Authors: Jill Bisker
My late-night snack complete, I retrieved my
bat from the living room and returned to my bedroom, leaving on all
the lights behind me.
Sitting on the side of the bed, I took a deep
breath and thought of the events that had led me to this point.
This wasn’t where I thought I’d be at the age of thirty-two. In my
early twenties, I didn’t necessarily believe I needed a man to take
care of me, I was stubborn and independent. But I sure had gotten
used to having one around, and it would have been nice to have
someone else here to take up the baseball bat and search for
intruders. I believed Simon was supposed to be that person, but
things didn’t turn out that way. The truth was, it had never been
Simon. He had never been there when I needed him. Everyone kept
telling me I’d get over it, that I would move on. But right now I
still felt the anger, the resentment, even a little bit of shame
that I hadn’t been able to keep his interest. Sometimes it felt
like I would drown in the loneliness. I always went through life
with a picture in my mind of how I thought things ought to be, and
then reality ended up vastly different. Life could be quite the
I was still chilled so I crawled into bed
with my robe on. Lying on my side, I listened for the music to
return or any creaking that seemed out of the ordinary. It felt
like hours that I lay there awake, tossing and turning, wondering
what would happen next. Eventually, I fell back asleep.
I didn’t know what time it was when my eyes
opened again. I guessed it was early morning because I could see
the sky lightening through the uncovered windows. The glow from the
hallway light I left on the night before was seeping into my room
and it brought back the memory of my nocturnal adventure. I tossed
and turned after going back to bed, and I just couldn’t bear to get
up yet. Feeling groggy, I leaned over to look at my watch but the
room was still too dark for me to see the little numbers. Giving
up, I decided I didn’t really care. Whatever the time, it was way
Was I going crazy, hearing music in the night? Maybe
I shouldn’t be alone.
I was actually thankful I was picking up
my cousin Connie at the airport. Although we hadn’t seen each other
very much over the past few years, our time spent together as
children created some of my favorite memories. At least I wouldn’t
be alone again at night. Everything is less scary with another
person around. I had really let my imagination get the better of me
the previous night when I allowed myself to get so scared. Buried
somewhere in one of these boxes I would probably find the answer to
the strange music.
I took a deep breath. I needed more sleep
than this. Turning over, I pulled the covers over my head so the
light wouldn’t keep me awake. I made a conscious effort to clear my
mind and actually fell into a fitful sleep.
I dreamed I was standing in the kitchen and
someone was knocking on the closed basement door. Knocking.
Knocking. I was walking towards the door but my mind kept telling
me not to open it. I needed to do something so that whoever or
whatever was on the other side of the door couldn’t get through.
When I was almost to the door, the knob started turning, the door
I sat up straight in bed, throwing my quilt
aside, wide awake. Someone was knocking on the basement door, for
real. Then silence again. Upon hearing the next knock my mind
cleared a bit and I realized someone was at the front door, not the
dreaded basement door. The sun shone brightly into my eyes, making
me wonder just how late it had gotten. It felt like I only went
back to sleep for a few minutes but obviously hours had flown by.
Relieved but still unsettled, I slid out of bed and looked for my
woolen slippers. I found them in my suitcase and quickly pulled
them on. The knocking continued as I tried to hurry down the stairs
without slipping on the wooden steps, flipping off the light switch
in the hall as I passed.
Arriving at the front entryway, I looked
through the beveled panes that graced the top of the heavy oak door
to see who was knocking so early in the morning. I didn’t want to
survive the night only to open the door in my pajamas to some
serial killer. I didn’t see anyone standing on the porch so I
unlatched the door and opened it just a crack. There was no one
there, but a piece of paper fell from the door as I opened it.
Reaching down to pick it up I saw that it was an order form for
some kids’ sports team selling stuff. The girls’ racquetball team
was selling candles.
“I need ten dollar candles like I need more
crap piled in this house,” I muttered to myself grumpily. If they
came back later, I would be sure to hide and not answer the door
because that was my Minnesota passive aggressive way of not ending
up with fourteen candles I really didn’t need.
