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Second of July

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On paper, the house was July’s, but I stayed there and I loved it, from the slanted floors to to the leaking foundation. And it loved me.

It took a long time to get there; it was far from any city or town, away from the interstate, away from the highway, down one road then another and another, until you drove down one that didn’t even have a name, past a murmuring creek -- and there you saw it, rising over the hill, white and perfect like a wedding cake.

It wasn’t until you got close that you noticed the cracked paint and the broken swing on the porch, and the vines, poisonous green, that grew through the lattices and up the sides. Still beautiful, but old and feeling every year of its age.

I had met July at a party thrown by their friends on the occasion of their twenty-first birthday. I wasn’t invited; I was serving the drinks when some of the champagne spilled on my best dress-shirt. July helped me clean up and asked me my name. Tongue-tied, I said the first thing that came into my head. Perry. Short for Perrier, which was the bottle I was holding.

They smiled and took the bottle from my hand.

“Nice to meet you, Perry,” they said.

(Later, I did tell them my given name. But by that time, I had grown pretty fond of Perry, and that was what July called me.)

I’ve met many Aprils and Mays, and a few Junes and at least two Augusts, but never another July. They were tall, taller than me, with freckles just about everywhere, and curly hair that seemed to defy any attempt to tame it. They hummed under their breath in the mornings before they drank their coffee, not speaking until then. I don't want to compare July to a summer's day (though they were more lovely and temperate), but to my eyes, they were summer personified, even though they later told me that they had, in fact, been born in March.

(But, counting back nine months...)

A week after July’s twenty-first birthday, I was sprawled on their bed, trying to explain myself to them. I needed something, something that I could devote my life to. I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t lazy, and I wasn’t mean, but my life hadn’t gone the way I wanted it to. What I needed was a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the mornings. I said that as I traced the freckles on July’s skin. July looked up into the ceiling, their face scrunched up into an attitude of deep thought.

I waited for them to speak, feeling stupidly vulnerable, when July turned to me and said, “I have a house that I just inherited. If you want to, you can go live there with me. It’ll be half-yours, half-mine.”

The thing was, the offer didn’t sound strange to me. It felt inevitable, natural in a way that I couldn't quite put a finger on. I didn't believe in destiny or anything like that, but I knew that I was meant to be there, at that moment, and that I was meant to say yes.

So I said yes.

Sometimes, life hands you something wonderful, and you have to take it. Take it and run.

*

We moved in a month later. It was surprising how easy it was to just go, leave everyone and everything behind. I didn’t have much to take with me, anyway, and not many people to miss me. But July, they had more ties, and I didn’t mind it too badly when people called them crazy for going for it. But we stuck fast to our plans and went methodically about, dismantling our lives in the city.

I saw the house for the first time when we moved in.

I began to think of it as my house the moment I stepped out of the car and walked up the pathway leading to the house. My house, I thought as I turned the key. From inside came a gust of stale air and dust, but I walked in, eager to see everything I could before the light faded. My house, the one that had waited for me for so long.

July followed after, more practical than I. There were bags to bring in, the kitchen to be cleaned, boxes to open, things to find places for.

I wanted to open every door and look in, to find out all of the house’s mysteries right away. July looked at me, standing at the top of the stairs, staring around like a dazed rabbit, and laughed.

“Go explore,” they said, but I shook my head, and climbed back down and helped unpack.

I had always lived in apartments before, little rabbit warrens of humans all stacked on top of each other. Breathed in air that a thousand other lungs had breathed out. I had grown up in the city, like a dandelion growing through a crack in the pavement. There was always noise. Screams and sirens, horns, traffic. People, coming in and going out and sometimes slipping away altogether.

But here, all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing, and that of July’s, next to me. Even the hum of insects outside seemed so far away. I could hardly sleep, the first night. I lay awake, thinking about the future, about the house and I was so happy and so terrified.

*

The next few days were a blur, filled with cleaning and fixing and setting up.

