** This story may or may not have happened. You decide.
Summers in Grand Forks, North Dakota are hot and humid. With the sticky air comes swarms of obnoxious mosquitos. It’s the price you pay for living near the Red River and getting to garden in the rich, black, silty soil every summer. No green thumb necessary there. Just drop the seeds in and go.
That August in 2012, my boys were five and six years old. They had just discovered the joy of pouring their own cereal all on their own. It was a great situation on Saturday mornings for Tim and I. Luke and Jack rose with the sun each morning. Sleeping in on the weekends only became a reality once we taught them how to independently turn on “tarcoons” and wander into the kitchen to make their own breakfasts. I was not sad to say farewell to the pudgy face waiting at the side of my bed at dawn and, “Mom, I’m hungry. Can you get up now?” It was glorious to sleep in until 7am.
One such Saturday morning, I smiled to myself as I heard the TV turn on. I rolled over and went back to sleep, looking forward to a few more lazy hours in and out of consciousness. And then I heard a crash come from the kitchen. It sounded bad, like glass or ceramic dishes. It sounded like something that would cut and jab little bare feet as they attempted to cross the kitchen floor.
I bolted up and out of the bedroom. “Stop! Don’t move. I’m coming.” I ran past the blaring tarcoons and around the corner. Visions of picking pieces of broken cereal bowls out of bloody feet played in my panicked head.
And then I saw it. I expected to see broken fiestaware, but the picture was all wrong. Instead, I saw the wrong cupboard door open. Apparently, all the normal dishes were dirty and hiding inside the dishwasher. Being innovative, the boys figured that a tea cup would work just as well.
But this wasn’t just any old tea cup. Many years before, when I was a teenager, my grandmother, my Mama Addie, had given me this heirloom. Her own grandmother had given it to her and she passed it down to me, her eldest grandchild. It was an antique white cup, rimmed with gold and a pale pink, hand painted rose on the side. It came with a matching saucer, that too edged in gold and roses painted to match. It was more than just a cup and saucer. To me, it held part of Mama Addie. It was her way of showing me tradition and love and family.
And now, the tea cup lay on the wood floor, shattered in tiny pieces all over my kitchen floor.
Tears came. Then anger. I lost it for a second. “What in the world are you doing? Why would you use a tea cup to eat cereal?”
Then their own tears came. They were already startled and scared by the crash and the broken shards of ceramic. I quickly apologized and tried to swallow my anger and disappointment. They didn’t do it on purpose. The boys were too young to realize what a family heirloom meant.
I carried them out of the kitchen. Their bare feet safe from the shards. As they hustled off to watch their Saturday morning cartoons, I promised to bring them Honey Nut Cheerios after I cleaned up the mess. For a moment I surveyed the broken pieces and considered glueing them back together, but it was hopeless. Some pieces were large enough, but most were relegated to the size of dust and minute pebbles. I swept them up and shed a few tears as I dropped them into the garbage can out back. I still had the saucer and would cherish that and the memories of my Mama Addie.
The rest of the day went about as most Saturdays do. No previous made plans, but the day filled up just the same. We ventured off to the farmer’s market downtown and came back with fresh goodies to hold us through the week. I made refrigerator pickles with the fresh dill and cucumbers I bought, while Tim and the boys got into an epic water fight out in the backyard.
As the day wound down, we decided our dog needed a bit of exercise, so we leashed up Clementine and headed out to wind our way down the block. Walks in our neighborhood were so peaceful with the large oaks creating a canopy and the historical homes artistically bordering the sidewalks. Each neighbor impeccably landscaped their yard with most also finding a spot for a vegetable garden. Remember, the black dirt. Gardening was actually fun and rewarding here.
We meandered down the road. Clementine decided that a specific spot of grass needed to be thoroughly sniffed out so we paused our walk beside the vacant home that had been for sale ever since we moved into the neighborhood.
Tim and I reminisced about the last Halloween. The whole neighborhood set the creepy vibe and went all out with their decorations. “Remember how creepy this house was?” he asked. It didn’t need the help of any fake store-bought decor.
“Yeah, all the other houses were lit up, some with music going, but this house was so quiet and dark. Remember how we saw those orbs in the pictures I took of the house that night?” Just talking about it was giving me chills. A few years before, we had learned all about “orbs” during a midnight ghost tour of an old abandoned prison in Charleston, South Carolina. We were living there at the time and decided a ghost tour would be a silly date night. During the tour, all the serious ghost hunters gave us an education on how these circular pieces of light that showed up on digital film were actually the souls of the departed, still stuck on earth against their wishes. At the time, we had marked all that up to craziness but then, at the end of the tour, we saw the pictures they had snapped. In one, you could clearly see a lady screaming in anguish with her tortured hands grasping each side of her face.