There was a small table next to the door with
a pile of unopened mail stacked on it, some of which had trickled
to the floor. In the sunlight streaming through the front door, I
could see the layer of dust on the table. On a whim I reached out
and wrote my name in it with my finger. I set the flyer on top of
the stack of mail and looked around. In broad daylight, the house
didn’t seem quite so threatening. There still was crap
everywhere—unopened boxes piled high from room to room, plastic
bins, heaps of papers, and bulky pieces of mismatched furniture
tucked in and around the dining room table and hutch. I moved about
the living room, looking in one box and glancing in another on my
way by. So far I could see he had collected old children’s magic
tricks in their original boxes, and several boxes of 78 RPM vinyl
records. There were a few boxes of tools which might come in handy
when I had to start fixing things. I wondered what other riches
might be hidden in all the containers.
Amongst all the piles, I noted the
architectural details and built-ins typical of an old, craftsman
style house. The wide, oak crown moldings and fireplace mantle were
visible, but the lead glass doors that enclosed the solid shelves
surrounding the hearth were mostly obscured by the disarray.
Sometime during the seventies the horrible brown shag rug had been
installed, along with the heavy, matching curtains, everything
covered in the same layer of dust as the small table by the door. I
hoped that when we stripped the carpets out there would be hardwood
floors beneath everything.
A newer flat screen television was on
prominent display and it seemed a surprising touch to the dated
interior. A recliner and couch faced the TV stand, the view
uninterrupted. A low coffee table in front of the couch had piles
of clothing, newspapers, magazines, and beer cans waiting for
someone to clear away. The couch was filled with boxes. That left
the recliner as the only piece of furniture free from clutter. My
grandfather had obviously had his priorities.
Next to the TV, a battery-operated clock sat
on the stand, reminding me I had to watch the time so I could pick
up Connie at the airport. But first, there were a lot of things I
wanted to do before picking up my cousin. The house was in total
disorder and I knew I would feel much better if I could reclaim
some living space from the wilderness. I hated feeling disorganized
and out of place. Unfortunately, it seemed as though I would be
discombobulated for quite some time. I realized as I looked around
that I would have to clear out most of my grandfather’s possessions
before we would even be able to start any renovation projects. This
was going to be a much larger job then I had anticipated.
I looked around at the mess and wondered if
it was worth it. However, I could see the charm beneath the
mess—the wood trim, the plaster detail, the ornate fixtures. I was
really looking forward to the redecorating my mom asked me to do,
and I knew I could make this house a showplace. I had grown up
helping remodel houses. My parents loved buying old properties,
fixing them up and selling them. They were never happy unless they
had a project to work on and that always meant that I had projects
I was helping with. With my father gone now, and Mom getting on in
years, she could no longer tackle such a big project. In this
economy, I would need to be very careful about the renovations I
wanted to do—I could no longer put too much money into a house and
still make a profit.
I loved refinishing furniture, stripping
wallpaper, painting, and doing small fixes, but I had never taken
down walls, replaced cabinets myself, or sanded floors. In the
past, I would hire it out when remodeling my home with Simon. He
always thought I’d hurt myself or that I’d do it wrong. Now I was
excited to try some of the work myself. After watching all the home
improvement shows I really wanted to take a sledge hammer to some
walls. It might even be good therapy.
I just needed to find out how much money my
mom and Aunt Shelly were willing to sink into the old homestead
they had just inherited. Then I could find a contractor we could
trust to help me get the job done. Unfortunately, there were some
major projects that probably had to be done that I wouldn’t even
consider attempting on my own, such as replacing the roof, the
windows, and possibly even the foundation. That would run into some
big dollars before I ever got to the fun stuff of redecorating. I
took another deep breath and had to tell myself—don’t think too far
ahead, Laney, or you might never get started.
