The story of a house whose occupants never left
(You can find part 1 here. And now for part 2)
The house that had held such joy and promise echoed with the coughing fits that would rack Julia’s little body. No matter what the doctor tried, their little girl seemed to fade until she was as white as her bedclothes, except for the dark hollows under her eyes.
One evening, as Adelaide cooled her feverish brow with a damp cloth, Julia looked up and asked,
“Mama, will it hurt when I die?”
Julia, too, slipped away in the night.
Adelaide stepped into her daughter’s room, lit only by a shaft of moonlight slicing through the window that looked out onto two graves.
She lowered herself slowly into the rocking chair and settled her daughter’s blanket over her lap. She ran her arthritic fingers over the stitches she had lovingly knit years before, recalling how often she had wrapped its soft warmth around her daughter. Remembering how adamantly she had denied Bradford’s wish to wrap little Julia in it one final time.
Adelaide recalled too, how little she and Bradford spoke after that. Neither of them eating much, turning down well-intentioned invitations from their friends, content to sit in the gathering darkness instead of lighting a lantern to see by. She stopped knitting sweaters for her family and watched her beloved Bradford waste away as he sat silently by the fire. Her pleas to eat something were always rebuffed gently but firmly. It came as no surprise when she rose one morning to find him still sitting in his favorite chair, gazing unseeingly at cold embers in the hearth.
Grayson came home only to bury his father beside his sister, under the wide branches of the oak tree. When his mother refused to leave with him, he shook his head and drove off, leaving a cloud of dust and memories in his wake.
Adelaide had lived alone in the house ever since.
Not long ago, Grayson had returned. Older and mapped with the lines of age on his face. He had a woman with him — a wife he had never told his mother about, much less introduced. She looked at Adelaide with pity as Grayson informed his mother that they were going to take her to a home “friendlier to someone your age”. Her protests fell on unyielding ears. Grayson was stubborn and refused to hear all the reasons why Adelaide could not leave her house. He had granted her a week’s reprieve.
Tomorrow, they would come for her.
Adelaide sighed deeply and leaned her head back. She was too weak to fight him off, too old to do anything now but refuse to leave her beloved house.
She would not go.
“Stay with me, Mama.”
Adelaide opened her eyes and gazed down at her daughter.
She slipped her hand with its thin, spotted skin into Julia’s, and watched the little girl’s eyes sparkle with happiness.
On a bright morning heavy with the scent of flowers in the air, a moving truck backed slowly up the long driveway. A dark green SUV followed the moving truck. With the windows lowered, music poured from the vehicle, layered with two voices singing happily along, only a little off-key.
The truck came to a halt, as did the green SUV. They all got out and the woman who had stiffened up behind the wheel scrubbed at her short red hair with her nails as she strode toward the moving truck. Another woman climbed out of the passenger seat and flicked her cascade of dark hair over one shoulder. She pulled open the back door and watched her daughter jump out of the vehicle.
“Is this it, Mommy, are we home?”
“We sure are. Thank goodness, if we had to go another mile, I might have grown roots in that seat.”
The little girl laughed. “That’s silly, Mommy! People can’t grow roots! We aren’t trees.”
“I know, Kelly. Why don’t you see if you can catch up to Mama Jo, okay?” Neomi stretched her back out as she watched her daughter scamper off. She thought she saw a curtain twitch in one of the upstairs windows, but assumed the fabric was moving in the spring breeze.
Jo unlocked the old house and threw the double wooden doors wide.
“Can I go look for my room, Mama Jo?” Kelly asked as she tugged on her other mother’s arm.
“Sure, Sweetie. Be careful on the stairs though.”
“Okay!” Kelly skipped into the house, undaunted by a home she’d never seen before.
“I wish I had her energy,” her mother said as she came up and wrapped an arm around her wife’s waist.
“I know, Neomi. You’ll get there.” Jo wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders. “The doctors said you’d get stronger with time, remember? This house’ll be good for us, give us a chance to start over.”
“Where do you want this stuff?” One of the movers interrupted.
“I’ll take care of this,” Jo said. “Why don’t you go find Kelly?”
Neomi nodded and smiled as she stepped through the doorway.
She’d loved this house from the minute she and Jo had seen it. When the realtor allowed them inside, the history and character of the house wrapped around them like a warm hug from an old friend. She and Jo had explored all the rooms hand in hand, making plans to update certain rooms with bigger windows and paint others in bright colors. By the time they thought they had seen everything, their plan looked to have a real chance.
When the real estate agent had commented on the size of the house for two women, Jo had given her a lopsided grin.
“We want to adopt a passel of kids to give our little Kelly lots of playmates. We’re going to fill this house with love and laughter and pancakes every Saturday morning.”
Neomi’s cancer had put their plans on the back burner for a year, but finally, she felt strong enough and they began to pack. She trailed her fingers up the handrail the realtor had insisted was old-growth oak, and felt the potential of the house seep into her skin. She couldn’t wait to settle in and start decorating. She could just make out the sound of Kelly’s voice from a room at the top of the stairs, but not the actual words.
Kelly was entertaining her first visitor in her new room.
“I like this room. I’m gonna ask Mama Jo if it can be mine.”
“You call your mama by her name?” Blue eyes widened.
“Jo is my other mother, Mommy carried me though,” Kelly nodded and her dark curls bounced. “My name’s Kelly. What’s yours?”
“My name’s Julia. I live out there.” The little girl pointed toward the oak tree they could see out the window and the three graves that no longer had markers.