l'll look for it again today. I know it's there. Somewhere in the west wing. Somewhere in the dark.
So many stairs. My legs dislike the climbing; I have to stop now and then to catch my breath. The stairs are so much steeper than they were just yesterday. (Wasn't it just yesterday that I trotted up and down them with the boundless energy of a child? Just yesterday that I stood upon them and let Nathan take me in his arms?)
It's dark and dirty here, like all the house these days. Sunlight struggles to penetrate dust-frosted panes, and crawling things re-drape the windows with draperies of frothy grey. The doors that line the corridor are shrouded with grey as well. No1iving thing has passed through them in many years -- except for me. And I have disturbed a mere few.
This first room was Daniel's. I searched it yesterday, but I locked the door afterward. I'd forgotten about the mirror. I've long since learned to avoid all the others in the house, but this one was lurking in the recesses of a walnut wardrobe, and I was so startled by the thing's crass intrusion that I flung an old shoe at it and it shattered into thousands of spidery glass patterns. I had to do it. There was a withered old woman in the glass who didn't resemble me at all. I may be tired and a trifle worn, but I certainly don't look like that. I can't possibly. l'll never understand why mirrors are so deceitfuil ...
I can pass by Daniel's room now, anyway. What I seek is not there.
This next one... it was cousin Quentin's. The one after that belonged to Melanie, and the one across the hall... Whose room was, this? It's been closed for many years. When I open it, the door groans, 1ike some dying thing.
A woman's room. Austere, uncluttered -- mirror1ess -- but somehow vaguely feminine all the same. Perhaps it's the bed, with its tattered, brown remains of lace coverlet. Or the straight backed chair that sits, web-draped, in the corner, the pattern of its needlepoint cushion obscured by the dust.
I remember this room. Once, it belonged to Aunt Abigail. It's never been anyone else'e. They closed it down when she died, all those years ago, and left it to decay, 1ike the rest of this great decrepit house. I think it began to decay from the first hour it was built. But they were wrong to call it "haunted" and "cursed." Where are the ghosts they say have walked the dusty hallways? I've never seen them. And the curse...
The only curse this houses possesses is its damned stability. It is as unchanging as the rocks. It outlives us all.
Just as her life was, Aunt Abigail's room is empty. The one I must find is not here. But it fails to discourage me. He is up here, somewhere.
Funny... When did I begin to think of it as "he"?
The next room is -- was -- Jeremiah's, and it is as void of personality as Abigail's. All my life I've pitied Uncle Jeremiah, for the fecklessness of both his wives; for the misery that was his life; for the tragedy of his early death. Even though the intervening years have seen many changes and given the room many occupants, some essence of Jeremiah does seem to linger here. An essence, though, is not a ghost. Just the remnant of things material we all must leave behind. Jeremiah, like all the others, is gone.
At times, when I walk slowly down this faded hall, my mind can hear the far-off strains of some grand waltz, wafting up from the parlor below just as it once did, long ago, to accompany the agile feet of happy young celebrants. Always, though, the music swiftly fades. Nothing lovely, nothing joyous, nothing good ever lived in this house for long.
There is yet another room, at the end of the corridor, that has
"belonged" to anyone. But it houses,
al1 the same, the 1ives of many. Here memories dwell
in crumbling bits of cloth and leather; locked, forgotten, in their
molding wooden chests. I have the keys, but I don't look inside the
anymore. I already know by heart every frail, yellow memento they
just as I know to whom each piece belonged and often, whose skilled
it was that fashioned the lace, the crewel, the needlepoint... Many
are here. They are all a part of me, yet, they have all left me, and
I find no comfort anymore in the cast-off treasures
they leave behind to taunt me.
I ought to leave here; lock the door and lose the key. But I can't just yet. The sunlight spilling through the tattered drapery is so... so beautiful. It makes the dust stirred by my passing shimmer in the air like stars thrown carelessly out of Heaven.
They form a glittering pi1lar there on the floor, those stars; an otherworldly thing that even now appears to pulsate as though it were... it is... drawing breath.
Two dust-mote stars have formed its eyes, others its shoulders, arms, legs, until a man -- or the semblance of one -- stands bathed in the light of the sun shaft, looking at me with eyes that are mirrors of eternity. There is kindness in them, and at the same time longing and empathy and sorrow... more things than mortal eyes -- or words -- can express.
I know him. For days, I've been searching for him, though until now I had no idea who he was or why I sought him.
With the voice of a March wind, he says, "You come very late, dear Millicent," and I know somehow that he does not mean the hour, but the year. "I have waited for you, far longer than for any other who dwelt here."
"'You," I tell him truthfully, "are not what I was given to expect."
His smile could dispel all the fears in the universe. "I am never,"
he says, "what they expected. Yet
they all come with me."
"All of them? Willingly?"
"No. But in the end, all the same, they all must come."
"What a fuss we've made over nothing. Uncle Joshua used to tell me I must never look for you. 'Never seek an end to life,' he said. 'Someday, soon enough, the dark will find you.' As usual, he had it all wrong."
"Most of them do."
He is smiling again, and his hand -- slender, smooth, inviting -- moves toward me.
I nod, and take the offered hand in mine. At his very touch, I feel the years drain from me, and my veins course with new strength. This is not dying. This is finding life all over again.
I wish I'd known not to fear this moment. I wish I hadn't wasted so many years fleeing from it.
I wish I'd come sooner.