Walking into the kitchen, I felt a little
depressed. It was a dismal space with dirty white cabinets, ancient
appliances, and unfortunately, no dishwasher. The counters were an
unusually-colored eyesore. Who put red linoleum on a counter top
anyway? Worn red and white striped linoleum was on the floor—at
least it matched the countertops. A white, porcelain-covered, cast
iron sink with numerous chips that had rusted sat beneath the
window. At least I’d be able to look at the trees and see the
neighborhood while I washed my dishes.
By now, I really needed coffee. Eyeing the
worn outlet by the sink, I hoped the electrical wiring was okay and
I wouldn’t electrocute myself just plugging in my machine. I
reached into my box on the table and pulled out my coffee maker,
smiling as I realized how much I loved my cup of coffee in the
morning. I had just bought one of those machines that made a single
cup at a time in just a few short minutes. Simon had never wanted
me to buy one before because he wanted fresh ground beans, brewed
in his expensive espresso machine.
“Screw you, Simon Hughes,” I said out loud. I
was going to allow myself this one simplicity and he could grind
his own damned beans.
I looked around for some paper towels to wipe
down the countertop. Shuddering, I tried not to think of the germs
that were probably multiplying on every surface. The cabinet doors
were covered with years of accumulated dirt and grease, and I had
to try not to look too closely at anything in general until I was
able to devote the time to some deep cleaning. Finding the towels
and some Formula 409 under the sink I quickly wiped down a small
area for my coffee maker. I set my machine on the counter, pulled
out my coffee, sugar and creamer, and realized I needed to wash my
cup from last night. I wanted to kick myself when I realized I
didn’t remember to pack any spoons.
There had to be spoons in the kitchen
somewhere. I first tried the top drawer to the right of the sink,
but it seemed lodged tight. Giving up on that one, I pulled on the
one below. It moved slightly but seemed to be jammed by whatever
was inside. I shook it back and forth and tried to clear what was
wedged against the top but it was having none of it. I growled at
it, but, of course, that didn’t work either. Things just weren’t
going my way lately.
Taking a deep breath, I reasoned that if the
drawer opened a tiny amount back and forth, I could somehow jiggle
it enough to dislodge whatever was stuck and get it opened. I
leaned down and tried to look inside the small opening to see what
was blocking it, but it was too dark for me to make out anything. I
rattled the drawer some more, slowly and gently first, then loudly
and frantically when nothing else would work. Totally disgusted, I
slammed it closed one last time, straining my wrist in the process.
I swore at it and shook my wrist out, but I was not going to give
up. In one final act of desperation I gripped the drawer handle
with both hands, planting one foot firmly against the lower
drawers, and pulled as hard as I could. Suddenly, I felt something
release and the drawer came flying out of the cabinet. A variety of
objects flew past me as I spun around and lost my balance, landing
in a heap on the ugly linoleum. Sitting on the floor, I rotated my
shoulders and neck to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself and then
started to laugh self-consciously, grateful no one had seen me fly
across the room.
I looked at what was strewn about the floor
and saw a hammer, nails, screwdrivers, a wrench, other assorted
tools, pencils, a flashlight with batteries that leaked out, a
wooden folding tape measure, and one fork but no spoon. I crawled
about picking up the objects, tossing them into the drawer, then
inserted it back into its opening. It puzzled me, because the
drawer wasn’t that full, and I wondered what had blocked it from
opening. Maybe the hammer got wedged in crookedly somehow. Talk
about a junk drawer. Not knowing what I might find next, I sat back
on my heels and slowly pulled on the next drawer down and started
to laugh softly again. Well, who doesn’t need underwear and socks
in the kitchen? There had to be more to that story. My mother
hadn’t mentioned any dementia in my grandfather’s health, but maybe
she hadn’t seen it in her limited dealings with him.
I rose to my feet and moved across the room,
trying other drawers. Finally, in the drawer next to the
refrigerator I found some silverware. “It’s always in the last
place you look,” I muttered as I proceeded to pop my plastic,
single-brew pod into my new coffee maker to brew a hot cup of
life-giving elixir, and in two minutes I was sipping my hot
beverage, feeling like I could take on the world.