By Renko Doremi Rodenburg
Places could not only be haunted by things but also by the absence of things, Cassie thought to herself as she opened and closed another cupboard in the kitchen. Everything was the way she remembered it being twenty years ago, even the peculiar smell that seemed to only hang in the kitchen of one’s grandparents their cupboards was still there.
Of course, the grandparents themselves were gone now, the house now haunted by their absence. She turned around and let her eyes wander through the kitchen. The strange decor- wood and stone- had seemed homely or old fashioned when she was little. Now that it had shrunk as she had grown, she saw that it was merely cheap and sloppily built. A house for an underpaid hotel employee and his insane wife.
She left the kitchen. The house was small, so immediately out of the kitchen she entered the main room of the house, which housed both dinner and coffee table. Her boyfriend- Samuel- sat at the coffee table, absent-mindedly flipping through an age-old magazine about trains.
“Hey, you almost done?” He asked.
“I still want to check upstairs. This is,” she stopped for a moment. “This is quite hard.”
“Ah well,” he said. “Take your time then. I can’t possibly get any more bored, so no harm done. Oh, if you’re gonna hang around here for a while more, could you make some coffee?”
“Right. I’ll switch on the coffee machine. It’s an old one, so it’ll take a while.”
Her boyfriend laughed. “That’s okay. