Other Houses, Other Rooms

BY TYLER MILLER

 

We thought we knew the sordid history of Marley House. Maggie thought it gave it charm, a place with a past. I thought it knocked just enough off the asking price. Neither of us believed much of what we’d heard. What old wreck doesn’t creak and squeak? What fixer-upper is plagued by chilly gusts and inexplicable dampness? Houses get old just like people. When they do things go wrong. It ain’t rocket science.

We had 128 consecutive days of happiness at Marley House.

Then Maggie discovered the third-floor broom closet. And what lay behind it.

There was more to Marley House than we’d known.

* * *

I heard Maggie calling from the stairs. I tried to block out her voice, just for another moment, but there was an insistence to her tone that grated on my ears. I sucked in a breath and turned from my computer. I’d been writing every morning in the cubby hole at the west end of Marley House, a room hardly bigger than a pantry. When I’d picked it out, Maggie raised her eyebrows and asked why I didn’t want one of the larger rooms for an office.

“It’s so dusty and…tight,” she said. “Why don’t you take one of the rooms with a view?”

“Because then I won’t get any work done.”

There were no windows here, and only just enough space to squeeze inside and sit down at my desk. It was snug and comfortable, and if I worked until the afternoon Maggie opened the door a crack and handed in a sandwich and a Fat Tire and shut the door with a quick I love you. You couldn’t ask for more.

I stood and shifted the chair forward to get the door open. Peeping my head out the door, I called to Maggie.

“Everything okay?”

“Come up here,” she hollered. “Third floor. Hurry.”

“Something wrong?”

“Just hurry up. I need you to see this.”

Maggie is the love of my life. She’s tall and lithe, fully inhabiting the nubile body of a high school athlete. But she doesn’t walk with the gangly imprecision of a teenager. When Maggie moves she glides, swishing gracefully from here to there. From across a room she appears stately, proud, but up close she is all grinning and teeth and sparkling eye. Ascending the stairs, I wondered what I would be saving her from now. She was dreadfully afraid of spiders, and she hated moths with a banshee’s fury.

“You’re not hurrying,” she called down.

Marley House’s main staircase is a wide, switchback affair. A thick oak handrail steers you back and forth all the way to the top. From the third floor you can lean over and watch anyone coming up.

“I’m coming, I’m coming.”

I hadn’t spent much time on the third floor. We’d inhabited Marley House for a full season, and it seemed natural to expect that I would have ventured through every room, but the truth was the place was simply too big for two people. We had moved nothing up to the third floor, and it seemed unlikely we would until we had children. But while I was content with the first two floors, Maggie needed to make the entire house her own.

I rounded the top of the stairs.

Maggie’s face was unreadable. I paused, briefly, uncertain of what I was in for. This was not her frightened face, which I’d seen on more than one occasion. Nor was it her angry face, which I’d seen rarely but enough to identify. This was something else entirely.

“What’s wrong?”

“I want to show you something. Don’t ask me any questions. Just let me show you and then we can talk.”

It’s better not to argue with Maggie. “Show me.”

She led me down the hallway. We turned right down the east hall and then left into the second room. This had once been the room of old Marley himself, or so we had been told. It was a spacious room with high ceilings, a stone-carved fireplace and tall, narrow windows still covered by lace curtains which had grown so old and dusty they hung like half-dissolved spider webs. We nearly took this room for ourselves, as it was easily the biggest room in the house, but we eventually decided against it. Too far from the kitchen was our final judgement.

Old Marley’s room also had its own bathroom, and as Maggie crossed the room I thought this was where she was headed. However, at the last moment she passed by the bathroom, continuing to a smaller door in the corner I had not noticed before. She stopped in front of it and waited.

“What is it?”

“Take a look.”

The door was partially open. I reached out and pushed it back, revealing another room beyond. Stepping into the door frame, I saw that it was a small library. Wooden shelves lined the walls, stretching up to the ceiling. Dusty leather bindings stood stacked together in the gloom. There was a chair in the corner and a small reading table with a lamp. The room was dark and smelled of dry pages and aged ideas.

“Something’s wrong,” I said.

“Yes.”

“I can’t…” I stared into the room. There was something off-kilter, but at first I couldn’t place it.

Maggie, patient as always, simply waited.

When I saw it, I jerked backward, stepping out of the room.

“You see it?”

“Yes. What the hell is this?”

“They’re on the wrong side.”

Which was exactly what I’d seen. Two thick red curtains covered the library windows. Except the windows were on the west side of the house. The wrong side. Outside was east. These windows faced into the inside of the house.

“What’s going on with this library, Mags?”

“That’s just it. There is no library.”

“What?”

“This house doesn’t have one.”

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