Every time my husband and I visit our daughter and her family, we walk to the shopping area which is less than a mile away. On the way, we pass three attached houses that have a street running on both sides. The houses on both ends are in beautiful shape; fresh paint jobs, solid roofs, manicured yards and inviting entrances. The house in the middle is an entirely different story.
This visit, I stop and give it a really good look. The grey shingled roof is in surprisingly good shape as is the red brick exterior. However the windows, garage door and front door are encased in a solid wall of dirty grey concrete. Much of the house is shrouded by overgrown trees, shrubs and vines that trail over brick surfaces. Weeds are winning the fight for dominance and the brick steps that lead to street level and the area beneath them are covered with trash. Several large stones are barely visible on the overgrown lawn and once prominent plants peek through, looking in vain for a space to grow as warm weather approaches.
My granddaughter, S, stops with me. “Look at that house,” I say to her. “Every time we visit, I wonder what happened to the owners and why all the windows, the garage door and the front door are cemented shut.”
Her eyes grow large and I realize she is seeing the house for the first time even though she walks past it frequently. “Let’s take a look at the front door,” I say. I start up the front steps, watching for loose bricks. S follows me, an expression of both fear and anticipation on her eight year old face. I am having a great time, engaging her imagination.
We walk to the front door and look around, my husband shouting warnings to be careful behind us. S takes my hand and we examine the front door: definitely no way in. The cement is solid. So we turn and make our way down the steps, my husband offering a hand because there is no railing.
“Maybe the people had to leave in a hurry,” S says. “Maybe someone was sick or they didn’t have any money.” She is hopping from one foot to the other, animated and engaged in this game we are playing. All the way to the shopping area, we talk about the house and wonder why the people left. Maybe they had to leave in a hurry and couldn’t come back or there was a fire in the house. Or maybe they are still in there and have a secret opening to get food and water.
On the way back, I open the mailbox and take out the one piece of mail, a card covered with dirt and cobwebs. It has been here for a while. S and I look at it: it is dated October 2015 and it is a notice to appear in court for creating a nuisance. Of course! What else could it be.
That evening, we go to S’s other grandma’s home for dinner. At the end of the evening, the subject of “the house” comes up for discussion. S tells the story, her voice raised and her face animated. I love watching her.
We all wonder if we could find any information on the house. One guest suggest that we look at the public records. She thinks it would be hard to sell because whoever bought the property would have to pay off the creditors. Also, there might be lots of liens against the property. Someone else explains that the foreclosure process is initiated by creditors and a foreclosure sale would pay off any liens and not encumber the property for new owners. But we are all curious to find out what happened to the house and the owners. Our circle of detectives has broadened.
We talk about what might be inside. Someone suggests there could be rats floating in a flooded house; the floor boards might be giving way so the door had to be cemented for safety reasons; it most probably had been abandoned and become a pot house. Everything seems plausible.
The next day we take another walk to the shopping area. This time S takes her camera (a Hanukah present) and I take my iPhone. At the house, S and I begin snapping away, even taking photos of the mailbox. When we are home, we send our photos to each other. Then S motions to me to follow her to her room. We sit on the bed and get comfortable.
“I know what’s in the house,” she confides.
“What?” I ask.
“It’s a magic house.”
“Magic?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. “You have to know the magic word to get in the house and only the special people know it. And when you are in, you can float in the air and order food and eat it while you are floating.” She giggles “Then you might get nauseous!”
We both laugh. “I think you are absolutely right,” I say. “The house is magic.”