July liked to cook more than I did, so we spent a lot of time fixing the kitchen. It was a hodgepodge of different times and styles -- the sink was white porcelain still had streaks of rust running down it, no matter how hard we scrubbed, the table was massive and old, older than the house, July said with confidence.

Someone had tried to update the kitchen in the seventies and had painted the cabinets avocado-green. We scraped off the paint and sanded the cabinets down, and painted them white instead.

The fridge was from the fifties and doubled as a heater, on cold mornings. The stove -- a cantankerous old electric range -- took forever to warm up, much less fry an egg. There wasn’t any room for a microwave, much less anything else.

We agreed that the plot outside the kitchen window would do nicely as vegetable and herb garden. Beyond that, there was a little henhouse that was built like the big house, but in miniature. It was clear that no chicken had lived there for a long time, but I still planned about getting one, a reddish-brown hen I’d call Betty, who would make two eggs per day, enough for July and me.

I liked clearing rooms of debris, old newspapers, ancient National Geographics with dissolving spines, and papers, so many papers. I opened up the windows to get some fresh air and watched the sunlight catch the motes of dust as they swirled in the air. I tried to play the piano, but all I got when I hit the keys was a tired old sigh.

July would come back from work and help me, and slowly but surely, a set of rooms began to emerge from the chaos. A house to live in. A kitchen, a parlor, a dining room, a sun room, all of it ours. Upstairs, the bedroom that July and I shared, a bathroom with a claw-footed tub and a constant, roving drip that I could never seem to stop all the time I lived in that house.

I picked July’s brain about everything they knew about the house and the property, but it wasn’t much. It had belonged to their father’s family for generations, but the family hadn’t lived there for almost ninety years. It was rented out for most of that time, but in the last two decades, it had stood empty.

“But I do know one story about it,” July said, with a gleam of mischief in their eyes. “A sensational one. Do you want to hear it?”

“Hm?” I said, looking up. I was trying to get the TV to work, but all it would give me was snowy gray visions of PBS, before switching off by itself. July was curled up in a big wingback chair, virtuously pretending to read a book.

They put it down as soon as they saw I was interested.

I went over to them and sat on the ground in front of them, leaning against their legs. July ran a hand through my hair, as they would pet a cat. I grinned to myself and settled in for a story.

“I had an great-uncle, a wicked French-Canadian named Andre, who lived here during the thirties. The rumor was that he ran liquor from the border to the cities -- Saint Paul, all the way to Chicago. All the gangsters knew Andre, and knew he was good for it, he wouldn’t sell you stuff that’d make you blind or turn your hair white. He used to have parties here so loud that the townsfolk in Coeur d’Hiver, five miles away, would complain about them. They say that the notorious Belle Gunness (or a woman fitting her description) once showed up, but left before the dancing started. But whenever the police would come calling, they never found Andre or a drop of liquor in the house, no matter how many times they tore the place apart. And it went like that for a couple of years, until she showed up.”

“And she, of course, was…” I put my hand on July’s shoulder, leaning against them.

“She was Andre’s wife. He had left her in Toronto five years back, filled with promises of how he would send for her as soon as he could. She brought with her her little sister, Lily, who just happened to be my grandmother. Ellen was of a wholly different temperament than Andre. She was a devoted Christian and was horrified that her husband was breaking the law in so many ways. She put a stop to the wild parties at once. And Andre let her.”

“Seems funny that they’d be married in the first place, if they were so different,” I said.

“Well, they had married young, even for those days. And Andre was very good-looking, good-looking enough that all sorts of people made an exception for him. Now, a rumor came to Ellen that Andre had hiding somewhere in this house a chest of gold and bonds -- his escape clause, he kept in case things went south for him. He wouldn’t tell anyone where he hid that chest, not even Ellen when she asked. He denied there was any such chest at all.

