The rattle of the wind against the shutter boards woke me. This house was never a match for that ghastly gale that soared over the endless plains it was stationed in. It's a wonder such a structure was ever built. Standing, or rather teetering, at two storeys, its upper floor took the brunt of the bad weather. It rocked unsteadily in varying degrees of dilapidation depending on the season. I was not known for my carpentry skills nor my diligence, but the excruciating gales of winter renewed my spirit for repairs annually without fail. Like Santa, I only worked one day out of the year. Unlike Santa, I couldn’t afford to wait until snow fell to begin my labours. I'd fasten the cheapest timber I could find to the original structure, or what remained of it, and by the time spring arrived, the wind had peeled the planks away into piles onto the floor. Luckily for me, the bottom floor was nestled beneath the hedgewalls. Untouched by anything, bar me and the dustmites, only the shutter boards rattled.
At noon, my feet finally found their way to the floor. Time for the daily rounds. I pawed gingerly towards the front door, back hunched. If the delivery men were still outside, I would have to crouch out of the way of the windows. Otherwise, they’d pelt me with pleasantries and “how do you do, here’s your bill”’s and the slight squint of their eyes as the greasy miasma emanating from my matted, unwashed hair pelted them back. A war of overwhelming senses. I pick my battles wisely. That day, I did not have to wait. A bag of canned foods, then one of breads and spreads, and yet another of sweet, salty non-perishables. The bags found their way to the kitchen floor, with much effort on my part. They collapsed on top of each other in a heap. Not one of my breads survived. I had foolishly stacked the canned goods at the top of the pile.
I made my way down the hall to the toilet. I never bothered closing the door, and so my vision would stretch far beyond the confines of the bathroom into the adjacent room; empty, except for a locked wardrobe.
More often than not, that wardrobe was simply another antique for me to gaze blankly at as I sat upon my porcelain throne. But that day it caught my attention. The dark mahogany stood stark and proud against the splintering oak walls, ceiling, and floors. The latter buckled slightly under the weight of it. In exceptionally good condition it towered, undisturbed like a great hunk of granite in a pile of concrete rubble. Someone had bound it shut and they had spared no effort in doing so. The chains trailed haphazardly over every surface of the wood like ivy and bramble, collected in a bundle over the handle of the left door by a padlock the size of a grapefruit. The quintessential security system - even with bolt cutters, the chains were so tangled, it would take hours to unravel.
This house had been under my jurisdiction for a decade and a half. In comparison to its previous tenders, I was a fledgling resident. It had been passed from youngest child of the generation down to youngest child of the next for eons and I would be no exception. My family considered it to be a great honour, at least while they were in my presence. Behind closed doors, it's more likely they were attempting to quarantine me. In either case, the festivities surrounding my homeownership had not taken place inside the owned home. Instead, we ate and drank inside the undeniably more palatable gazebo that, until last winter, had sat quaintly in the centre of the hedgewalled backyard. Borer crawled through its every nook and cranny, silently chewing year after year. It was eventually smothered in the snow. It had not been thoroughly inspected. Neither had any other facet of the homestead. Even now, the property remains a mystery to me.
Dust lay so thick on the floor, the smaller of the cockroach runts had drowned in it. The wardrobe, however, was spotless. There were no marks on it, not a scratch nor a rust stain tainted its stoic face. The padlock required a key of enormous proportions. If it had not left the house, it would have to be somewhere obvious. Most areas of the house could barely support the weight of a pinky finger, let alone a large metal mass.
The floors were swept, the windowsills too. Every square inch of the wardrobe was scrutinised. Both storeys had been rummaged through. Trinkets and knick-knacks were piled and unpiled, tossed about with reckless abandon. And yet, for my efforts there had been no reward. As the moon began to set in the early morning twilight, my fervour settled into a frustrating submission to my fate. I would have to begin again tomorrow.
