The Sad House

I glanced up into the rearview mirror and saw that my daughter in her van was slowly following me in the dim twilight. Spotting an unoccupied curb around the corner, I signaled, turned and pulled up alongside it. There were trees in front of the houses on this side of the street, but an empty parking lot across the street. I said, “This will be perfect for watching the fireworks.” to my brother who was sitting in the passenger seat. My daughter’s red van pulled up behind me.

Our small home town has a yearly celebration to recognize the many people who settled here in the late 1800’s. Earlier that day my family had enjoyed the small carnival, ethnic dancers performing on a stage in the park, a history museum, food tents and a parade.

The older grandchildren spilled out of their van with blankets over their shoulders. I set up a canvas chair while they laid out the blankets. My daughter Niki stayed in the van, nursing the baby. She said, “He’ll probably sleep through the fireworks.”

I laughed, “If he does, he’s a sound sleeper. Some rockets make a lot of noise.” As if to support Niki’s belief that Jacob would stay asleep, the three youngest boys in the back seat began a loud argument over snacks. Jacob never even twitched. I said, “OK. He’s used to loud noises.”

Not content to sit on their blankets, Anne, Jon and Claire jumped up and skipped on the sidewalk. As dusk deepened, it became hard to see them clearly as they moved around. My brother said, “They’re not a bit tired yet.”

I said, “There’s no lack of energy when you’re seven, nine and eleven years old.

The street became increasingly dark. Finally the children settled down on their blankets beside my brother and me. The eleven-year-old observed, “The house we’re parked next to doesn’t look like the others on this street.”

I glanced over my shoulder. She was right. The lawn was shaggy instead of neatly trimmed. Shrubs along the house were overgrown. No light, not even from a night light could be seen in the blank, black windows. One street side glass was even cracked.

My brother said, “The house is abandoned.”

The seven year old asked, “What does that mean?”

“It means no one lives there.” The eleven year old said importantly, before asking, “Why would any one abandon their home?

Being a typical boy, the nine year old shouted with relish, “Maybe it’s haunted!”

“Maybe it is haunted, but the only ghost is a woman’s grief.” my brother said. “The woman that lived there was having breakfast one morning after her husband had left for the day. There was a knock on the door. Someone had come to tell her that her husband was dead. He had had a fatal heart attack shortly after arriving at work. She needed to go to the hospital to identify his body.”

I turned to look at my brother, but it was now so dark that I couldn’t see him clearly although he sat right next to me. Was he spinning a yarn for the children? Shivering, I remembered what it had felt like when I had been told that my husband Arnie was dead. One minute the sun was shining through the windows, I was happily talking on the telephone, sipping a cup of coffee and then the next minute my entire world was upside down.

The children were silent before the eleven year girl old finally said, “That poor lady! Why didn’t she come back? Did she ever come back…like for her clothes?”

In my mind I pictured the house left the way it was that morning; soiled dishes on the table, newspaper cast aside, bed unmade and the radio left playing…its cheerful tunes out of place in the empty rooms where now only memories lived.

My brother simply answered, “She felt she couldn’t live there anymore without him. She moved away.” With a bright flash overhead and a loud boom, the fireworks began.

Years have passed since the night my brother told my grandchildren about the abandoned house. I’ve wondered what they remember about it. While in town with them one day one of them pointed to the house as we passed and said, “Look, there’s the sad house.” My curiosity has been answered.

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