It was on a Monday afternoon in the middle of February that I found myself trudging up the steep, weather-beaten path of the last house on Elm Street. I couldn’t help but admire its grandeur. The immaculately carved roses, the arch above the door, the dilapidated wood that made up its walls, they all seemed to be beckoning to me. It wasn’t until I reached the front door that I realised how uncommonly quiet the place was. No voices, no footsteps, even the omnipresent chirp of birds was absent. It was as if someone had placed cushions over my ears, and blanked out all sound.
I took a deep breath and reached out for the brass knocker on the door. Layers of dust covered it. My fingers coiled around the heavy metal ring. Another deep breath, and then I knocked. The sound seemed to be echoing inside. I could picture the waves reverberating off old wooden walls and raising clouds of dust that had settled over them over the years. My throat felt dry now. I told myself that this was just another house. Just another insurance policy that I had to sell. There was nothing wrong here. Inside it would be warm and cosy, with soft comfortably cushioned chairs, probably a family. It was just the yard that was forsaken. Most likely the tenants didn’t bother to maintain it all. After all, it was a big house and a very big yard. It would be impractical to be bothered with such trivial things in these present times when cities expanded vertically instead of horizontally.
I waited a long time before I knocked again. This time, the door opened. However, there didn’t seem to be anyone manning it. I took a careful step inside the house. “Hello!” I called out, but in vain. It seemed absolutely deserted. I was right about the comfortable chairs, but they were all coated with dust, just like the knocker. I cried out again, hoping for some response but in vain. The house was giving me the chills and I had half a mind of walking out. One last try then I would be out of here, I said to myself and called out again. I could hear my own voice travel through the emptiness, but still no response. I treaded backwards, taking in all the antique show-pieces that decorated the place. My hand reached for the doorknob, but before I could reach it, I felt the floor go out from under my feet. Suspended in the air for a brief moment, I remember seeing movement. Before I could be sure of anything though, my head hit the floor and my eyes shut involuntarily. I drifted off into an anguished sleep.
I had no clue how long I had passed out for, but when I did wake up, I was lying on a very agreeable bed. I felt relaxed, as if it was a routine sleep I had woken up from. The bed did make a welcome change from my former location, but that didn’t keep me from getting out of it with a start. Where was I? How did I get here?
Stepping out of the door that opened out to the corridor outside, I realised I was still in the same house. So much for my earlier presumption of abandonment. There were inhabitants after all. Inhabitants who I should be grateful to. I made my way down a creaky set of steps to the landing where I had fallen earlier. Spotting an arch that could have only led to the kitchen, I walked towards it. On the other side was a table and on that table sat the most beautiful girl I ever saw. She was fair almost to the point of being chalky. Her bright blond hair, her sunken eyes, her slim white arms, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I couldn’t say a word, and didn’t have to. She knew. She understood the effect she was having on me, and there was no word to describe it except love. She didn’t speak either. She just looked and I knew I was hers forever.
Days, perhaps weeks have passed since that eventful day. I am still with her. Life has no meaning otherwise. She is sick, but I have been taking good care of her. I have cooked, cleaned and kept everything in order. She smiled at me all the time, and I smiled right back. She still sat at the same place. Her favourite spot on the table. She smiled at me when I worked, she smiled at me when I fed her, she even smiled when the food tasted terrible owing to my lack of experience in the kitchen. I just wished I had met her earlier, before she fell sick. What a life that would have been! We would have got married, gone on a honeymoon to the coast, there would have eventually been kids. Life would have been so different. So perfect.
She was dead, they told me. She had been since the last six months. I refused to believe them. How could she be dead? She was so alive, so loving. I could still envision her smile. She didn’t smile, they said. The long period since her death had transformed what was once alive and beautiful into a skeleton.
She wasn’t dead. She was sick. That was the reason she was always so thin. That was the reason for her paleness.
They shook their heads and asked me if I knew her name. I reflected upon the question, and realised that I didn’t. They asked me if I knew about her family, her background. I didn’t. They asked me if I knew how she had gotten sick. I didn’t.
It wasn’t true, they said. It was all in my head. Apparently I had a concussion from the fall and I was hallucinating or something. I knew they were wrong. I asked them the one question that they couldn’t explain. One question that proved she was alive. One question that they had no definite answer to. I asked them, “If she was dead, then who carried me upstairs the day I hit my head?”