Now, all of this was happening during the Depression. People were hungry. They were angry, and when they heard that the man who lived in the big white house had a treasure-chest up there, it got too much for any of them to take. That was when the feds showed up and put up a blockade down a road that they knew Andre would have to cross to get home.

Then they sat and waited.

Sure enough, one summer morning, not long after midnight, Andre was driving a truck full of caskets (with bottles of gin concealed under the silk lining) when, in a hail of bullets, the windows of the truck blew, instantly killing the kid who helped Andre with his shipments. Andre got away -- but not before he got a gut full of lead for his troubles. The woods between our house and the roads were crawling with people -- not just the feds, but all the people who had seen Andre’s lavish lifestyle and hated it him for it. Andre evaded them all, even though he was bleeding -- so much blood! -- all the way. All the way to the steps of the house, where he disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” I asked. “How could he?”

“No one knew. The feds looked, the police looked. They roused Ellen from her bed (she swore that she knew nothing -- that for all she knew, Andre was still in Canada) and made her show them all the secret passageways that Andre had used to get away from them in the past. The whole house was in an uproar. Andre had simply disappeared. And so had his gold. Ellen took Lily back to Toronto after that. She couldn’t take the shame of it, having a husband who didn’t even have the decency to leave a corpse. She never talked about her wicked husband Andre to anyone. But Lily was the one who told me.”

July leaned back, satisfied. I got up, half-way, and kissed their lips.

“That sounds like a load of bullshit,” I said, smiling.

They smiled back, and said, “My sweet old grandma wouldn't lie to me.”

I smiled back. “If Lily was anything like you, then yeah, I guess so.”

 

*

My house was haunted.

I knew that almost as soon as I set foot in it. July was pragmatic, didn’t believe in ghosts. But I would lie still and listen to the quiet footsteps that would roam the house at night. Distinct footsteps, made by brand-new rubber-soled leather shoes that no one wore anymore. The rubber would pop and squeak as they walked. It was an unmistakable noise. Sometimes the footsteps would wander down the hall from the room where July and I slept. Sometimes they would mount the stairs, slowly, avoiding the one that squeaked loudly.

Sometimes, the footsteps would come from inside the walls.

The first few time it happened, I bothered July so much that they stumbled out of bed and grabbed from under the bed the aluminum softball bat that served as our home security system, and threw open the door where the footsteps had been -- to see nothing. July, with me lurking behind them, checked every room in the house. All of them were empty, of course.

I didn’t think the ghost -- or ghosts, because if there was one, why wouldn’t there be more? -- was anyone in particular. I didn’t think it was the ghost of Andre, looking for his lost gold, for one.

I didn’t think the ghost was anyone in particular. Or anything in particular. Only -- a fragment, a curl of smoke left behind after the smoker has gone back inside, a thought that lingered on, on the edge of forgetting. In the long, long hours that I spent in the house, painting, sanding, fixing, while July worked like crazy to keep the lights on -- the ghost was company. A cold one, sure, the temperature always dipped a few degrees when it was around, but I didn’t feel so alone.

I would sing aloud with the the songs on the radio, and sometimes it would sound as if someone was tapping their feet with the rhythm of the music, their feet confused with the new-fangled melodies.

The cat showed up a month after we moved in. She looked at us expectantly and gave us an inquisitive meow when we were slow to open a can of tuna for her. She wasn’t a feral, not by any means, she was used to humans doing her bidding. Her fur was a tawny, golden brown and her paws were bigger than the rest of her. She liked to sit in the corner and watch us with those big, luminous green eyes.

“Keep the ghosts away, will you, girl?” July said, petting her. She rubbed her head against their arm. Animals loved July, and the cat was no different. July named her Susie, Swoos for short.

On July’s day off, we put up some flyers in town, describing what cat looked like and our phone number, in case someone was looking for her, but no one came forward. So she was ours to keep.

