Charlie

Charlie haunts my house. This brittle white house upon this leering hill, this house stricken with pops and groans and a constant howl of wind at the eaves. I do not know where he came from, if he lived a life before this, or if “he” was ever a living man at all.

Charlie haunts my home, and maybe my life as well.

I built this house, or, rather, I had it built. I was left a widow, my dear husband, Finley, having died in the war. Normandy Beach. He died there on the sand, the surf reaching to claim him, to drag him into its depths. I was left a widow with two daughters, both of whom I have outlived. People say you should never have to bury your children. That is true; though it does save them that horrid act of having to bury you.

I had this house built the year after Finley’s untimely, and unfortunate, passing. A year after placing my husband in the ground, my daughters and I moved into this house.

That is when Charlie moved in as well.

I was the first to see him. A bright day in October. We had been living here two weeks. I was changing my bed linens. I turned and he passed my bedroom door. Just a glimpse of him, from behind. Slicked black hair. Dark blue suit. I was startled, to say the least, and I screamed. My weak knees dumped me onto the bed.

Clutching a letter opener that had once belonged to Finley, I searched the house. Of course there was no intruder to be found. But I had followed him throughout the house, a devious game of cat and mouse it was. Every time I turned, I would catch a glimpse of him passing the door or turning the hall corners. Always just a glimpse.

Shivers and insanity, that’s what I had.

I found an empty nook and curled up and cried. I cried for the loss of Finley, and over the thought of going insane and losing my daughters. I cried, God how I cried, until my aunt arrived in the late afternoon with my children.

Though the weather was not exactly favorable, I allowed the girls to play outside. I confessed my fragility and oncoming collapse to my aunt. She said nothing, only hugged me and then searched the house herself from top to bottom and back up again. Naturally, she found nothing. The new resident in our home didn’t bother to show himself to her. My aunt reassured me I was not going crazy. Then she went about her merry spinster way.

In the days, months, and years that followed, Charlie showed himself only enough to let us know he still lived here. My daughters would catch those brief, fleeting, glimpses of him as he passed the doors. It didn’t frighten them; they found the ghostly phenomena, as a whole, very fascinating and full of wonderment.

When we did not see Charlie, he still made his presence known. To share a house with a ghost is one thing; to share it with a prankster and thieving ghost is another. He would often move objects, such as a glass when we were pouring refreshments. Jewelry and other trinkets would go missing, to resurface days later not in their proper places. A treasured brooch of mine remained missing for almost exactly sixteen years before I found it in the medicine cabinet one morning. Portraits were taken from the walls never to be seen again.

Life with Charlie could, at times, be tedious. But it became normal, even downright commonplace, for us. We accepted it. What was that noise? Who is playing with the lights? Who slammed the door? Who moved the bread box?

Charlie.

My daughters asked why I called him Charlie. Why not? A random name drawn from the ether for a random roommate cast from the same mold.

Charlie became one of us, one of the family, one more standard in our daily lives. He was our little curiosity, the family member we trotted out to startle and entertain friends and other guests. My daughters’ friends would receive a right good jolt seeing him walk by the door. Maybe we were as much his entertainment as he was ours.

Everyone became accustomed to Charlie. I believe, often times, most of the visitors to our home came to socialize with him as much as they did us.

As my daughters grew, as they became more involved with school activities and discovered their interests in boys and dating, Charlie became more and more a comfort and companion to me. I would often talk to Charlie, even when I wasn’t alone, in the same manner as I talked to all my intimates, if not more openly. The conversations we had…even though he never spoke a word or uttered a sound.

By the time my daughters left home for university life, I didn’t feel alone in this house with its pops and groans and its infernal constant howl of wind. I had Charlie. Through my daughters’ marriages, their own children, their careers, and divorces, their victories and heartaches- I had Charlie with me, sharing this empty nest.

And through the ordeal of my daughters dying, Charlie was the shoulder I cried on, the ears who heard my sorrows. He was my therapist, my confidant and confessor.

My youngest died first. Cancer. Five years later, a drunk driver claimed my eldest. For all the condolences offered me, for all the comfort of the family left to me, for all the sympathy given me, none were as understanding as Charlie. He never said he knew my pain, or felt my loss. He would simply walk the house, letting me know he was here. Here. Silent.

As I advanced in years, family and friends dwindled. Those who did not die faded away. The grandchildren visited less and less. They did not share the affection, or the slightest curiosity, we had for Charlie. I was the old lady in the big house. The grandmother losing touch.

Soon, it was just me and Charlie.

Of course, on my deathbed, the family crawled from the woodworks. I dismissed them all. They didn’t care to see me when I was in fairly well health, so I didn’t care to see them as life slowly ebbed from me. I kept the nurses. And Charlie.

I would watch Charlie from my antique four-poster bed. I would watch him, that quick glimpse of the back of him, his slick black hair and dark blue suit, as he would just pass the doorway. I watched him as the nurses watched me. Watching, waiting, wondering.

I do not know when I died. I only know I left my bed, not surprised that I was able to walk. I left my bed when I saw him pass the door. I followed.

Now it is just Charlie and I. Just us, alone. I still have yet to see his face. He is always steps ahead of me; I am always following. We walk the house. Maybe we are searching, or passing the time. I don’t know. We walk in silence.

We wander the house, Charlie and I. Our house, this brittle white house upon this leering hill, this house stricken with pops and groans and a constant howl of wind at the eaves.

Previously published in Tales From the Grave.