carpenter rapped on the warped screen door of that little outpost and found her peacefully dead in her rocking chair. Clive seemed not to notice or to care, but for a time all the carpentry ceased—largely because they could find no new workers within a reasonable distanfeQuag Harbor whom they had not already hired and fired, or who had not already learned their reputation and sworn never to work for them.

The house seemed stranger than ever now, sitting there silent and ungainly, with Clive a mere speck of mad consciousness in one of its rooms. It squatted like a monument to no one knew what. The carpentry, mismatched by the badly directed workers, must have been even worse than it appeared; for on perfectly still days the house was heard to creak and groan so loudly that neighbors a mile or more away thought some huge animal was dying on their own beaches. It was amazing that the structure didn’t collapse under its own weight. Clive Dimity finally bestirred himself, traded his sleek limousine for an old pickup truck, and ventured out on numerous expeditions for lumber and tools. He proceeded to contribute his own additions to the house, shoring up the old work with unskilled carpentry—although his technique slowly improved with practice.

It was around this time, some seventeen years after his birth and twelve after his last sighting, that Clarence Dimity returned.

The first one who knew about it was a soft icecream salesman at a roadside shack in Sandyhaug. He looked up from his chilled metal dispenser as soft chocolate poured into a sugar cone, to find a strange specter blotting out the light from the road. He was so startled that icecream poured over his fist before he could shut off the machine. The pressure of the stranger’s extraordinary eyes seemed to push him off balance.

“Can I help you, sir?” he asked, wiping his hands as he moved forward. The child whose cone he’d been filling stood motionless, staring up at the stranger, soft treat forgotten.

His face was swarthy and vaguely disfigured, as though he’d been born with a cleft palate surgically corrected. His teeth were too long and snaggled, despite the glinting silver of orthodontic braces. His eyes seemed to stare off in different directions, one blue and one brown. And something in his gentle smile reminded the icecream vendor of the poet Callahan, whose sketch had appeared in local papers after his disappearance—although this might have been hindsight, brought on by the stranger’s question.

“Can you tell me how to find Quee’s Jaw and the Dimity house?”

The child screamed and ran away. The house was a common setting for the tales of ghostly retribution with which Hamptons mothers threatened their offspring, when they weren’t threatening to disown them.

“Quee’s Jaw? What’s your business there?”

“I am Clarence Dimity,” said the stranger, a stranger no longer.

It was as though he had never vanished—as though Callahan himself had returned across the gulf of eighteen years. The same old rumors started again, in full force, picking up where they had left off. The returning Dimity could have sailed his way home on this breeze, which certainly rushed ahead of him through the Hamptons. That evening, the road past Quee’s Jaw had more than its usual share of strollers, all trying to catch a glimpse of the reunion that must be going on in the huge house occupied mainly by darkness.

Clarence Dimity, for a time, came to be a common—but never commonplace—sight in East Hampton. He began making discreet inquiries about the state of the family fortune, and seemed alarmed to find it in such disrepair. He travelled far and wide to patch up differences with the carpenters who had left off work on the house in such a hurry; and then he hired them again. For some time, people believed that the young Dimity would actually repair the damage done to the house, but they quickly realized that he intended to pick up where his father had left off, and in much the same style. If anything, the new additions were uglier than ever—as though keen attention had paid to make them look monstrous.

But if Clarence paid little heed to the outward appearance of his ancestral home, he was very concerned indeed with the smallest details of the family fortune. Funds were running out of it at ever-increasing speed. He made the acquaintance of the family’s most trusted erstwhile financial advisers, and with their assistance caulked up the holes in the Dimity wealth, and began to build it up again to something like its former glory.

For this task, he required professional assistance less and less; the youth had something of his mother’s genius, but this time his appetite was not for the intellectual or experiental side of human affairs. His hunger was strictly limited to money.

This was the beginning of a boom time for the American economy, and Clarence Dimity rode the financial flood as though born to high waters. Year after year his fortunes grew, and with them grew the house. Clarence left his father to watch over the place, and hired a private nurse to watch over his father; meanwhile, the Dimity boy spent more and more of his time in Manhattan—specifically, on Wall Street. That snaggle-toothed, wall-eyed face became a fixture on the trading floor, commonly glimpsed on the evening news stock reports; scraps of tickertape perpetually threaded his bristly black hair. He had a genius for the market, an uncanny ability to intuit the rises and falls of the economy instants before those trends became common knowledge. At times it seemed he actually controlled the market, so in tune with it was he. He had no interest in the usual attractions of wealth. He had no friends, no lovers, no fancy cars; no one could interest him in cocaine or other more fashionable thrills. For this the other investors considered him odd; and then they investors began to despise him, ridiculing his luck when it would have seemed uncharitable to mock his physical attributes. But Clarence never faltered. The only goal of his success seemed to be to pump ever greater amounts into the enlargement of his already titanic, overblown house.

