Whenever mom and dad had a fight, we would hear something running around upstairs. Really loud stomping, back and forth, directly over their heads in the TV room. Dad was always superstitious, he would stop yelling to listen. Mom would get mad because he wouldn’t be responding to what she was saying, so she would grab me and Trish, take us into town with her.
When we got back from town, dad was always sitting in his La-Z-Boy watching sports. Beer and cigarette in his hand. I always wondered if the running upstairs kept up while he sat there, alone in the house. I wondered if he had to turn the volume up on the TV to drown out the other sound.
But maybe I’m remembering it wrong, maybe we heard the running other times, when they weren’t fighting. Maybe they just fought all the time, and it was just when things got quiet enough that we could hear it.
I could be remembering it like that because the pattern seemed to be that it would make itself known whenever things were tense in the house. Like when aunt Aubrey was in the hospital, on chemo, and I was sitting at the breakfast nook, smoking a menthol. I noticed one of the figurines on the knick-knack shelf was lying on its side. I saw something out the window, it was Trish running across the lawn. Curly blonde hair glowing in the middle of summer. She ran into the woods at the edge of the property.
The phone rang. I let it ring four times, taking a drag, holding back my tears. I didn’t want to pick it up if it was going to be mom calling from the hospital. I didn’t want aunt Aubrey to die. I picked up the phone. It was my mom. She was calling from a payphone, she was at Trish’s ballet lesson and she wanted me to pre-heat the oven to 450.
‘But Trish is here,’ I said. ‘She’s playing around outside.’
Now, whenever I remember the little blonde girl, it’s something different. I think I can see her face, or the way she was dressed, but the only thing I can really remember is her hair, which really was different from Trish’s. Not as curly, and lighter in color.
For a couple years, I had dreams about the girl. Not really about her, I guess, just with her in them. And she wasn’t always a girl. Sometimes she was grown, sometimes she looked old and her hair wasn’t blonde anymore, it was white and thin around a leathery face. I would see her in crowded places in my dreams, always at a distance, and she’d never try to say anything to me. She would just stand there staring at me. It wasn’t really that scary- at least, I didn’t feel scared during the dreams. She was just a part of my life.
Remembering the dreams was another matter. I would wake up, walk downstairs, notice a cup had smashed on the floor, and it would occur to me that I had seen her in last night’s dream. I would look at the broken cup, or a misplaced figurine on the shelf, and I would think: was that because of her? Who was she?
Sometimes Trish and I would joke about it, by leaving mom’s Raggedy Ann doll different places around the house. Once we put it sitting in dad’s chair, and he came in the door and fell backwards because it scared him so much. We stopped when Trish claimed she heard a woman’s laughter coming from the attic whenever we would do it.
I thought it was fun, I didn’t want to stop. And if it made her laugh, up there in the attic, then it couldn’t be so bad. At least we were keeping her amused, I said. Not that I believed Trish was hearing what she thought she was. I told her she was just hearing mom and dad having sex. Mom was laughing, I told her, because sex is fun, and it was a woman’s laughter because women are the only ones that make sounds during it.
Trish had a hard time in high school. I didn’t do much to help her. I took her along to a concert with my friends out of pity one night during her freshman year, and told her to go stand somewhere else so she wouldn’t embarrass me. My friends thought I was being cruel and unfair, so Gwen went to find Trish to invite her back to stand with us. Gwen came back after twenty minutes with a serious look on her face. She couldn’t find Trish anywhere.
We waited for my dad to come get us, and we weren’t that worried because Trish knew where and when he was going to pick us up. But she didn’t show up and we had to look for her all night long. Nobody had seen her. When the sun started to rise, dad told me to wait on the hard leather bench at the police station while he went inside and talked to them.
There was nothing for us to do. We went home. Mom said she wanted to talk to me but I said I had to sleep, and I went up to my room. I didn’t sleep. I hugged my knees, sitting on my bed, waiting to hear her. I knew she would make some sort of noise, I wanted to hear her running through the halls or laughing in the attic.
But I never heard a sound. Aunt Aubrey called- she had survived the tumor- and mom gave the phone to me, in my room. I wanted to tell Aubrey about the girl, about how we could all hear her but only I could see her, but there I couldn’t think of an appropriate way to bring it up. Aunt Aubrey told me it wasn’t my fault for losing Trish and I cried into the phone.
For an entire month there were no noises or misplaced objects. Of course that got me thinking that Trish had been the one making all the sounds in the first place. I started seriously doubting everything I could remember, especially the girl running across the lawn.
After a month, we were sitting watching TV after dinner, and we heard a knock at the door. Dad opened it up, and it was Trish. All the police investigators, all the volunteer searches, and she came home on her own. As soon as they could, my parents asked where she had been. I remember she was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate and a blanket around her.
‘Where did you go, Trish?’
Her eyes went wide and she slammed the table with her palm, spilling hot chocolate everywhere. That was how she first let us know she would never tell us what had happened to her.
That’s one of the big reasons we don’t talk so much anymore. I went away to Sac State for college, they had a study abroad program in Florence so I went over there, got a job as a maid for a rich family, dropped out of school. I married an Italian and had a bunch of kids.
Trish went wild after high school- drinking and partying, always with a new boyfriend. We worried about her constantly, and everyone was partially relieved when she married Tim, because he was an easygoing sort of person, but they had problems with fidelity and they divorced after four years.
Mom and dad loved Tim though, and he lived with them for a little while in the old house after the divorce. He slept in Trish’s old room, which they made into a guest room. Tim was the last person to have a strange experience in the house.
It was late. They’d stayed up drinking and playing pinochle. Mom and dad went to bed around two AM, and Tim made a snack in the kitchen before heading to the guest room. It hadn’t really been decorated, there was just a double bed with a white comforter, and a rocking chair with a quilt draped over it.
Tim walked in the room without turning on the light. The window didn’t have blinds, and the moon was bright enough that he could dimly see the room. The last thing he saw before he fell asleep was the Raggedy Ann doll in the chair.
Raggedy Ann was clinging to the ceiling, head turned around and staring at him, when he woke up at four. He crept out of bed, its head following his movements, and he left the room. My parents heard his car peeling out on the gravel drive. They went into his room, found the doll face down on the bed.
Tim was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. He’s having trouble finding a job these days. Dad died a month ago, in the condo he and mom moved into five years ago. I stayed with them, and helped mom afterwards. Trish never visited dad at the end.
She came a few days after the funeral, unexpectedly. She sat down at the table and mom made us tea. Trish behaved like everything was fine, though she did say she missed dad, missed how he got so scared in the old house. She said she’d like to visit the place. She drove up there right after visiting me and mom.
Trish has been gone for three days now. I keep trying her phone, my husband tells me to let the local police know.
She might be gone for good this time.
By Neil Ballard