Swoos fit in like she had always been there. She fairly haunted the old hen-house when she was lurking in the kitchen or in July’s side of the bed. In the mornings, I would let her out and watch as she stalked outside, tail high in the air, and in the evening, she would scratch the bottom of the door, demanding to be let in.

Sometimes, when I was washing dishes, I would look out to see Swoos lurking in the old hen-house and I swear I could hear the nervous chuckling of chickens, rattling their old chicken chains.

*

One night it was so hot that I couldn't sleep. I lay awake, staring at the ceiling fan as it made its slow revolutions. July was fast asleep beside me. They were a heavy sleeper, nothing short of the end of the world would wake them. Outside our room, the ghost walked up and down the hallway.

I sat up, and the footstep stopped in front of our door. It was like the entire house was holding its breath, waiting to see what I would do. I got up and got dressed -- I slept in an old t-shirt and not much else -- and went to the door.

Outside, the hallway was empty, except for Swoos, lurking at the doorway of the room opposite. We shared a glance and Swoos blinked her eyes. From about ten feet away, the footsteps began to move again, turning and going down the stairs. I followed them. Swoos followed me.

They led me to the study and seemed to hover over the fireplace. For some reason, however, I had the strongest feeling of someone looking over my shoulder. But when I turned, there was no one there.

Tentatively, I knocked on the walls, but I couldn’t hear anything that would suggest a hidden passageway. Eventually, I gave up, dejected. The house was quiet, and Swoos had snuck off somewhere. I crept up the stairs and down the hall as quietly as I could, but by the time I had gotten back into bed, July was wide awake.

They were wearing a camisole that I remember was a sprightly magenta. (But in reality, was a nubbly bluish-grey.)

"You okay?" They sat up and patted my side of bed. I slumped over the bed, sprawling over their legs. July snorted sharply and rolled me so I would face upward. "That a no?"

"I don't know," I said, staring at the ceiling. "Do you sometimes just stop and realize that everything is weird and strange, that you're living the wrong life? I used to feel that a lot when I was a kid."

"Do you feel that way now?" July asked, curiously. They began to stroke my hair and I hummed in satisfaction. Instead of answering July's question (which I didn't have an answer for anyway), I sat up and pulled them to me, and kissed them.

I asked, after coming up for air, "When's the last time we had sex?"

"Might have to take out a calendar to be sure..."

"Ha-ha. Do you still --?"

I bit my lip, not quite able to look July in the eye.

"Hey, no, are you serious? I love you, Per, you know that. I just -- you know, it's been a long couple of months and we've just put everything we have into the house."

"I know," I said, and I did. We had put all our passion, all our time, our energy into this house. "But this house -- it's ours. It's us. Don't you think?"

"Yeah," July said, running their tongue over the bottom of their lips. "But the house doesn't come first. You and I do."

"Mm. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," I muttered dreamily, turning my head to the window. Outside, the sky was navy-blue and the wind moved against the tops of the trees.

"They burned Manderley down, you know," July said, drawing me back to them, wrapping me in their arms, until I was stuck fast, unable to escape, if I wanted to. But I didn't, I was content to stay there until the end of time. Except.

I began to tug off July's t-shirt. It has been too long since I had seen them naked and aroused. I wanted that. To see, and to touch. To be touched. It was as if there was a flame burning under my skin, and the only way to douse it was to set everything aflame.

*

But there were some things that the house was willing to show me.

I remember it so distinctly – I had gone fishing in the creek that ran nearly to our door, wearing the special rubber boots that I had found in the back of the pantry, ones that had been perhaps meant for large man, but had shrunk down so that it fit me just perfectly. I would wade into the knee-deep water quite happily, and peer down into its greenish depths. I wasn't the best at catching fish, but that day, I had been lucky, and had netted two rainbow trouts in a row. I whistled when I walked to the house, and greeted Swoos, who was waiting for me at the door. She gave me a small meow in acknowledgment before slipping out the door, the little bell around her neck ringing as she went.