That’s why, during our Halloween jaunt through the hood, I snapped a few pictures of the creepy abandoned house while the boys loaded up with candy at the house next door. Later, we saw the orbs in the pictures. No screaming lady faces, but still unsettling.
Clementine decided that her plot of grass was all sniffed out so we resumed our walk. With the empty house almost behind us, Tim whispered, “I dare you to go up on the porch and look inside the windows.”
“No. Effing. Way.” But he knew I never backed down from a dare, so I huffed and gathered up some courage. I figured I could make it a quick trip, a fast peek inside and be done with it. Dare satisfied. Bravery confirmed.
I quickly ran up onto the ancient deck. The floorboards creaked as I looked through the dusty glass to the empty front room. No furniture, just an old, dusty carpet laying on the hardwoods in front of an equally ancient fireplace.
I was feeling extra bold, so I yelled down to Tim and the boys, “Watch this!” And I jiggled the front door handle. I expected it to be locked but the last realtor must have forgotten to latch it up. The door easily swung open and I felt a rush of cold air sweep out of the house. A panicked yelp came out of my mouth and I slammed that door shut. I didn’t even use the front steps, but leapt off the deck and back onto the safety of the sidewalk.
More than a little freaked out, we rapidly finished our walk with nervous giggles and quick steps back home. We rounded out that Saturday with a family movie night and popcorn. The boys each fell asleep before the movie was over so we lugged their limp, heavy bodies into the bunk bed. Both Tim and I were just as equally exhausted so we crawled into bed shortly after.
Sometime in the middle of that night, I woke up to Clementine whimpering at my side of the bed. She didn’t normally need to do her business at night, but during rare times she’d wake me up in this way so we could avoid a mess to clean up in the morning. Now, while I’m grateful for clean floors each morning, it still annoyed the crap out of me to have to get up in the middle of the night to let her out. I mean, I had already put in my newborn feeding times and random toddler wake-up episodes. I had graduated to the glorious nights of continuous sleep, and middle of the night jaunts were not on my current schedule anymore. Clementine must have missed the graduation ceremonies because that night she needed to go out. Immediately.
I groaned irritatingly and slowly stumbled toward the back door. As the dang dog was finding the perfect spot to potty, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The house was a little stuffy and I was hoping for a nice cool breeze outside on the back porch. At least I could be rewarded for my midnight wake up a tiny bit. No such luck. It was just as humid and sticky outside as it was inside the house. Not even a hint of a lovely breeze either.
And that’s when I saw it. The rocking chair on the back deck was steadily tipping. Back and forth. Back and forth. I looked around, hoping for an indication that our upstairs neighbor had just gone inside after a smoke or something. But the rocking chair never slowed. It just kept a steady beat of rocking. Back and forth, back and forth.
The hair on my arms stood up and chills rolled down my spine. I frantically called for Clementine to come in. At that point I didn’t care if she messed inside the house, I wanted back inside now. She did her thing and raced back up the back porch steps. I hastily locked up and almost tripped over her hind legs as we both ran back to the bedroom.
I was sure I was just imagining things, because of the previous day’s dare. My mind was probably just playing tricks on me, but that didn’t stop me from throwing the covers over my head and inching as close to Tim as I could. Sleep came quickly, thank goodness, and the light of day helped to ease the goosebumps that had popped up all over my body.
When I woke and told Tim, we both concluded that I was probably dreaming the whole creepy debacle. My brain was attacking and using the anxieties from yesterday against me. Oh well, new day, time to move on to the current agenda.
That morning we did our usual Sunday morning rush around. I ran around the house, trying to get myself ready for church and at the same time making sure everyone else was showered, hair brushed, teeth brushed and in presentable clothing. Our church was only a five minute drive away from the house, but of course, we left two minutes before the service was scheduled to start. I found myself wondering if we would ever be on time to anything, ever, in our entire lifetime. As I was waiting for the last laces to be tied, I decided to get a head start and get into the car. Maybe everyone would follow my example and the lateness threshold wouldn’t hit the late-laaaaaate embarrassing level, just the normal, “Oh, you’ve got kids, you’re late” level.
I opened the back door and stopped in my tracks. On the top step of the stoop sat the teacup. The teacup. Gold-rimmed, pale pink rose. No cracks, no glue. It was whole, just sitting on that top step like an offering.