Read an Excerpt
What We Know About the Lost
Of course the house is haunted. If a door is closed on the first floor, another on the second floor will squeal open out of contrariness. If wine is spilled on the living room carpet and scrubbed at furiously and quickly so that a stain does not set, another stain, possibly darker, will appear somewhere else in the house. A favorite room in which malevolence quietly happens is the bathroom. Many speculate as to why this room draws so much attention. One might think that in a bathroom things would be more carefree, in a room where the most private of acts are committed, that any damned inhabitants could let down their hair or allow a tired sigh to pass through their doomed lips.
Perhaps this is exactly what they are doing in the bathroom, and we have misunderstood them. They turn on the shower and write names in the steam gathered on the mirror (never their own names, of course). They tip perfume bottles over, squeeze the last of the toothpaste out of its tube, they leave curls of red hair in the sink. And no one who lives in the house--no one living, that is--has red hair, or even auburn. What's worse is when they leave the toilet seat up. They'll flush the toilet over and over, entranced by the sound of the water being sucked out. This is what these restless inhabitants are endlessly committing: private acts.
Always there has been a family subject to the house's torture. For sixty-five years it was the Addlesons. Before that it was owned by the Oliver family. No one in town canremember who lived in the house before the Olivers, not even our oldest residents. We have stories, of course, recountings of the family who built--House, but their name has been lost to history. If anyone is curious, of course there is the library with town records ready to be opened. No one has opened those records in over fifty years, though. Oral history, gossip, is best for this sort of situation.
Rose Addleson believed the house was trying to communicate something. She told her husband women know houses better than men, and this is one thing Rose said that we agree with. There is, after all, what is called "Women's Intuition." What exactly the house was saying eluded Rose, though, as it eludes the rest of us. Where Rose wanted to figure out its motivations, the rest of us would rather have seen it burn to cinders.
"All these years?" Jonas told her. It was not Rose Addleson who grew up in the house after all, who experienced the years of closeness to these events, these fits that her husband had suffered since childhood. "If it's trying to communicate," he said, "it has a sad idea of conversation."
Rose and Jonas have no children. Well, to be precise, no living children. Once there had been a beautiful little girl, with cheeks that blushed a red to match her mother's, but she did not take to this world. She died when she was only a year old. On a cold winter's night she stopped breathing, when the house was frosted with ice. It wasn't until the next morning that they found her, already off and soaring to the afterlife. "A hole in her heart," the doctor said, pinching his forefinger and thumb together. "A tiny hole." They had never known it was there.
After their first few months of marriage, Rose and Jonas had become a bit reclusive. Out of shame? Out of guilt? Fear? Delusion? No one is able to supply a satisfactory reason for their self-imposed isolation. After all, we don't live in that house. If walls could talk, though, and some believe the walls of--House do talk, perhaps we'd understand that Jonas and Rose Addleson have good reason not to go out or talk to neighbors. Why, even Rose's mother Mary Kay Billings didn't hear from her daughter but when she called on the phone herself, or showed up on the front porch of--House, which was something she rarely did. "That house gives me the creeps," she told us. "All those stories, I believe them. Why Rose ever wanted to marry into that family is beyond me."
Mary Kay has told us this in her own home, in her own kitchen. She sat on a chair by the telephone, and we sat across the table from her. She said, "Just you see," and dialed her daughter's number. A few rings later and they were talking. "Yes, well, I understand, Rose. Yes, you're busy, of course. Well, I wanted to ask how you and Jonas are getting along. Good. Mm-hmm. Good. All right, then. I'll talk to you later. Bye now."
She put the phone down on the cradle and smirked. "As predicted," she told us. "Rose has no time to talk. 'The house, Mother, I'm so busy. Can you call back later?' Of course I'll call back later, but it'll be the same conversation, let me tell you. I know my daughter, and Rose can't be pried away from that house."
We all feel a bit sad for Mary Kay Billings. She did not gain a son through marriage, but lost a daughter. This is not the way it's supposed to happen. Marriage should bring people together. We all believe this to be true.