It was a glorious afternoon; the sunlight poured in from the windows, and the polished wood of the handrail gleamed. The house felt happy, content, and so did I. I went to the kitchen and cleaned the fish, decided that I would cook it as little as possible. Into the oven they went, wrapped in foil, with a slice of lemon and a sprig of thyme and a pat of butter melting on top.

I set the timer and went for a little walk. I knew July wouldn't be in until later, but the whole afternoon stretched out before me, beguiling in its emptiness. I could take a little nap on the sofa in the living room, or do some more painting in the den. I could have cleaned the bathrooms, or done some more laundry – there was always something to do here. But instead of that, I decided to just walk. I went upstairs, to the other bedrooms that neither July or I had much use for. One had obviously been a nursery, judging from the cheerful-but-faded wallpaper, as well as the scribbling on them. It was empty – the whole house had been pretty much stripped of its furnishing at some point, except for the things like the piano and the kitchen table that were too heavy to move – but it didn't feel empty.

There were two big windows that faced west, and in the late afternoon sun made long shadows on the floors. I looked out and saw trees and the sky, fleecy gray clouds. I leaned against the windowsill and smiled.

Then, it felt as if someone lightly touched my shoulder, careful not to startle me. I turned, expecting July, but there was no one there, no one but me and the house. I shrugged, remembering the fish. I imagined it burning in the oven and started to go. But my foot hit a loose floorboard, which lifted up to reveal something gloomy. I bent down, curious, and pried off the floorboard altogether. There was a dusty little space underneath the floor and above the ceiling below, and there a few things that had fallen down into the crack in floor. One was an Indian-head nickel, dated 1926, and the other was a little glass button, in the shape of a rosebud.

I tried to imagine the dress that this button had been sewed to, the girl who would wear it. My imaginings were vague, half-finished, but at least I had the evidence of a vanished life right here in my hand. I thanked the house for these little gifts. Nothing answered me but quiet, and warmth.

The trouts were fine; only a little overdone.

*

 

It was the second of – when else? – July that even we had to admit, the house was ready and wanted -- needed? To be shown off. People had twittered and pecked and scratched all summer, hungry for some news. What the hell were we doing up there, all by ourselves?

July and I exchanged smiles, like secrets. Wait and see, we said. Come and see.

The night of the party was cool, the ground was still wet from the thunderstorm we had had the day before. The moon hung in the sky, gibbous and bright. The house was lit up, glowing and proud, filled with the wildflowers that July and I had picked and put into everything we could think of – vases, jars, pitchers, anything. We had strung up some Christmas lights on the porch and put a huge, sweating metal tub full of ice and beer there as well.

July and I got along on most things, but one thing we never could agree on was music. So, that night, we had put on a playlist that would alternate between Chopin (mine) and AC/DC (theirs.)

Eventually, there was nothing more to do than to wait for the guests to arrive.

Our first guests were July’s brother and his wife, Rob and Carol. Rob was older than July by quite a lot, they had never been close before their parents died. But they were kind people, and took an interest in what we were doing, although I think they were both surprised at how well everything looked.

“Last time I saw this place -- it was wreck, you remember? Before Grandpa died. You were just a baby,” Rob said to July. “Gave me the creeps, back then.” He looked around, some of that old feeling still lingering there. “Didn’t understand why you’d want to move away from everyone and everything.”

He lapsed into silence before he shook his head, trying to rouse himself. Carol, a small, spare woman with short blonde hair and green eyes, like a cat’s, coughed loudly. “What my boorish husband is trying to say is that you two have done an amazing job here. I know if -- Jim and Linda could have been here, they would have been so proud of you.”

I reached out and hugged Carol, she hugged me back, and murmured that they would have to leave early, since she had an early deposition to get to tomorrow. She wanted to see more of the house and so I took her by the hand and led her to the different rooms. I think I might have been boring in my enthusiasm, but she didn’t seem to mind. She was something of an amateur historian, and she had a lot to say about the history of the house.