Outside along the hedges, there was a drawer I had left in the most sheltered area of the garden along with a dainty wooden stool. The wind dared not touch that place, so as not to drive me away along with the rest of the property. Indeed, it was the perfect smoking spot. The drawer had two compartments; one for whiskey and one for tobacco. But given my drunken self’s eclectic taste in pastimes, it also housed candy wrappers, novelty playing cards, and fortune cookies. It sealed almost airtight, never had I experienced an unlightable pipe due to dew or dampness. My pipe comfortably slid into my palm. The bowl was lit without difficulty. I breathed deep into my stomach and the night began to swirl.
I puffed and puffed till I had to support my head with both hands to keep myself from rolling out of my seat. I muddled through a very short lived game of solitaire, a woefully unfruitful round of “Lick-The-Candy-Wrapper”, and finally a reluctant fortune-telling session. The cookies themselves provided little sustenance. The quote inside the cookie read, “The saddest thing about betrayal is it never comes from your enemies”. Depressing and a bit redundant. It's not exactly a betrayal if you never trusted the person in the first place. Whiskey entered the picture. The dawn hours fell away from recorded memory as a result.
Curious. Curled like a garden snail in my linens, I awoke upon my shag rug. It's past three o’ clock. Time for the daily rounds.
I resumed my hunt at around a quarter to six. I double checked the places I had already been, I crawled under the house to check beneath the floorboards, I even peeked inside the toilet chamber. Fruitless. On one of my triple-checking patrols, my mind happened to stop on a wooden door, camouflaged beneath the stairwell. Of course. Caught up in the excitement of opening a frustratingly well sealed box, it had slipped my mind entirely to check the broom closet. My ignorance to its existence was partly purposeful, I was always a fair weather friend. Cleared of its usual residents, I examined each wall and then lined my cleaning utensils up for closer inspection. The dustpan? Plainly innocent. Empty as the day it was moulded. Sweeping broom? A little suspicious on account of those bristles, but revealed to be perfectly trustworthy. Vacuum cleaner? Inspected reluctantly, as the most well loved member of my arsenal.
Caught red handed. It had somehow swallowed the key whole. The bag was ripped in twain and the key was finally recovered. All the cleaning utensils were packed away and the vacuum cleaner was relined. I will forgive you this time, you treacherous bastard.
I wanted to wait until nighttime to open the wardrobe. I’m sure whomever I found in there would appreciate the dramatic lighting, even if they happened to be a petrified rat or a stack of old shoes. In the meantime, I unearthed my fanciest candles from their pile and set forth on the celebratory ornamentations.
In a one-woman cutting of the ribbon ceremony, I slipped in the key into the wardrobe. Click. Victory! My feet pitter-pattered about the wardrobe. The chains dropped to the floor like an avalanche of tambourines. I almost sang. My hands flitted about the handles, hummingbirds. They practically buzzed. A testament to the quality of the carpentry, the wardrobe barely flinched. Not a creak nor groan was uttered from its hinges, not a clue was offered as to what lay beyond its doors. And so, knowing nothing, I proceeded in my frivolous pursuit.
Rot slashed the air.
Its moan. Its terrible, wet gurgle. Writhing on the water-logged cabinet floor, it had the shivering slick appearance of a tumor that had sprouted hair and teeth, that moved only by the accidental stimulation of its remaining nerve system. And yet, its eyes were still glistening and its cracked lips still articulate. One thin rippling slit ran trailed along its flaking pastry skin. Four especially wide openings puckered at me; one revealed bone, two housed what must have been eyes, the other, the other... it rolled to face me. “Please come lay with me,” eyelids billowing, tears thrown like spittle at my feet, “My body is so lonely.” It's sickening imitation of a tongue moistened its teeth one by one as it moaned and moaned on. “Stay with me, my empty hunger, please, to fill me, fill me,” it drooled and garbled. I closed the door. As it clicked shut, the room fell silent. She looked exactly like me.
The key found a home once more, this time taped under the stair closest to the floor. It will be well out of sight, well out of mind. At once, I returned to my bedroom. I lay over the top of my linens in the balmy night air. Perfectly still - my body and the moonlight. The scent of the ditch lilies sailed in on the current of my breath. On it, little boats, little whispered messages, found passage into the blackest harbours of my mind. “Forget, forget, forget….”