Weekly Wednesday Flash for Wednesday, March 25, 2020. We need a good mystery to distract us from the germ crisis.
Stay safe, everyone!
The Girl Who Lived in the Mystery House
The neighborhood mystery house was the everlasting focus of every generation of nearby kids from five to eighteen. It was the oldest house in the Sunnydale neighborhood, named for some imaginary utopia far from the damp and rainy Pacific Northwest town where I grew up and where the house resided. It met all mystery house criteria: peeling paint, leaning front porch—the only house with a front porch of useful size—riotous vines streaking up the boards, an insanely lush and gaudy garden surrounding where it sat on the biggest lot on the block.
At night, lights could be seen within, glowing behind the orange sheen of poorly-cleaned windowpanes. One could sometimes hear music, generally Schubert or Chopin, occasionally Thelonius Monk floating through the boards once adorned with bright red paint.
There was an ongoing debate about who came and went from that house, and about who actually lived there. The answer was clear enough if anyone wanted to check, but no one did, because the fiction was so much more intriguing and romantic that the fact.
An old green Cadillac was parked in the back, accessed by the alley. Engulfed in tall grasses and covered with the detritus of an overgrown pie cherry that tenderly dropped white blossoms all over it in spring, the thing was never seen to be driven, washed or cared for. If the mystery house dwellers had a car, no one ever saw it come or go.
Smoke issued from the chimney every winter. Most people in Sunnydale had an insert in their fireplaces, prudently burning in an environmentally-correct way, but the mystery house filled the crisp night air with woodsmoke. In summer, kids stared through the gaps in the hedge with envy at the rope swing in a massive oak on the front lawn. One girl, long after I had gone away to college with the vow never to return to Sunnydale, was said to have sneaked into the yard in broad daylight, climb onto the rope and fly back and forth. I recall a certain awe at her pluck.
Now, years later, I own the mystery house. I bought it last year, well partly bought it, from the old man who died within its walls, as had his mother, and her father and so on and so on before him. I sat beside him as he died.
I alone of all the children in the neighborhood didn’t think of the house as haunted or evil or remotely mysterious. Maybe this was because of well, the fact that I had once lived there. All my life I had no idea that our house was special this way until my dad spoke of it. I just thought my dad was weird when he played Schubert at volumes sure to be heard by curious neighbors. Or spreading Crisco on the windows to give them that eerie glow. Or carefully planning our urban garden—much to my mother’s extreme humiliation—to appear as alive and dangerously beautiful as it did.
We parked our cars at a rented garage at the end of the alley. Our grandmother owned the Cadillac and my dad wanted to keep it, again, despite Mom’s pleas to get it hauled away.
The rope swing was my idea, because I badgered Dad to hang it, because my parents declared there was no money to buy a climbing gym for the backyard. That oak tree was a marvelous substitute, however. I wonder about the little girl who gaily swung in it, launching herself from the same branch I had.
Sometimes I wonder if it was my daughter, who stayed with friends during that summer. She loved that swing.