“Rob and I -- we can’t move away from the city now, not with Lucy in school, but this --” Carol turned to me and gestured to the crystal chandelier (that I had nearly killed myself cleaning that afternoon) and grinned. “It is awesome.”

“It is,” I said, and on impulse, hugged her. Carol laughed and hugged me back. I was a little embarrassed afterward -- I’m not a very demonstrative person. But it was… okay. I was okay. I smiled back at Carol, and we walked downstairs, hand in hand.

While we were gone, the other guests had arrived. Some of them were July's friends, some of them were mine, coming in from the city despite many wrong turns and frantic calls (no, no, you have to go down Bright Star Road and then take the unnamed road down -- turn left at the tree, there's a creek as well --) but some of the party attendants didn't seem familiar at all. They were in costume, dazzling ones that made my eyes hurt.

Someone had swapped “Back in Black” for something loud and jazzy, music that made you start dancing. I left Carol and went to find July. I ran, face-first, into a brick-wall of a woman, who pushed me back. “Careful there, girlie,” she growled, “or I’ll feed you to the hogs.”

I squeaked in horror before scurrying away. Around me, the house seemed to shift and groan, the lights growing dimmer. The walls seemed darker, and the furniture -- there was more furniture than there was supposed to be. I wondered if I was going crazy, or if my house had suddenly turned into a fully furnished, completely overwrought Victorian-style before my eyes.

There were so many people, all pushing and pulling against each other, and pulling me too. Someone had begun to play the piano, but I didn’t know how -- it was just a shell of thing, now, most of the strings were cut. But now it was stronger than the jazz, filling up the house with noise as it was with bodies.

“July! July!” I cried, pushing people away. I felt someone grab my arm and pulled free.

"Perry? Are you okay?" July said, cutting through the crowd of people.

"Yes," I said. "What should we do about all of these people? Who are these people?"

"Throw them out," July said, looking at the man who had just stubbed his cigarette out on a lampshade. "You! Out!"

"What did I do?" said the man indignantly. “Listen, bub, I’m doing you a favor. This lamp is ugly as hell.”

Despite myself, I had to agree. It was shapely maroon monstrosity, with little yellow glass beads dangling off the rim. I had never seen it before. I nudged July’s rib with my elbow. “Do things look ... a little different to you?”

July looked back at me. “You mean like how we’re suddenly in a fucked-up historical house?”

“Oh, thank God," I said, with a big sigh. "I didn’t want to go crazy by myself.”

We made our way through the crowded house, trying to find out what all of these people wanted. Here and there, there would be someone we knew, entangled in strangers' arms. Everything had with it an air of unreality, strangeness made tangible. Someone asked if there was going to be an orgy.

"No," I growled. "No one's going to have an orgy in my house without my permission!" I knew then what I had to do. No letting go of July's hand -- they were still arguing with the orgy guy -- I made my way down the stairs and to the parlor.

"There's a secret passageway somewhere," I told July. "We have to find it."

We thumped on walls, felt for seams in the wallpaper, we pulled down books from the shelves. It was all useless. Someone, doing a particularly vigorous itineration of the Charleston, pushed July into me, and me against the wall. My arm flailed out, desperate to grab on to something. I must have hit some secret spot in the wall, because a door swung open, and the dank smell of earth and darkness came into the room.

The music stopped.

I looked at July, they looked at me.

Together, hand in hand, we went into the dark.

*

There was a long and narrow stair, going down and down. The air was thick with cobwebs, and I was sure a rat ran over my foot. At the end of the stairs, there was a hallway. At the end of the hallway, was Andre. He looked different than what I had imagined, smaller, and older. He was dressed in a brown suit, and the color didn’t quite hide the bloodstains. His shoes, I couldn’t help but notice, looked new, gleaming even in the gloom.

He grinned when he saw us. “Hey, kids. I was wondering when you would find me.”

