Fiction

All for the Wrong Word

a little bit of a ghost story….

 

“This house has great bones.” Jameson jiggled the key in the rusty lock and pushed open the heavy oak door. “Such potential.” He faked a bow and waved Maggie into the foyer.

“Leave it to you to see potential in a rundown hole-in-the-wall.” She picked up a lose floorboard with the toe of her boot and pushed it aside. “I’m not sure why you even brought me here,” she said, turning to leave.

Her eye caught the dust caked transom over the door. Dim light through ancient stained glass beckoned like distant headlights through a thick fog. “This house was someone else’s dream,” she said quietly, squinting at what seemed under the dirt to be a nautical scene, a boat sailing in a bay. She walked to the door and stared up at the transom. “A dream gone bad.”

“You’re too literal, Maggie,” he said. “Step back, feel the history of the place, the magic.”

“Magic.” Standing on her toes, she reached for the high window and wiped a thin streak across the grimy panes.

“Yes, Maggie. Magic.” He opened a door under the stairs. “Look in here.” He pulled a string, lighting the small room with a bare bulb. “Isn’t it darling!”

In the corner was a tiny triangular sink with brass faucets and spindle handles marked “Hot” and “Cold.” A toilet fit snugly into the space under the sloped ceiling beneath the stairs.

Wiping the dust from the transom off of her finger, Maggie snuck around Jameson. She caught her wavy reflection in a mirror hung with a tattered green ribbon above the sink. Gray clouds in the glass gave the impression she was surrounded by mist.

A smile slowly graced her reflection.

“It’s a charming little space, isn’t it?” Jameson turned and started for the stairs. “Come with me. There’s more.”

“In a minute.” Maggie cocked her head, trying to see into the mirror, beyond her reflection.

She closed the door to the small room. Turning the handle marked “Cold,” a burst of brown watery air spewed into the sink like a beer drinker’s guffaw. She turned on the “Hot” and the empty pipes groaned.

She sat down on the toilet seat and picked at a loose piece of wallpaper, pink roses in a vertical vine from chair rail to ceiling.

Water closet.

She heard the words clearly. The voice was pleasantly, eerily familiar.

I’ll light the candles.

Maggie looked up. “I’ll light the candles.”

Your hands are so strong.

“It’s the bread,” she said, “the kneading.”

You’re cold.

“It’s starting to snow.” She rubbed her hands together. An unseen hand covered hers, the pressure of a warm arm wrapped round her.

I won’t tarry long.

“Please, don’t leave,” she whispered. “Please.”

A triple rap on the door and Jameson called to her. “Hey, you okay in there?”

“Please, don’t leave,” she whispered again.

“Maggie?” He drummed his fingers on the door.

“Yes, Jameson,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”

From where she sat, the mirror was black, the shading of age blocking any clear image of the small room from this angle. She stood, looking for a long moment in the mirror, seeing only her smiling face.

“Maggie.” Jameson rapped on the door again.

“Yes, yes,” she said, opening the door.

“You okay?” Jameson put his hand on her cheek. “You’re as white as a ghost.”

She put her hand over his, his fingers cool on her warm face. “I’m fine. Show me upstairs,” she said, leading the way.

Jameson ran his hand over the cracked oak bannister as he walked up the stairs behind her. “This place is just dying to be brought back to life.”

Maggie stumbled, catching herself before falling up the stairs.

“My God, Maggie,” Jameson said, coming up behind her. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yes.” She turned and sat down on the top step. “No.”

Jameson leaned into her. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I think it’s this house.” She put her head on her knees. “I’m a builder, not a renovator, Jameson. I can’t take someone else’s dead dream and revive it.”

“Stop being so morbid.” He pulled her up by her elbow, pushing her down the hallway and into a large room. Sunlight danced on dust motes as the sun streamed through the wavy glass in the ancient windows. “Just look at this room!”

An iron bedframe and an oak commode, the shattered pieces of its porcelain bowl scattered over the floor, were the only furnishings left behind.

We have a water closet now!

“But I like the commode,” Maggie said.

“Commode?” Jameson opened the drawer in its base “This thing could catch a mint at auction.”

It’s the twentieth century.

“I like old things.”

“Since when?” Jameson practically squealed. He slammed shut the commode drawer and stared at Maggie. “Okay, Maggie. What the hell is going on?”

Maggie walked to the commode and opened the drawer, pulling it out as far as she could. She reached in the back and felt around.

“What are you doing?”

She turned to Jameson. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said, pulling out a folded piece of yellowed paper. She handed it to Jameson.

“It’s a letter.”

Maggie looked out the window.

“I can barely read it,” he said, holding it close to his face. “The letters are faded, but I’ll give it a go.”

I’m sorry, Jameson read. I shan’t…. “They said things like shan’t back then?”

I’m sorry, Maggie continued, still looking out the window. I shan’t be able to return as expected. Know that you are forever in my heart.

Jameson lowered the letter.

“He never returned,” she said.

I did.

“No.”

I should have written when, not as.

“No.”

You should have waited.

Maggie ran from the room, down the stairs, and into the water closet. She looked at her smiling face and the hand holding a jagged shard of porcelain.

He came back.

“He did?”

I just wanted you to know.

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