|A saltbox from Bolduc House Museum|
I start to move through Gillian’s house, pausing to crack open all of the windows; there is an unpleasant, fusty smell that pervades the entire house. I have been in Gillian’s house in the past, but only the first floor. She keeps the rooms neat and sparsely decorated. Everything has its place. I have to move a few things to get to the windows and there are age rings from objects sitting untouched and stationary for so long. I return to the tool box she kept in the kitchen pantry to retrieve a hammer and a screw driver. Several windows are painted shut and need extra help. Julia is still sitting at the kitchen table, holding a mug of tea between the palms of her hands. I feel her eyes on my back, but she doesn’t say anything. All she has managed to tell me is that Gillian died this morning.
The stairs upstairs are tall and steep. I marvel that an eighty-nine-year old woman negotiated them daily without falling or breaking a hip. I count sixteen steps, with almost a ten inch rise and only and eight inch run. No wonder it feels like a ladder. I hold on to the handrail and discover it wobbles when any weight is placed upon it. The house is showing its age.
When my foot strikes the landing at the top, there is a tremendous groan released by the wood as it bears my weight. Moving forward, my hand seeks a light switch; the hallway is dark and poorly illuminated by ambient light. Unexpectedly, a pull chain grazes my cheek. I pull it. I see now that the hallway is covered in oak paneling. The oak flooring is laid with a faded runner that was once decorated with roses. They look more like dried potpourri at this point. All five doors along the hall are closed. The first door that I open is a linen closet. When I open it, a shower of towels, pillowcases, toilet paper rolls and other household goods cascades over me, landing at my feet. I stand still, simply agog. Carefully retracting my feet from the pile, I move on to Door Number Two. I turn its glass handle and push into a room that is filled, utterly filled, with books. There may be a bed and dresser and table somewhere, but if so, they are lost under the stacks and stacks of books. I have only seen something like this on the television show about hoarders. I am flummoxed. I try to move the books that nearly obscure the room’s one window. They all tumble, helter-skelter to the ground.
I edge out of the room. I shut the door behind me. I realize as I do so that, unconsciously, I have been holding my breath for the entire time. The room smells like a cat may have died in there.
Door Number Three is worrying me. I open it, and once again, I am stunned by what I see. It is the bathroom. It looks like a store's display unit. The bathroom is outfitted with all modern fixtures. It is cleverly designed so that it manages to hold a toilet, sink, soaking tub and stand-alone shower. Green tiles, the color of new grass line the shower walls and floor. The rest of the bath is white. I suspect that she used Restoration Hardware to supply all of the amenities. The window is new and cranks open easily.
Door Number Four is her room. It looks original to the house. There is a four-posted bed, a rocker, a tallboy and an armoire. No closet. The room has three windows. Only the one close to the bed needs to be eased open with the help of a screwdriver. I have to wedge it open with the single(!) book I find by her bed. How odd. “Fifty Shades of Gray.” I haven’t read it, but I heard it is quite a sexual romp. Wow. That’s what I say to myself “Wowser.”
I don’t rush into the last door, Door Number Five. I know that, whatever I find, will reveal a lot about Gillian Dickinson. It could be anything, really. The smell seems stronger at this end of the house. I am tremendously suspicious that I will find something untoward here.
I turn the knob and walk in. The stench makes me gag. I cover my nose and mouth with my shirt. Even so, I can taste the smell on the back of my throat. I rush to the room’s single window. This is easily accomplished. The room is virtually empty but for a steamer trunk and a chair. The window is painted shut. I try to pry it open with the screwdriver. It has eight over eight mullions. When repeated attempts to open it fail, I use the hammer to tap out two panes. Fresh air floods the room. I back out, shutting the door behind me. I will need proper gear before I investigate what could be in the trunk and smell so hideously.
My next thought is how I am going to tell Julia that her aunt seems off-balanced, possibly deranged. Unless she already suspects this to be the case.