I think a lot about the man who lived in this house for decades, before he got sick and passed away. His wife lived here, too, but passed away several years ago, and the house we first saw smacked of single tidy man, with the exception of a few trinkets and mementos displayed from a 50th anniversary event.
When we viewed the house, all of his things were still here, and it smelled of grandparents and undisturbed objects and dust. We were told to tag the items we'd like to keep, so we tagged a little hutch, a big cedar chest, and a few ridiculous rickety wooden chairs that were in bad shape--I fell in love with them. Most of the rest was auctioned off, other than old trashcans and half-used bars of soap.
Our neighbors tell us about the man, sometimes, and at work I found the paint records for the house--it had last been painted in the late seventies, and one room in '81. I always think of him by his formal name, and here I'll call him Mr. Fox, since I feel I shouldn't use his real name.
I like seeing the things around the house he did, that he rigged up hilariously, the little quick fixes that ended up being long term solutions. A small block of plywood holds the tub plumbing in place, precarious behind the wall. Stacks of chicken wire peep down from the crawlspace in the garage. A piece of hidden Styrofoam holds the kitchen light fixture in place, the toilet paper dispenser has been set at a crooked angle among the plastic bathroom tiles, steel wool holds warning tags on the washer's cords, the shelves in the kitchen cabinets were inexplicably nailed down with multiple, multiple nails. Downstairs in the studio area, a host of random nails and hooks wait silently in the rafters, planted in the beams for mysterious reasons. Bent up thick wire runs below the beams, make-shift indoor clothes lines that I use every time I do laundry. There are pulleys and chains hanging from a beam by a window. A mysterious paste held the (wrong-sized) toilet seat to the toilet. Doors were cut into the paneling in the basement with little-to-no regard for practical size. We suspect the paneling was put up and the doors were cut after the washer and dryer were placed in the utility room. The wiring, in places, is downright scary.
Under the utility sink I found bottles of ancient cleaners, three flower pots (one is a McCoy), a cook pot with a lid, a dirty looking bedpan, and layers of yellow, scummy newspaper. Resting on hidden shelves up under the workbench, I found four incredibly heavy antique sawhorse legs. Under a rafter in the exposed studio ceiling, I found an ancient (untripped) mousetrap. Under the stairs, boards of various sizes were hidden, and a faded dirty sack of rusted tire chains, with the lable of the tire chain company just barely visible. The hutch's tiny drawer held an old thermometer, a deck of playing cards, dice, and a button from some forgotten town-wide celebration.
In the basement cabinets, there are strips of rotting masking tape, with penciled labels written in a shaky hand. Some of the words are misspelled. The back compartment of a kitchen drawer held a slotted spoon and a hand-crank style eggbeater. The garage had a broom and a tiny banged up metal filing cabinet on legs. A cabinet in the garage holds outdated chemicals and pesticides. The cedar chest held two teeny tiny plastic dice. The shed in the back yard held planks and boards and poles in a variety of sizes, a large remnant of cheap plywood, hooks, metal loops, more chicken wire, empty plastic flower pots, and a fake floral arrangement obviously yanked from a grave at a cemetery. In the yard a plastic finch feeder full of moldy seed hung from a tree, and a wooden birdhouse hung from the clothes line. It is so old lichens creep across its roof, and the wood is soft and crumbly. A wren's nest was left behind in that house.
I think about Mr. Fox quite a bit. I wonder if he sees us, I wonder why he loved nails and hooks so much. I feel bad about the dog spots burned in the lawn, I cringe when I accidentally scuff a wall or scratch the hardwood floor, and feel as if maybe Mr. Fox is frowning behind me. I feel guilty getting rid of the draperies that were put up years ago. Maybe he is shaking his head at the yellow I painted the basement floor, maybe he hates the dogs, maybe knows I broke the curtain pulls in the living room. I feel a respect for him; I don't want to uproot everything that was familiar to him. I imagine him crossing softly from small room to small room, wearing the same pants every day, bathing carefully, helping our neighbors, wearing black socks, only taking off his shoes when it is time for bed. I wonder if he got sick enough that he didn't feel up to changing out of his clothes at night, and if he slept in them to avoid the hassle, like some residents at the nursing home I worked at tried to do. I wonder why his sister told us he didn't drink, when he had built a makeshift bar and antique beer paraphernalia decorated the bar area. I wonder if he smiled much, I wonder if he kept a cup on the bathroom vanity top for denture cleaning, I wonder if he ever picked up acorns in the front yard and looked at them for hours. I wonder if he fed the squirrels, I wonder how often he laundered his pillowcases. I wonder if, like my grandfather, every evening at seven o'clock he sat at the kitchen table to eat vanilla ice cream out of a white Corel bowl.
Sometimes he seems stern to me, but other times not so much. Now and then I remind myself that maybe he would like younger people to be here, that maybe scratches on the floor wouldn't bother him because we laugh and dance. I wonder if he quietly sees when I cry at night, I wonder if he laughs when he sees that I let Monk sit on the couch with me when my husband is not home, and then shoo Monk away hurriedly when we hear J return. I wonder if he knew his bushes were covered in scale, and if he is glad I viciously trimmed them all down. I wonder if he would be okay with all the bulbs I planted. Maybe his wife liked irises, after all. (Or maybe she didn't. I know the lady across the street hates trees.)
Although I am not necessarily a believer in ghosts, sometimes I feel there are presences. I imagine Mr. Fox is around, quite a bit, and I feel no fear. I've always felt afraid of dark, but have been able to walk around in blackness in this house at 2:00 a.m. comfortably. I feel we are sharing the space amicably, and that if his presence makes me respect the structure of our home more, so be it. I think he is slow in movement, but upright. I suspect his nails are just a bit in need of a trim, and I am sure he had slippers. I wonder how he would feel if my husband and I would sit on the wooden patio on summer evenings to share cigars. I wonder if he realizes the paint I used to paint birds on the kitchen cabinets will scrape right off.
I like Mr. Fox.
Monk does too.