There it was again. The knocking. Soft and persistent, thumping the door like a loose shutter in a storm. It was always enough to wake Rose, whose sleep was never deep anyway, filled as it was with dreams and memories that mixed and intertwined until she wasn’t sure which was which.
She wrapped herself in a tattered robe, shoved her feet into gray, dingy, slippers and padded toward the door.
“Go away,” she croaked, voice hoarse from years of silence. But she didn’t open the door; just stood there listening to the tap, tap, tap, rhythmic and unrelenting. Then she did what she did every night; flicked on the outside light so that a yellow beam shot through the dark, illuminating the little house nestled deep in the heart of their woods. Her and Anson’s woods.
The knocking stopped.
“Go away,” Rose mumbled again before shuffling into the kitchen to put on a kettle for tea. It was a nightly routine; the tapping, her command, light flooding the yard, and a cup of tea to stoke her memories. She would sit in the kitchen, shoulders hunched, age-spotted hands encasing the warm cup, until morning seeped through, scattering her memories and dispelling night’s gloom. Only then was she able to sleep.
At first, in the year following Anson’s death, Rose made attempts; went into town, accepted the well-meaning casseroles and condolences of people who dropped in and out of her life. She tried to put on a brave front, for Anson’s sake, until she realized he was no longer there to see and remark on her bravery.
Gradually she retreated from these attempts, and for the past six years, seven since Anson’s passing, she became a collector of memories. Tonight the memories were vivid, carrying her back to a time when she was a beautiful black-haired girl who spotted Anson MacCurdy at an American Legion dance.
All the girls had eyes for Anson, but he only had eyes for her. From the moment he asked her to dance, swept her into broad, muscular arms and swirled her around the dance floor, she was lost.
“What did I ever do to deserve this?” he said, blue eyes traveling the length of her until she dropped her gaze and flushed darkly. “I’m dancing with the prettiest girl in the county. Maybe in the world.”
Heart galloping, she lost all reason. Forgotten were her plans for the upcoming debutante ball, where she was expected to snag one of the state’s most eligible bachelors. They had already been swarming around, attracted by her looks and her family’s status, these boys who would be lawyers, doctors, congressmen, or inheritors of the business empires built by their grandfathers.
She fell completely, hopelessly in love with Anson MacCurdy, a farmer with a patch of land and a small frame house on the outskirts of town. All the other boys with their polished manners and college talk receded into gray and drab obscurity beside this giant of a man whose blue eyes reached into her soul.
To say that her parents disapproved would be an understatement. They argued, reasoned, cajoled, screamed, threatened, and even locked her in her room until she could “come to her senses,” but Rose never wavered, and finally they were forced to relent. She had become a wan shadow of their plump, vivacious only daughter; a girl who refused to eat, or speak, or smile and might die from this lovesick stubbornness.
They gave her a big, lavish wedding, as befitted a girl of her status, although their faces were pinched and grim. They tried to buy her a house in town, but Rose and Anson would have none of it. They moved to the little house in the woods and stayed there through the passing of the years, and eventually the passing of her parents, who left their fortune to a nephew who frittered it away. Finally there were few in town who remembered that Rose had once been a debutante.
Rose and Anson wanted children and there was a child, a raven-haired beauty like Rose, who live to be three and died in a flu epidemic that swept like a scourge through the country. Sometimes love unravels in the face of tragedy and disaster, but their love survived and changed and grew, becoming the nourishment that sustained Rose through those years of loss. She would watch Anson stride across the yard and her heart would leap as it had the first time she saw him. Enveloped in his arms, breathing his scent of outdoors and woods and sweat and desire, she never regretted her decisions.
Their routines didn’t vary; eggs in the morning for Anson, toast and tea for her. They walked the land, woods and fields, relishing the soft perfume of spring, sun-drenched heat of summer, crisp anticipation of fall and deep white solitude of winter.
Sometimes they stood at the edge of the track and watched trains thunder past, which gave rise to talks and dreams of travel, but those talks died as quickly as the trains, a rush of power and longing that rumbled out of sight. There were always fields to plow, crops to harvest, fences to mend, storm doors to replace. At night they ate meat, potatoes, vegetables from the garden, and on cold evenings settled contentedly by a stone hearth to watch orange flames lick and sputter.
They grew old and seemed not to notice the changes; her once-luxurious hair now sparse and gray, skin lined as parchment.
“How’s the most beautiful girl in the county?” He always said, hiding her in his broad embrace. He was still strong despite a shock of white hair and a slight limp brought on by an accident chopping wood; strong until he died in the field, dropping as suddenly and irrevocably as a felled tree.
Rose finished her tea, rinsed her cup and made her way to the bed they had shared for 53 years. But something stirred in her, maybe the vividness of memories, and she caught herself thinking as she drifted off to sleep, what if I open the door tonight?
The knocking woke her at is always did, a faraway thing that tugged her from sleep and caused her heart to flutter with anxiety. Rose grabbed her robe, slipped on her slippers, and slowly, legs weak from age and apprehension, moved toward the door.
This time, she didn’t turn on the outside light. Leaning forward, words soft as a feather, she said “Who’s there?”
Maybe it was just a loose shutter, after all. The knocks grew faint, threatened to stop, until Rose, too weak to stand much longer, flung open the door and stared into the dark. A form took shape, broad and strong, blue eyes piercing her soul.
“Rose,” he whispered. “My love. It’s time to come home.”
A perky real estate agent managed to shove open the door, coughing at the sudden onslaught of dust. “I’m so sorry, this place has been deserted for years and the agency should have had it cleaned.”
But Ashley wasn’t listening. She stepped across the threshold, enchanted. The old stone hearth, original wood floors, a stretch of trees all the way to the railroad trestle; it was perfect!
Brad wasn’t as sure, but as far as he was concerned his wife could have whatever she wanted. He watched her beautiful face become more animated as she talked about the potential of the place.
“What about ghosts? I hear it’s haunted,” he said, just to watch her eyes spark with indignation.
“I heard all about it,” she said, eyes sparkling in just the way he had expected. “An old couple lived here for half a century, then he died suddenly and she died a year later, supposedly from a broken heart. They say her ghost still roams at night, waiting for him to return. A porch light used to come on after dark, even though the electricity was turned off years ago.”
“If there’s one person who can handle a ghost it’s you,” he said, draping an arm over her shoulder and pulling her close. “You really want this place?”
Response to writing prompt #23