I move along the edges of the room, rough hewn floors, the opposite side of a roof. A dormer to either side, a surprisingly spacious attic. The floors barely creak with my passing, with tells me this is the place they walked, this is the path that they traced out as the paced after a long day, cleaning all forty-two toilets in this godforsaken hellhouse, trying to keep themselves worn even when their bones wanted rest, damn the seeping cold. Damn the seeping leak to the right of the left dormer, too. Drip drip drip drip.
I walk the road again, searching for something. There is only an ancient card catalogue, set against the wall opposite to me, and an old bed frame, mattress long gone, and a few boxes stacked haphazardly. This treasure trove, this bounty laid before me, was like a mammoth in the room. Except mammoths are extinct–so they like the elephant in the room.
Finally, I find it: a moth ball, wedged so far into the far corner that I can imagine that it’s been there since the house was first built, just after the lord of the estate had walked up his nervous maid up the stairs to her new home, told her to sleep here and work there and not be too loud. When I go to dig it out, it takes a bit of prying with my fingernails, and part of the circle had been folded into the two intersecting edges of a cube. I admire it for a moment, a freak of geometry, before tucking into in my pocket and resuming my pacing.
This mindless labor would continue until. Until what, I could not say. Only that it would continue until it was done and then I would know it was finished, and I could be free of this place. So on and so forth and back and forth and back and forth.
I cross again, this time to straighten the stack of boxes. It may have been my angle of glance, but they didn’t seem quite straight. Crooked stacks of boxes were unacceptable–simply unacceptable. I imagined the old lord of the estate saying that: “Simple unacceptable, Miss Daniels! Simply unacceptable!” The posh voice, the accent of a Brit only recently in the states, the voice dripping with honey and money. And then the follow up comes: the cane and the shouts and the sounds of wood hitting flesh, maybe even cracking bones. Unacceptable.
I was stuck there, stuck in my shoes, dazed for a brief moment, until I shook it off and went to finish with the boxes. It sometimes seemed like the house was giving my visions. I knew that wasn’t true, I wasn’t crazy, it just felt that way. Like the walls were so rich with history that it was impossible not to brush against it and be taken back to the past once in a while. I remind myself not to brush against the walls. They have seen too many things. And by that I mean, I swear I mean, that they are so old that I do not want to contaminate them with my filthy modern skin and modern fingerprints and modern cells.
When I am over on that side of the room, I decide to take a few glances at the card catalogue. The fronts of the cards carefully catalogued the previous owner’s extensive library, even though I had the haunting suspicion that he had read very few of them. I was probably just being cynical. It is one of my worst traits, or so I’ve heard. The backs of the cards catalogued the librarian-maid’s extensive emotions. I gently pick up a yellowed card from the box marked “Zt-Zz”, one of her later entries, which only said “I am very tired. It is finished.” Much shorter than some of the notes left on the backs of the cards.
Christopher the Cabbage Boy had wanted to get rid of them, but I had asked him not to. When I told him about the maid’s diary he agreed. Then he agreed again when I told him that we could preserve the cards and use the catalogue for our own library. But I lied, and when he asked for my help in taking the cards out, I told him it was cruel and unusual punishment to remove to pieces of history so intrinsically intertwined with each other. It was like separating twins. That is when he started making that face that I didn’t understand.
He made the face more and more the more time I spent up here, cleaning it up, removing the things that didn’t belong. I let him keep four boxes there of our own things, because four is a good number, and there weren’t too many boxes to impede the space. Then we talked about how many boxes we could really fit up there if we didn’t leave room for the probably-existing ghosts, and decided that it was quite a lot. He made the face a few times, but not too many, until I asked him why I called him Cabbage Boy again.
He shook his head. “You’ve never called me Cabbage Boy before.”
And I said, “But I always have.”
His face never totally unfurled after that, even though I still don’t understand what could upset him so after a simple question on a Saturday evening.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs made my entire body tense up like there was a bear behind me, and I carefully closed the catalogue, trying to sweep away the lingering fears of an angry estate master. Maybe he was a bit of a bear, though. I didn’t have a photograph of him. I has always imagined a slight, perhaps even foxy, but rather charming man. But he could have been big and burly and overbearing, covered in hair up to his eyeballs.
Cabbage Boy stepped into the room. He said, “I just got off the phone with the doctor. She say she’ll see you on Tuesday. Tomorrow. At three.”
“Why?” I asked him.
“She said it was a…general checkup.”
“Okay.” I accept his answer.
He stands there for a second, awkwardly crossing and uncrossing his arms before he casts his eyes down and goes to leave. I call after him.
“Wait, you aren’t going to give me a kiss before you go?”
A wan smile crosses his lips as he crosses the room, delivers a swift peck to my cheek, and then leaves again, this time going down the stairs completely. I try to push back the foreboding feeling, that of being abandoned in the ninth circle of hell, surrounded by traitors and not being right with god. I know that’s a crazy feeling. After all, only crazy people believe that god is trying to punish them. And I’m not crazy.