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Lodgers

Houses sometimes held onto what happened inside them.

The house stood at the entrance to the block, dwarfing all the other houses.

John and Alice learned a bit of the history of the house from the previous owner, who was a bit of an amateur historian. The original owner of the house, a Mr. Reginald Bowens--the man who built it, gave it life, brought it into the world--was a railroad scion for C&S Railways. The smaller houses in the neighborhood that huddled under the house’s shadow were primarily the homes of the railroad workers, working for C&S.

Mr. Bowens died in 1905, eight years after the construction of the house. C&S Railways informed Mrs. Bowens, suddenly a childless widow, that she could continue to live on the first floor of the house if she would let out the second floor to railroad workers and visiting guests of the railroad. Mrs. Bowens agreed to the deal.

The second floor was divided up into apartments after that, with a bathroom at the end of the hall. After Mrs. Bowens died the railroad sold the house. Since then the house had gone back and forth from being a single family residence to an apartment house several times, walls and doorways added and removed so many times that it was difficult to know what structures were original and what had been added on.

Even though the numbers had been taken off the doors, silhouettes of the metal apartment numbers were traced on the varnish of the doors of several of the upstairs rooms.

Alice and John were reading together in the family room. The girls were upstairs in their rooms, already put to bed, sleeping. Alice told John, “You know I don’t believe in ghosts. Not like the kids do.”

“Yes.”

“Not like you do.”

John said, “I guess I believe in ghosts. I wouldn’t say I think this house is haunted.”

“I don’t either. And I haven’t seen any ghosts here,” she continued. “But I... See things. Not exactly see. Imagine things.”

John grew curious. His wife possessed a well-trained academic mind, and she placed value on evidence and verifiable proof.

Alice closed her book. “I look down the hallway upstairs sometimes and I imagine tired middle-aged men coming home from a hard day of work. Not their ghosts, mind you, I don’t exactly see anything. I imagine them. Surprisingly clearly. All sooty, carrying lunch pails and toolboxes, dressed in overalls. Sometimes in suits. It’s nearly always men. Not always. But mostly.”

“That’s odd,” said John. He closed his book, kept his place with his finger.

“Yeah, it is,” she said. “Maybe the boarding house was only open to men. I don’t know.”

“I guess we’ll never know.”

“No, we won’t. Their lives are long forgotten. I’m sure there are people who remember them, loved them. But maybe not this part of their lives so much.”

“Like only the house remembers them.”

She said, “There’s just a sadness to it. If they are ghosts, they sure aren’t scary. They’re just...tired. Trudging up the back stairs, exhausted after a long day. Eyes downcast, looking at the floor. Taking out the keys as they turn the corner into the hallway, just because it’s the next thing to do. It’s automatic. Footsteps one after the other, plodding, slow.”

“That is sad.”

“Yes, it is.”

John reached out to hold his wife’s hand. She took his hand, squeezed it gently.

The conversation shifted to other subjects. After a time they returned to their books, sitting together there in the family room. Later that evening, as they were preparing for bed, John lingered at the closed door of Em’s room. He saw the “3” outlined in the varnish, the apartment number itself long removed but the faint reminder of the number remaining in the varnish and the discolored grain of the wood.

He thought of men trudging up the stairs at the end of the day, alone and unremembered, keys to empty rooms in their hands. How they had probably been remembered by friends and loved ones, but were anonymous in this place, in this time.

He thought of all the lonely, echoing steps he had taken, all the anonymous stairs he had climbed. How houses sometimes held onto what happened inside them, a sort of place memory, layer upon layer of events, all stacked on top of each other like geological strata.

He wondered if he would be seen by people who lived in the house, when he was dead and gone.

What would they see?

He opened the door to Em’s room again, and lay a kiss upon her forehead, thankful for the redemption he found in her, and in the love and life of his family. He closed the door behind him. He joined his wife.

He said, “Do you think we’ll be seen? Imagined? By the people who lived here after we’re gone?”

Alice smiled. She crossed the room and hugged him. “Are you worrying we will turn into ghosts?” she asked, not unkindly.

“Yes,” he answered truthfully.

Alice told him, “It’s not like I believe in them. But ghosts tend to gather around sad things, right? They are drawn to sorrow. You never hear about happy hauntings.”

“And we’re happy?” he asked her.

She kissed him. “Yes, dear. Yes, we are. Of course, we are.  You know that.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am, dear.”

They held each other for long moments. Eventually, they joined each other in bed, limbs curling around each other in well-practiced patterns as they fell into sleep together.

Love, perhaps, saved them from becoming ghosts.

 

 

 


 

 

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