“Mom, Sam said I need to get you.”
I screamed and turned, then calmed at the surprised, corporeal face of my son. It was only my son. My muddy, messy son who looked about ready to cry. I breathed in deeply, turning off the faucet of the claw foot bathtub. The water had barely cleared anyway.
“Sorry, Jonny,” I said, turning, standing, walking over to him. He pulled away from me slightly. “What?” I asked.
“Don’t do that!” He responded, affronted. Of course.
I wiped a sweating arm across my kerchiefed forehead. I thought to wash the cleaner from my hands, then remembered the current state of the house’s water supply. Maybe my dear old grandpa would spring for an actual plumber. I considered, then thought my chances would increase significantly if I contacted the city, instead.
I looked out the bubbling glass behind broken boards at the end of the darkly musted hallway. I could just make out a clump of roofs and roads a few miles away. The local town, I amended; maybe even local neighborhood.
A creaking sound came from my bedroom; a groan responded from the hall. “What’s that?” Jonny asked me, grabbing at my jeans with his mud-encrusted hand.
“It’s just an old house,” I calmly told him, my thudding heart, and the goosebumps on my arms and neck. I added, in attempted lightheartedness, “Old houses do a lot of settling, especially in the wind.”
“But, it’s not windy,” Jonny told me, looking up to study my face.
“Let’s go outside,” I said, starting forward despite his continued grip on my leg. I couldn’t push him along till I washed my hands. Maybe the pump in the yard would be sufficient.
In this fashion, I swish-clumped my way down the hall to the top of the staircase. The sound echoed in the empty house, disturbing dust motes from their determined slumber. All I needed was a ball and chain to complete the old horror movie trope. A structural piece somewhere, maybe in the parlor, complained noisily. I hadn’t heard anything from the main floor before then, but maybe I’d been preoccupied with my sanitizing attempts.
Jonny was certainly occupying enough at the moment. Thank goodness, or else I would have noticed the additions to our reflections in the mottled mirror immediately, in passing.
Instead, my brief glance memory of the anomaly stored itself snugly into my subconscious, ready to suggest itself at a more appropriate time. Like, bedtime.
Jonny and I stumbled together down the solidly creaking stairs, following various dust-drawn outlines of shoes and bare feet. We limped together past the parlor entry, intent on the front door to outside. The parlor door swung slightly in my peripheral vision, but Jonny tripped slightly just as it happened.
The movement therefore joined my mirror memory, to be enjoyed later as well.
For now, I could see that Jonny was right in that Sam needed me. We had made it out together, his grip still certain on my dirtied jeans. We had clumped down the old wooden stairs and down to the old well.
Sam was lying on the ground just beside the pump, cradling a leg. Their younger brother stood sentry at Sam’s shoulder, crying nearly as much as Sam should have been.
It was no wonder, I told myself that evening, that I hadn’t noticed a few things in the house at the time.
I had carefully piled three filthy children into the old sedan my grandfather was also “letting” us borrow, and found out the neighborhood really did qualify as a town. It had a doctor’s office. Edensville also had a restaurant of sorts.
We hadn’t gotten back to the house until dusk. I would have put Sam on …something downstairs, if my nerves had settled, and if a suitable something existed. Instead, twilight found me straining to lift him up the winding staircase to the bedrooms as his brothers clung as closely as possible.
Just after dark found us chancing the murky bathroom water for brushing and hand-washing. It hadn’t looked so red in the dim glow of our camping lantern. Everyone piled into beds -into blankets on the beds- exactly as dirty as we’d been since after lunchtime.
And that was when my disloyal brain remembered.
After curling up safely in my old blankets and assuring myself that bedbugs biting was just a cute saying, after telling the boys I’d swept away all cobwebs so spiders wouldn’t want to be in their room, and after exhaustion finally conquered imagined fears -then, my dear brain remembered.
As darkness truly settled in and the house settled noisily down, it remembered that swinging door this windless afternoon, and that extra face behind my son’s on the stairway landing looking-glass.