New Neighbors

19 Feb

Emma finally sold her house. All these years I wondered what it looked like inside, but she never invited me in. She smiled, she talked to my parents, I envied her colorful flower garden, but that was the edge of our knowing her. When she left, the house sat empty for years. My dad said she priced it too high. But it was huge, and I imagined full of secret passage ways, like the mansion in the Clue game.

My dad said the new neighbors were a nice couple, just moved to the city from down south. An older couple, retired. Maybe they would have us over and I’d get to see what my child mind could only imagine.

I went for a visit over the long Labor Day weekend. Emily was outside picking the last of the bulbs Emma had planted all those years ago. Hello I’m Emily, she said when she saw me watching her. That’s funny, the old owner’s name was Emma, I told her. She smiled and showed me the bouquet. Emma loved her flowers, I said. Yes we are so lucky to have them, Emily said. Then she invited me in for tea. Jackpot.

I walked in through the back door, the one that led to the garden and butted up against our driveway. I was excited, full of expectations, which were quickly deflated. The house was dark. Everywhere. Everything. Where would Emily even put the flowers? All the windows were heavily curtained and there was stuff everywhere, like a cluttered old antique shop full of junk, old metal tins, broken wooden boxes, turned-off lamps covered in dust, and beds. Every room had a bed. The kitchen was tiny, just a bar really, with two queen beds side by side pressed up against the far wall. This is where we sleep, Emily said. She got into one of the beds to demonstrate. We each have our own bed, it’s quite cozy, she said. I pushed out a half-smile and said nothing. Please follow me I’ll show you the upstairs. We walked up a narrow stairwell, a box of junk on each step making the stairs even more narrow. Upstairs she led me to a room with a rocking chair in front of the only uncovered window. An old man with unnatural blue eyes and too-shiny white hair sat in the rocker. He looked straight at me. I felt like throwing up. I turned to Emily but she was gone. When I turned back the man was standing just inches from my face. He grabbed my upper arms and pulled my body close into his. I screamed but my voice sounded calmer than I felt, much calmer than I wanted it to. I pushed him away and started running through the maze of the upstairs. He followed me close behind. I grabbed a metal box and smacked him in the head. He fell to one side but got right back up. He was close and I was still screaming, waving the box behind me trying to smack him away. I ran into another bedroom and saw another uncovered window that opened onto the roof. I pushed open the screen and stepped out. The man was in the room, just about to reach out to me. I screamed again then noticed a half-sized window a few inches below me. I pushed that screen open with my foot and squeezed my body through, monkey-barring along the rafters. That half-window led me into a half-floor, an in-between place. I was hanging, holding onto smooth orange bars that criss-crossed the ceiling. My body felt long, space opening up between the vertebrae of my spine. I looked to the half-window and the man was gone. I let my body hang there, for longer than I needed to, but maybe for just the right amount of time.


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