How do you properly address a man who had been haunting your house? I was at a loss, and looked to July, but July was staring straight through Andre, a look of complete disbelief in their face. Andre looked back at them, his smile softening before it slipped off his face completely.

“A chip off the old block, you are,” he said, reaching out and almost touching July’s face. July flinched away and looked at me in panic. I coughed loudly and Andre looked at me, his face luminous with joy.

“And you, my dear, I should thank you more than anyone,” he said. “Such devotion to the house! Touching.”

“Ah -- thanks? I guess? I didn’t really appreciate all the walking around, especially at night, you know.”

“And!” July said, “I’m not -- whatever you said. A chip off the old block.”

Andre threw them a deeply disappointed look and began to start pacing up and down the hall. The way was narrow and as soon as he brushed past I could feel a chill, bone-deep, against my skin. “You didn’t figure it out by now? I suppose Lily never …”

“Lily,” I said, suddenly understanding. “Lily found you.”

“Oh, yes. She was always a quick one, my Lily. She heard the noise and ran outside, still wrapped in her blanket. I was bleeding out, but I couldn’t let them find me. She rolled me in her blanket and brought me here, tried to save me. Brought me food. I hung on for a few hours. But --” Andre shrugged, gave us a sad, half-smile. “My guts were full of lead. I made Lily promise never to let anyone know where I was. They didn't need that sort of grief.”

“Why did you call her your Lily?” July asked.

“Oh,” Andre stilled. “She was my daughter. I thought you knew.”

July made a sound, half-way between a protest and a sigh.

“Why? How?” I asked.

Andre shrugged. “I already had a wife, you know. And divorces were hard get, in those days -- and honestly, I didn’t really try. It was easier to say that Lily was Ellen’s sister. They did that all the time, in those days.”

“Andre, you know, I’m sorry you died and everything,” I began, because it seemed the thing to say, if you had a dead man in front of you, “But you really sound like a shit.”

“Yeah. Fuck you,” said July.

“Oh, you wound me, but I’ll live -- in a manner of speaking.” Andre grinned. “But it was fun, wasn’t it? Sharing the house, giving you two a good scare, now and then.”

“No,” July said firmly.

“Not really.”

“Spoilsports,” Andre said. “Well, if you’ll follow me…”

He led us to a little room off the hallway, and to the thing that had once been his body. I remember the shoes, especially, old and shrunken. Andre’s voice floated into my ear. “Like you would look so hot, eighty-eight years dead.”

*

The next morning, we spent finding the places where our (living) guests had fallen asleep. I found someone tucked up nicely in the upstairs bathtub, July found someone under the kitchen table. We gave them all a big, greasy breakfast, and set them, dazed and confusing, on their way. Carol called, later, to ask what the hell had happened to us. After I was finished reassuring Carol of our safety and continued existence, July called the non-emergency line for the police, to report Andre’s body.

After all the paperwork had been taken care of, we buried poor Andre under the old oak tree by the edge of the property.

Lily had been cremated, her ashes scattered, and we didn’t know know what had happened to Ellen. Of Andre’s other family, his English wife, we only had his word that they existed. I suppose there was another family out there with Andre as a mystery, a trail that went dead. I wish I could tell them what happened, but they wouldn’t believe me.

I hardly believe it myself.

The house is quieter now, with just July and me – and Swoos, of course. Sometimes I sit in the bath and listen for -- something, anything -- moving through the air, skimping the space between this world and the next. But there’s nothing.

I pull the plug and watch the water go down the drain, whipping itself into a little tornado before it collapses again. Down, down, down it goes. I've always wondered about the end of ghost stories, of how people can keep living in place where they know tragedy had occurred. But now I know, because it could happen anywhere. You can live through anything, until you find something that you can't live through.

I thought of Andre, dying alone in that dark little room. How lonely he must have felt. What a lonely thing it was, dying.

Oh, what a lonely, lonely thing.