They toured the house with the real estate agent.
“We love it,” he said. “Is there anything we should know about the house’s past?”
The agent looked down.
The agent straightened his tie, examining his shoes looking thoughtful. “Well, there is a reason for the price of this place. As you know it is two stories with 4 bedrooms overlooking a scenic garden in a great neighborhood. So, of course, you have to be asking yourselves why. This home has a lot of history. It is an old house. Some of it good some maybe not. I am sure you will hear some of the stories. Rest assured a lot of it is urban legend and not true at all. This house has great bones, and a lot of restoration work has all ready been done. It is a no brainer. A steal.”
I looked at my wife, and she looked at me puzzled. “So, what are these stories?”
The agent tried to laugh nonchalantly, waving his hand like it was all nonsense. “Oh, it isn’t anything too crazy. Nothing like the movies. Nothing too extreme. There have been rumors of this house being a temporary hospice during hard times for the sick and dying. Tuberculosis I think? Some history and rumors of multiple suicides having taken place here. Especially the balcony on the second story. Kids like to tell stories of ghosts, the usual nonsense. There was supposedly back in the 1800s a family who kept a mentally ill relative locked in one of the rooms instead of institutionalizing them. But I have found no records indicating that actually happened.
“You know how it is, the oldest house on the block, kids like to make stuff up. An old lady used to live here, and she kept to herself and I think had a bunch of cats. You know the stereotype. It’s all silly of course. The house has been vacant while undergoing renovations and the owner doesn’t live around here. Inherited the place from the old lady, his Aunt. There were I’m sure many happy moments here too, and a lot of the rumors like I said, I have found no proof of. It was just the usual tales told of an old house. “He laughed kind of nervously.
“Hey, can we confer in private a moment? If you don’t mind?” I say to the real estate agent. “Of course, I’ll just be right out there. Go ahead and wander around. “I saw him step out onto the front step, and take a cigarette out of his pocket, and walk out a little ways to light it. I walked with Beth into the kitchen area. Vintage cabinets, old style tile floor; it was part of the house’s appeal. Some things would have to be replaced of course, but the goal was to keep it in a vintage style, to retain its character. “So, Beth, what do you think? We could maybe lower our offer a little, you know, because of the history. It could help pay for some of the retouches. Plus, I am thinking we might have to replace the roof. We’ll see after the inspection of course.”
“I don’t know. Suicides? People dying here? This place has everything but the Indian burial ground. You aren’t put off by all that?”
“I never knew you were superstitious. I mean, really. It’s just like the agent said, stupid kids seeing a creepy old house with a creepy old lady living here by herself. Even if it briefly was a hospice, doesn’t that kinda add to the history? I mean, it has historical value.”
“Ugh, you are being such a professor right now. Some places give off vibes, feelings. You can sense it. This place, is grand beautiful, but there is a sadness here. I am not sure this is how we should start off our lives together. You got your new job, and I have my teaching gig, and this house is big enough for company and the future. But it is a big investment. This place will need serious upkeep. Take some serious money to maintain. “
“There’s the practical girl I remember.” I say smiling trying to lift her mood. “He said we could wander. Maybe before we decide we should look around again. Maybe I can get these vibes you are talking about.” She rolls her eyes at me and sighs. It has been a long trip out here and I admit I fell in love with this house online and had already made my mind up. She was the one I had to convince. She preferred the last house which was a simple three bedroom next to the school where she was to work. Convenient, but boring. Normal. I didn’t want convenient or normal.
We walk up the old staircase together hearing every creak of the wood and the floor as we go up. The banister was immaculate, and shiny from regular maintenance and oil. “This is craftsmanship.” I say out loud appreciatively. We go to the second story and open doors along a hall way that overlooked below.
“The rooms are sizable.” Beth adds nodding in approval. A lot of old houses have small rooms. It was the standard back then so finding sizable rooms in an old house was rare and a sign that the owner had a substantial income to have it so. It was also possible over the years that one of the owners had knocked a wall down or two and combined two small rooms into a large one. I had seen that done as well.
“Did I hear some approval in your voice?” I say in mock shock. She swats at me playfully. I finally see a glimmer in her eye. Maybe the house is winning her over. We go into the master bedroom. “Walk in closet. Good.” She says opening the closet door. French doors open onto a large balcony. “The balcony,” I say matter-of-factually.
“The balcony. Hmm.” She echoes brow furrowed in concern. I open the French doors carefully examining the beauty of the old frames. I take her hand and walk out on the balcony. She follows reluctantly. “He didn’t say anything was in disrepair. I’m sure it is safe, come on.” She frowns.
“You know Joe, I don’t want to go out here. It is kinda chilly. You feel the wind. I didn’t dress for this.” I take off my coat, and put it around her. “There. Now you’re okay. Come on look at the view. You aren’t still thinking about those silly stories are you? I am sure no one jumped off of here. Come on.” I pull her hand toward me and she takes a few more steps out onto the balcony hugging onto my coat with her other hand. I feel her hand grip mine tensely. I don’t like this. Can we go back? I wanted to see the size of the master bathroom. That could be a deal breaker for me.”
I shake my head. “Come on, I think you should face your fears. I want to prove to you how silly this is.” I yanked her hand and prodded her to the railing with me. She was stiff, and uncomfortable. I knew she wasn’t a fan of heights but I had no idea that it was this bad.
“This railing looks so old. How do you know it can take much weight? This place hasn’t been inspected yet. “
“Just needs a fresh coat of paint is all. Nothing to it. See?” And I press my weight against the railing, her face drains of color and her hand tenses again. “Let’s go back inside.”
“No, I am going to show you how silly you are being.” I took her and pushed her to the railing next to me. She resisted and then I felt her lunge forward as her shoe got caught on a nail. It was in that horrible moment I felt the wood groan and break and I was left with a coat and one small shoe on the balcony. Wood splintered and she was gone. It was only a second. I looked over the railing and she was on the ground broken and pale. The agent had run up to her talking on the phone. I stood there holding my coat looking down at that scene from above, confused by what I was seeing. The agent was yelling at me to get down while talking to what I presume was a 911 operative. I couldn’t move. I just stayed there looking at the broken wood and the small shoe. Such a small shoe, I thought absently, still holding the coat in one hand like I was holding it out to someone that wasn’t there.