Inside the Queen Anne Victorian on Sawnee Avenue boasted six bedrooms, two baths, a nest of boarders, a frightened widow, and a ghost.
And I had to move into it, didn’t I?
Seventy-eight-year-old Pearl Puckett was roughly the size of a maple-haired lima bean. She drove a yellow submarine and kept a vicious bulldog in the fence out back to eat the thieves who dared steal fruit from her orchard. Every Sunday she accompanied her 80-something-year-old gentleman friend to visit his wife in a nursing home. Sometimes he’d call up on a weekday to say he was dropping by, and she’d run through the house, hollering…
“Martha! Charlie’s coming! Come touch up my dye job!”
She charged us $15 per week rent, which went toward the $300 utility bills, she said. But I think the real reason she rented rooms was her fear of staying in that house alone.
In the dead of a summer night what I thought was a rat hopped past my bedroom. I sprinted downstairs to Miss Pearl’s bedroom and rapped on the door.
“Who is it?”
Who did she think it was? The Avon Lady? I was the only room-renter home that night.
“It’s Cindy,” I said. “There’s a wharf rat upstairs. May I sleep in Martha’s room?”
She unlocked her door and peered up and down the narrow hallway. “All right, come on.”
I walked through the door that connected her bedroom to Martha’s. Miss Pearl locked it after me. In a moment, the hall door opened.
“I’ll let you out in the morning.” Then she locked that door too.
Weeks later, I was alone, talking on the phone with Frances Martin, making plans for that night, when I heard the side door slam shut. Feet pounded across the linoleum in the dining room, the butler’s pantry, the kitchen, and muted over the anteroom foyer carpet, up the staircase, and down the hall. A door slammed.
No one was expected home until the next day. I told Frances to hold on and went digging it upstairs to see who had come back early.
I peeped into the bedrooms, the bathroom, the dome room, and even went flying around the downstairs.
Miss Pearl had some strict house rules: don’t use her stove, dryer or washer, no booze in the house, no men in the bedrooms. But when the cat is away on a bus tour, the mice so play, doncha know. Feature three women yapping a mile a minute and chain-smoking around a bottle of Black Jack on the kitchen table, T-Bone steaks frying in onions on the stovetop, potatoes baking in the oven, washer and dryer pulling overtime, Dolly the man-eating bulldog waiting on the back porch for her treat. The door was shut so she wouldn’t make terrorist threats against the other boarders. I was one of just three people in the world that wasn’t on her menu. When I went out back, she jumped around me like a puppy dog. I mean, if she gobbled me, she wouldn’t get her regular fix of steak bones, would she?
I told the others about the slamming doors and pounding feet.
“Yah,” Martha said. “One night after work, I was taking a bath downstairs and heard the same thing.”