BY JOHN FINDURA
When we left, we left quickly. We didn’t bother doing the dishes or making the bed. We grabbed our bags and hit the door. I’m not sure we even locked it. We left half-filled Heineken’s on the coffee table and a movie in the VCR. We left the cat, wherever the hell it was. We got into my car and drove, fast, away from the house. Twenty years later, I still remember the three days I spent in it, and still remember everything that happened. Occasionally I’ll tell the story, but usually I don’t because people usually think I’m pulling their leg or full of shit. But it happened, of that much I’m sure. What it was, though, I don’t know.
The house, on the outside, looked like all the others on the street. Wooden shingled with a large wooden front porch on top of the incline rising off the street with a cragged stone wall running in front of it. It looked like a set of broken teeth sealing it off from the road. Rosalyn’s co-worker had asked us to “babysit” the house and her cat, and being young with no place to else to go, we decided to play house for the week. We’d been dating for almost a year and it was exciting to have this go at spending a week alone with no one else to bother us, to see if the relationship was ready for this level of commitment.
We pulled up with two duffel bags and unloaded into the already empty house. I threw my bag on a chair, went into the kitchen and as promised found it loaded with beer.
“Hot damn, we have beverages!”
“Not now, let’s check this place out first,” Rosalyn said.
The kitchen was large and it had a door that led out to the backyard. There was a stone pathway leading to a vegetable garden from which we were to help ourselves. Honestly, I was more interested in checking out the Chinese place down the street and the guest bedroom, where we’d be staying. The garden was nice, though, even with the same rock fence running around its back and through the rest of the yard.
We checked out the rest of the house with its standard dining room and living room with a TV that was much too large. The second floor held three bedrooms, but I was interested in the one at the end of the hallway, the one where’d we were sure to be spending some magical nights. Of course it was decorated like a guest bedroom with doilies on the nightstand and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls lying on the bed and on the rocking chair off to the side. Not my taste, but the bed was large and the windows were huge and let in tons of light. It would do.
The first night we watched a Bruce Willis movie and the large television. The couch faced the front of the house with the kitchen directly behind us. We were having fun, eating chips and drinking beer. It was like a real relationship now. This is what it was going to be like for a long time. We went to bed early, had sex in someone else’s bed for the first time, and went to sleep. The next morning we had cereal for breakfast and each went to work.
That night we again sat in front of the television, eating Chinese food from the place down the street. I swung up from the couch to the kitchen and I noticed the kitchen door leading out to the backyard was open by maybe six inches. I closed it, heard the satisfying click of the latch, and moved on the grab a soda from the fridge. I made my way back to the living room and kicked my feet up onto the coffee table. Yes, this was the life.
“You didn’t bring me one?” Rosalyn asked.
She stood up and walked back in to the kitchen. I heard the same satisfying click on the latch from the back door.
“Did you just open the door?” I asked loudly, craning my neck.
“No, I closed it. Make sure it’s closed next time.”
“I did close it,” I said.
“Well it was open,” she said as she sat back down on the couch.
I was sure I had closed it. I got up and walked back to the door.
“Where are you going?”
“To look at the door.”
“For that you get up. Nice.”
I grabbed the door handle and gave it a pull. It was firmly closed. I gave it a push. Nothing. Okay, then. We had a stupid door on our hands.
Later on Rosalyn brought our dishes back into the kitchen when I heard “John. Stop screwing with the door.”
I leaned over the back of the couch and stretched my neck into an awkward position. I could see part of the door, and it definitely was open. I popped up and walked back over to it.
“I closed this before. The latch clicked and everything. I pulled and pushed and nothing. This door is fucked,” I said.
Rosalyn went back to watching TV while I putzed around with the knob. Opening it, closing it, pushing it, pulling it. I closed it again, hear latch again, and this time turned to bolt. I was not going to argue with a goddamn door. I left it.
