I don’t know why but I had the strangest feeling I should walk over, unlock the latch, lift the heavy arched window, and look down. That’s when I saw the jumbled mess of it, far below having landed directly next to the house in a colorful and fetid pile of scarlet and alabaster white.
The house was one of those overbuilt Second Empire houses constructed in 1884 only a year or so before they went out of style, after their thirty year run of questionable popularity. It had haunted vibes and an overall bad feeling all around, which I attributed of course to my Great Aunt. Aunt Adelaide was an ancient woman of eighty six, inscrutable, quietly sinister and decidedly secretive. She acted as my legal guardian and for the most part baffled and repelled me. Though if the truth were known, I was her protector and she was lucky of it, too, while it lasted. I always felt that if not for me she’d have expired long before she did. The image of her in her cushioned wheelchair decomposing for a whole month before anyone noticed the newspapers piling up, the deathly quiet within or the commonplace urban stench of a rotting corpse sometimes came to me for no apparent reason.
Aunt Adelaide was a tiny evil woman with skin as white as talcum powder and a large wig that sat atop her head majestically. It was a flipped bob style in a shade of warm chestnut brown, looked like a helmet and in the three years I lived with her in the house, I cannot recall one single occasion in which she was not wearing it. She wore salmon pink lipstick by Avon and was meticulous about her hygiene, and her fingernails which always amazed me considering how much of an invalid she was. She lived in the large, often drafty house alone, except for her grandson who I later discovered was also my second cousin. I had been in the house for two days before I even knew he existed, and Adelaide laughed heartily when he silently loped into the parlor unannounced, his head downcast, his hands clasped nervously in front of him. His entire demeanor was defeated, but he had striking golden brown eyes that emanated an intense melancholy and longing.
Bradford was in his late thirties when I moved in and despite being Adelaide’s grandson; he lived like a destitute outcast in the enormous freezing basement with the old sawdust burner in the right hand corner, which heated the house. He slept in a large wooden shed that looked like a storybook cottage with two windows in the front and two on each side. It had been outfitted with all the necessities, like heat, and lights, a hot plate to boil water and a large antique metal brass bed with layers of tattered eiderdown quilts and silk coverlets in pale pink and lavender—Adelaide’s castoffs. He kept his ‘room’ in perfect order in the far left hand corner of the basement next to a window which allowed a wide swath of bright sunlight to drift in. There was a chair in the center of the strip of light where he would sit each morning drinking his cup of hot tea, absorbing the faint heat from the sun, with his thin legs crossed and his left ankle gently bobbing up and down, up and down. The other furniture in the roomy shed appeared to be castoffs from Adelaide’s huge collection, which was scattered all throughout the old house.