A noted architect received from Clarence several tentative sketches for the greatest addition yet. It was to be a massive shell that would completely cover the house; cover, in fact, the entirety of Quee’s Jaw, extending out into the harbor, continuing underwater and underground, with allowances made for even greater extensions later if such should be deemed necessary. The architect, while considering the plans somewhat insane, noted the amounts of money that Clarence could offer and began to devise ways of treating the proposal seriously. But before these plans could go much farther, fate intervened.

Any illusion that Clarence might be able to control or predict the fortunes of Wall Street were finally shattered.

After years of rising higher and higher, carrying Clarence and many others with it, the market finally crashed.

Black Monday brought him down, tragically down, ruinously down.

At the end of that day, a greater plummet than the Crash that opened the gates of the Great Depression, while the President sweated and blustered to reassure the nation that there was no reason for the crash and nothing to fear, Clarence Dimity dragged himself through the stock exchange, making odd bleating noises that attracted the attention of even his most miserable, self-absorbed companions. They had envied him his success, but now they looked at him with a glee that pierced the shadows of their own misfortune. At last the great Dimity had fallen! His eyes roved in different directions, a long thread of spittle dripped from his hopelessly crooked teeth, and suddenly he threw up his arms and bellowed. Several brokers quickly closed on him, carrying him beyond the reach of cameras and the flood of reporters, hauling him behind a tall platform where he continued to spasm and wail through the muffling pressure of their hands.

At first they tried insincerely to commiserate; but he seemed bizarrely sensitive to their hypocrisy. His body bucked fiercely, as though subject to an electric current. One man hurried to call an ambulance. Two others remained to watch him, and these two were treated to a spectacle that to this day remains a guarded mystery. Neither will speak of what they saw, though they lurched away gagging just as paramedics arrived.

There was little left of Clarence Dimity to load aboard a stretcher; and what remained might have been best spooned or sponged from the carpet. Some theorize that he must have swallowed some powerful all-dissolving acid, caried in the vent of any such financial disaster. Such a suicide would have echoed his mother’s end, but it is hard to credit any known substance with such destructive powers. Others believe that the financial pressure alone was enough to blow him apart. The two eye witnesses still will not speak of his final moments, although both of them promptly withdrew their remaining investments from the broken market, sold their Connecticut homes, and moved to Peoria and Wichita Falls respectively.

If Clarence Dimity’s seeming prognosticative powers had failed him at the end, he must have retained enough foresight to know instantly that he was utterly ruined. No slight recovery of the market could have saved him. He had been known for staking his fortune on daring ventures that had, without exception, paid off. Now there was nothing left.

Nothing but Quee’s Jaw, Quag Harbor, and the ancient Dimity house itself.

No carpenters reported for work the next morning, having heard or guessed the turn of the Dimity fortunes. A fisherman skirting the deadly waters off Quee’s Jaw saw Clive Dimity pacing back and forth on the porch of his tumorous house, talking to himself in tones that carried far over the water. He seemed to be gesturing at the house as he spoke.

The nurse never returned; there was nothing to pay her salary. The power and water were soon shut off. It was whispered all through the Hamptons that the Dimity House must be sold if Clive wished to live; not that anyone thought the old man had any remaining interest in life. He had lost his wife, his daughter, his grandson, and now was about to lose his house.

Most neighbors suspected that he would cling desperately to this last bit of the Dimity heritage. Even so, several local realtors left their cards in the mailbox at the gates of the property.

They received no response.

It was at this point that Sach’s narrative came to an end.

The house had sat desolate, dark, with its single inhabitant, until the time of my visit. It was almost midnight when my friend finished his tale, which was scarcely as thorough as the one I’ve written. This narrative shows the fruit of my own researches as much as Sach’s incomplete memories. I pushed back my chair, pleaded exhaustion, and made my way through the humid night to my little guest house, where I remained awake for several hours making notes on all I’d heard. I fell asleep over a writing desk that overlooked the moonlit sea, and had troublesome dreams of that sprawling house.