We both sat back down on the couch and started fooling around. Usually we were locked in a room somewhere before the shirts came off, so this was really exciting to be in the middle of a living room with a large TV on. As we jockeyed for position, I somehow ended up standing on the couch when I looked over and saw the refrigerator door wide open.
“Oh what the hell,” I said.
“Yeah, what the hell are you doing?” she asked as I climbed back off the couch.
“The friggin’ refrigerator door is open.”
I walked back into the kitchen, wearing out a path. That’s when I saw the backdoor open, the bolt still in the locked position and sticking out the side of it.
“Oh fuck this…Roz!”
Rosalyn came flying in, pulling her shirt back on.
I pointed to the door, to the bolt sticking out the side.
“How does that happen?” she asked.
“It doesn’t happen. I have no idea.” I was starting to really not like the idea of staying. Something was up and I was no longer a happy camper. “This is really weird…like really weird. I locked that door. It was shut tight. And the fridge was closed before. I know it was because I closed it.”
“Maybe the house is tilted,” Rosalyn offered.
“But the bolt was closed. It was locked. To open it you had to open the bolt. And look, the bolt is still in the lock position. It had to un-bolt itself, open, and then close the bolt again.”
“Maybe to cat unlocked it. Let’s just go to bed,” Rosalyn said. It wasn’t the cat, I can tell you that, they don’t have opposable thumbs for Christ sakes, but I followed her anyway.
We got undressed, let the cat into the room, and closed the door. I followed her into the bed still thinking about the door, and the refrigerator. I just couldn’t figure out how they opened. But then Rosalyn started kissing my neck and then I was on top of her. And then we heard the footsteps coming down the hallway.
“What the fuck is that?” she whispered.
“I don’t know…I don’t know.” I got up, looked around the room for something heavy, anything. It was mostly filled with folk art knickknacks. The footsteps got louder and the cat jumped onto the dresser. I grabbed a picture frame with a needlework schoolhouse stitched into it and brought it up over my head. I went to the door. The footsteps stopped right outside. I could hear breathing. Part of me wanted to cry. Did I have the guts to actually bring down a picture frame over someone’s head? I could hear the creaking outside the door as if weight were being shifted from foot to foot, and now I was positive I could hear breathing. I waved at Rosalyn and she got down, behind the bed. I started to silently chant, “Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod” and pulled open the door. There was nothing there. My hands were shaking, but I ran down the hallway, looked down the staircase. There was no one there.
We didn’t even speak as we pulled our clothes on and grabbed our duffel bags. We ran to my car parked in front of the house and took off.
The next day was sunny and unseasonably warm. We went back to the house to get the rest of our things. While Rosalyn grabbed the VHS tapes she asked me to go grab some tomatoes from the garden out back. I was not thrilled about going out the back door, but I was thrilled to be out of that house. I grabbed an empty plastic bag and walked down the stone pathway to the garden. As I filled it with tomatoes, which I don’t even like, I walked closer to the stone fence at the garden’s back. There was a field beyond it, which I thought was strange since all the houses were so close together. I looked closer. That’s when I saw the headstones. Yes, there was a cemetery right behind the house. I dropped the tomatoes and ran back into the house. I grabbed Rosalyn and pulled her out back, so she could see for herself.
We both stood and stared out at the cemetery. Then Rosalyn looked at her feet, I followed her gaze. The stone walkway we were standing on had marking on them. Names. Dates. I followed it with my eyes directly to the kitchen door. They were headstones being used as a walkway.
“Fuck the tomatoes,” I said. “We’re going.”
John Findura is the author of the poetry collection Submerged (ELJ, 2018). He holds an MFA from The New School as well as a degree in psychotherapy. His poetry and criticism appear in numerous journals including Verse; Fourteen Hills; Copper Nickel; Pleiades; Forklift, Ohio; Sixth Finch; Prelude; and Rain Taxi. A guest blogger for The Best American Poetry, he lives in Northern New Jersey with his wife and daughters.