Though she had been dead for years she never left. It was evident in the way the house felt when you walked in the front door. The smell of cinnamon in the kitchen and roses in the bathroom. It was her. Always her.
Grandma died in 1998 but she stayed home. Though she was in the grave, she was always with us, watching us from all around the house.
The smells were just part of it, though. The house — the actual structure — lived, even in death.
We saw her many touches in the bathroom and her old bedroom. We felt her sadness when things were going wrong and her joy when things were good. The house felt it, as well. If the sun shone, the house seemed brighter, even with the sashes pulled shut. If it was cloudy, the white of the walls seemed gray. If it stormed, the gray turned almost black.
When Millie was born the house seemed to rebuild itself in places that had been needed tending to but that we never got around to fixing. It just sort of fixed itself. Baby proofing was never a concern — Millie couldn’t reach anything. The house made sure of that.
The house — Grandma — seemed happiest when Millie was around. I started noticing this one morning when Millie and her mother, Anya, left for the doctor’s office on a day I was off from work. From the moment they left the house began to groan and creak, as if it were crying. In fear, I ran outside, not sure what to make of it.
A few moments passed and I went back inside. The groaning continued. I followed the sound into the kitchen. The smell of cinnamon was strong and the hairs on my neck stood on end. After calming my nerves, I spoke softly, almost in a whisper.
“Grandma, is that you?”
The groaning ceased.
“Grandma, if you’re here, can you say something or maybe turn on the water?”
A few seconds past before the handle to the cold tap turned and water flowed from the spigot.
I was stunned and scared all the same. But, then a calm came over me and I spoke to her like I always had.
“Grandma, it’s good to have you back. We have missed you. But, what’s wrong?”
The water turned off and a minute later I heard a sound coming from Millie’s room. I followed it and saw the musical plush rabbit that sat on her pillow. The song was a lullaby that we played each night for Millie.
“Grandma, is it Millie? Are you upset because Millie isn’t here?”
The room became dark and I took that as a ‘yes’, though I wasn’t altogether sure.
I went outside and sat on the hood of my car until Anya and Millie arrived back home. I took our baby in my arms and walked inside. The lights brightened and I knew Grandma was happy again.
The years went by, Millie became a toddler, a young child, pre-teen and then a teen. The house flourished and Grandma stayed happy. She eventually adjusted to Millie’s comings and goings and knew that she would be back, just as day begets night.
All was right with the world, with Grandma.
That was then. This is now. We buried Millie six weeks ago. No one knew that when she left to go to the mall with a couple of friends that she wouldn’t be coming home. The car accident claimed her and her two friends, but not the driver of the car that crashed into them.
Grieving is a terrible thing and though Anya and I have suffered the deepest loss of our lives, Grandma has suffered as well. The roof sags and windows have cracked and fallen out. The concrete steps to the front porch have crumbled like rotten teeth, as has the sidewalk. The floorboards creak and have splintered in several places. The walls and ceiling has wet blotches all along it as if the house has been crying. Even the plants in the yard have wilted, the grass becoming brown.
Grandma was dying all over again.
But, then, just as quickly as the house started deteriorating, it stopped. I waited a week, then another, and nothing else happened. Even though the house had stopped falling apart, it didn’t rebuild itself the way it had while Millie was alive.
With the shape it was in, we moved out for a while and in with Anya’s parents. I went back to the house today and stood in the kitchen, hoping to smell some cinnamon.
“Grandma,” I called and received no answer. My heart sagged much like the roof. “Grandma, we still love you.”
I went to the bathroom, hoping to smell roses, but only smelled mildew from the stained walls and ceiling. It was then that I realized that with Millie’s death came Grandma’s as well. I sat on the cracking bathtub and cried.
I left the house, having lost two of the three people I loved the most. I needed to be with Anya, to hold her close. Fear of her love vanishing in the night, disappearing with the sun’s light, weighed heavy on my heart as I drove home…
AJ Brown is a writer of primarily horror, but he likes to dabble in other areas as well. He is married to his lovely wife, Catherine and they have two children, Chloe and Logan.