The Cherry-Pipe Incident and Others
Sarah, Massachusetts, USA
My mother ran a small Daycare center out of our first home, until I was about six. This was before my parents separated and she was forced to seek work elsewhere. It was a nice house, sunny yellow, old enough to have been converted from house to apartments to house again over the span of its life. It was still apartments when my family bought it; my father went immediately to work converting the back closet to a stairway to make it once more into one living-space for my parents, my brothers, and me.
No sooner had my father begun the demolition to remove the tiny closet, than we began experiencing strange occurrences throughout the house.
Objects would go missing, or end up elsewhere than where they were set down (perhaps not so strange in a house full of children.) The strangest, however, was the heavy smell of cherry-pipe smoke, thick and almost overwhelming, hanging only around the spot on the couch over the cushion where the cat usually slept, and only in the morning, nowhere else. It was sharp and concentrated, nothing like the permeating smoke from my parents' Marlboro's; we could find no convincing explanation or connection. The children avoided it, and needless to say, the cat also gave up on keeping his napping-spot.
Despite the wayward possessions and the regular cherry-pipe odor, life went on and in due time the closet became a staircase. The morning of the day my father was set to carpet the new stairs, my mother was ushering children in, getting them settled, and seeing parents off to work, when she heard another knock on the door.
"Hey, Anne, did you forget something?"
"No, no, I was just leaving. But I found this on your doorstep, and I was thinking it was probably yours." She reached out her hand, and nestled in her palm sat a broken cherry-pipe.
Life moved on, my parents separated, and my mother and I moved from house to house, then apartment to apartment. There was nothing unusual about most of them, save one: the small two-apartment house with the red roof. It was a quiet neighborhood, not too many children; a young couple occupied the first floor, but were gone most of the day. My mother worked long hours, and since my brothers had flown the coop, I was left mainly to my own defences after school.
I disliked the apartment. It was more spacious than the last, but it was cold, always cold, especially the living room in the front. Summer or winter, it remained the same frigid temperature, not enough to be worrisome, but just below the outside range of comfort. It was empty of life, and not largely conducive to having guests or hanging out, sucking the humor out of any who tried to stubbornly fight the unwelcoming atmosphere. It was the room where good feelings went to die. Even the pets never entered, if they could help it. The cat would sit on the dining room table looking through the doorway at unseen somethings (as cats will do) and the dog blatantly refused to cross the threshold. We did most of our living in the rest of the house.
In this house, the missing object problem worsened. With only two people there, it was much easier to see that neither of us was the culprit. I had no need to take my mother's various decorative knickknacks, and I'm positive she needed none of my video games or teenage makeup. But oddly enough, everything eventually returned, perhaps weeks later and on the other side of the house, but at least it was back. Take for example, my large bottle of Banana Boat sunscreen. It was standing proud and tall on the middle of my dresser when I went to bed one evening, and simply was not the next morning. My mother and I searched everywhere, including my camp backpack, the camp cabin, the main house, the beach, the apartment, even places I never would put it. Eventually I broke down and got another bottle. But about three weeks later, lo and behold, I walk through the back door to find it standing on the kitchen table.
"Oh, Mom! You found it!"
"Found what, sweetie?"
"What about your sunscreen?"
"It's sitting here on the table, Mom."
"Oh, good! You found it!"
There were other things I didn't enjoy, such as the feeling of never being alone. I know it is a small feeling, but it was strong enough for me to wander the house every so often when I was by myself checking under beds and in closets, just in case. But the worst was the voice. I honestly thought I was going crazy. It was eerie, and quiet, but it was there, and all it was do was call my name, usually when I was alone.
One afternoon, I was fighting the livingroom atmosphere for stubborn dominance. I was alone, watching TV after school when I heard my name called from the kitchen. Absorbed in my program, I absently called, "What?" from my perch on the couch. Receiving no answer, I sighed, got up and wandered to the kitchen. "What??" I said, a note of irritation on the edge of my voice. I still received no answer, and the blood drained from my face as my solitude in the house dawned on me. I promptly left, without bothering to shut off the television. The only confirmation I got was years later, when I was talking about the house with my brother, who had visited for a while.
"I am so glad you moved out of there."
"It was creepy! Every time I was alone there, someone would call my name..."
My father eventually remarried, and had two more sons of his own. When the first son was born, they bought a house in a rural community, another old fixer-upper. Again, my father went to work on it, both house and yard.
One calm afternoon, my brother, who was then just about one, napped upstairs, while my father and stepmother sat in the living room, baby monitor at the ready in case he woke up. Suddenly over the monitor, the clear sounds of a young baby screeched across the airwaves. Puzzled, my father climbed to the nursery, only to find the toddler fast asleep and snoring. The crying continued over the monitor for about half an hour, before fading out to my brother's soft snores. They checked the neighborhood to see if they had somehow managed to pick up someone else's baby, but there were none in the neighborhood. The only even remotely nearby children were adolescents, like myself. However, though they found no clues in the neighborhood, my father, in his yard work, did come across the nineteenth-century weathered gravestones of a young mother and her three-month- old baby.