From the day we moved into the house, I could sense we weren’t alone. My husband jokingly calls me “his little psychic,” and trivializes my perceptions, so I resolved this time to keep silent.
The house was offered fully furnished and John never questioned why. I could tell the landlady was dancing around something, pointing out the expensive drapes and how it was a steal for the neighborhood as if she were trying to convince herself rather than us. I let it go and just Googled the address later.
Her name was Melody, and she’d died in the house, single and alone. I considered digging deeper, but decided not to pry. We all have secrets — let Melody have hers, too.
On the first day, I hung pictures on the wall in the living room, photographs I’d taken in Paris and Rome back when John and I had traveled more, before John became serious about his work. I stood on the couch with a hammer in my hand and nails in my mouth, and I felt something. A presence, a sense of… disapproval? I stopped hammering in mid-swing and turned around. Nothing there, but I could still feel her. I looked down at my feet.
“I’m sorry, Melody,” I whispered to the air, and slid off my sandals to stand in bare feet on Melody’s sofa.
We didn’t keep Melody’s bed; it was small, and John swore he could only sleep in a king, so we bought a huge platform bed with a memory foam mattress that looked hilariously out of place in a Victorian townhouse. I felt bad giving her bed to the Oxfam shop, but it couldn’t be helped. We didn’t need it for the spare room since we turned that into John’s office. He cleared it out and added two glass desks on either side of the room, with floor protectors in-between so he could roll his office chair between workstations without ever standing up. I called him lazy and poked his belly where it hung over the waist band of his khakis. He laughed and stood up a little straighter.
The spare room had one small window overlooking the back garden. It was a nice view — domestic and green — with paving stones and hedges and the occasional cat. I frowned. Something felt wrong again. I swept my eyes around the room, past John grunting under one desk trying to configure a power strip, past the bag of crisps on his office chair. Nothing out of place, and yet…
Melody’s disappointment rippled over me like a soft breeze, raising goosebumps on my arms. “You wanted a family with children to move in — you wanted a baby, didn’t you?” I whispered to the air.
“Huh?” a muffled John asked from the floor.
When the house was finally in order, we decided to celebrate with a night out at La Gavroche and a play. It’d been forever since we’d seen a show.
“Hurry up, John! We’re going to miss Picard!”
I could hear him chuckling in the bedroom. “Patrick Stewart, darling. It’s not like Picard’s a real person. Where are my gray slacks?”
I ran down the hall, fixing a necklace clasp around my neck. I brushed past him to a laundry basket on the bed. “Darling, they’re so wrinkled! I told you to take them out BEFORE the buzzer went off!”
I held up his slacks and eyed them critically. “Wait, I think there’s an iron in the bathroom.”
I flung the slacks over one arm, trying to avoid laughing at my pants-less husband in a dress shirt, and rushed to the bathroom at the top of the stairs.
It was the bathroom that won me over about the house. Very classic — original tilework, clawfoot tub, the works. I pulled the iron out from under the sink and prayed the cabinet I’d noticed behind the door was an ironing board.
I closed the bathroom door and slowly opened the long cabinet — Eureka! An old, flowered ironing board unfolded from the recess. As it did so, something fell out onto the floor. I immediately sensed Melody’s presence. Was this some personal belonging overlooked by the rental company who cleared out the house? I set the iron down and retrieved the object from behind the laundry hamper.
A book. It didn’t look remarkable, but personally significant items rarely do. I flipped through the pages — they were pristine, no dog-ears at all. She never read it, I realized. I gazed around, sensing Melody’s excitement. I flipped to the title page and saw an inscription.
Read this, Darling. You’ll love it.
—Kisses, Grandma June
I plugged in the iron and sat down on the lid of the toilet. I read a few pages of the book and then looked at the cover again. It seemed to be a run-of-the-mill romance novel set in Victorian times. “Is this really so important?” I whispered to the air.
After the show, John and I went out for drinks and came home tired. He went straight to bed, and I snuck into the bathroom to recover the stashed romance novel. Melody’s tingling presence surrounded me as I pulled out the book and sat on the toilet to read.
I’ll admit I didn’t read closely — mostly skimming — so I managed to finish the book in just a few hours. It was comprised of accidental meetings in gardens, tea times filled with intrigue, and steamy episodes in the butler’s closet. The book was tawdry and unremarkable.
When I finished the last page, I closed the book and set it down on the edge of the sink. I gazed around the room. “Really, Melody? Was that it? That’s what you wanted?”
I spent days waiting for her presence to reappear. I even stepped on the furniture in shoes, spilled tea on Melody’s rug.
But her presence was gone—and was never felt again.
Amber A. Logan holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England (although she lives in Kansas). She is an author represented by Northbank Talent Management in London, a freelance editor, and a university instructor.