Kicked out of school in New York, she’s sent to live with her grandmother in a small Appalachian town. But something is wrong with the grandmother Ez hasn’t seen for years; she leaves at midnight, carrying a big black bag.
Published: April 9th, 2015
Something is wrong with Esmé.
Kicked out of school in New York, she’s sent to live with her grandmother in a small Appalachian town. But something is wrong with the grandmother Ez hasn’t seen for years; she leaves at midnight, carrying a big black bag. Something is wrong with her grandmother’s house, a decrepit mansion full of stray cats, stairs that lead to nowhere, beds that unmake themselves. Something is wrong in the town where a kid disappears every year, where a whistle sounds at night but no train arrives.
And something is wrong with the cute and friendly neighbor Ez’s age with black curls and ice-blue eyes: He’s dead.
I began to remember the way.
Past the gas station and fairgrounds: there was the hill. There was the road, the driveway cracked and steep. I tightened my grip on the suitcases and started up. The driveway veered, and there was the house: glowering from on top of the hill.
The house was three stories, mostly brick, and over a hundred years old. It had belonged to someone important. It had been passed down. It had a name—but I couldn’t remember what it was.
I passed my grandmother’s station wagon parked in front of the collapsing barn. When the driveway stopped, I dragged the suitcases through grass, tearing through the weeds to get around the house. The grass hadn’t been mowed in a long time, and there were tree limbs down all over the yard. Wide steps led to a front porch and double doors, thrown wide open to the afternoon. When I walked up the steps, four blurs shot out of the doors and down, yowling.
Cats. My grandmother fed a whole herd of them, all tailless. Manx, I remembered they were called.
“Scat!” I told them. I started up the steps, leaving my suitcases at the foot. I knocked at the open door. “Grandma?” I called.
No one answered.
I went inside.
I hadn’t remembered how high the ceilings of the house were, how the wooden floors echoed. I peeked in the doorway of the first room to my left: empty, except for bookshelves and a piano. The room on the right, the dining room, had a heavy oak table in the center, drapes drawn shut over the windows, and a fireplace, the marble mantle cluttered with candles. There were candles on the floor in the hallway too, all dusty and blackened, burned down to nubs.
A ballroom stood on the third floor, I remembered now—I had roller skated there. A big staircase led up to it, but I kept walking down the hall. I came to a smaller set of stairs, the servant steps. To my right was the kitchen.
To my left was the sitting room where my grandmother waited for me, watching television with the sound off.
“Grandma?” I whispered.
Blue light flickered over her face. It was her. She was the same as I remembered, only smaller.
“I’m here,” I said.
She didn’t say anything.
“Esmé? Jennifer’s daughter?”
It hurt to say my mother’s name. Not hurt exactly. It felt forbidden, like a spell. It felt like I shouldn’t speak her name aloud. I wished I hadn’t. I felt dizzy, like I might be sick.
Her face unfroze at the sound of my and my mother’s names. She looked around, concentrating, as if she was listening hard for something. She didn’t look at me. Still I thought she was going to speak.
But she only reached over to the end table, picked a phone, saw that nobody had called or was calling, and turned the phone facedown again. She never met my eyes.
I turned away. “I’ll just go get my bags,” I said.
I lugged them up the main stairs because I didn’t want to have to face my grandmother again. Was she mad at me already? What had my sister said about me?
On the second floor, there were four closed doors, and two open ones. The front room held a white canopied bed. There were magazines and old, moldy books on the night table, slippers underneath it—my grandmother’s room.
That left the smaller room for me. I was relieved to see the bed had sheets on it, a pink quilt folded at the foot, towels draped over a chair. I opened the two doors in the room to find a closet, and a bathroom with a tub ringed in rust.
Had this been my room? I set my suitcases down, opened the drapes at the window, and looked out. The room faced the backyard. Beyond the old barn, there was a pond. I hadn’t remembered that, either.
Exhausted, too worn out to be hungry, I climbed into bed and pulled the pink quilt around me. I didn’t bother getting undressed, or calling my sister to tell her I was here. Not home. I was not home. I would never say that word again.
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About the author:
Also the author of three books of poetry: WAIT (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), OHIO VIOLENCE (University of North Texas Press, 2009), and LOT OF MY SISTER (Kent State University Press, 2001), she has worked as an actor, an artist’s model, a high school teacher, and a professor. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Ohio University, and is an avid urban explorer.
I love stories like this! Haunted house, evil granny the works! :D
Thanks for hosting, Cremona! :)
Sounds like a great read!
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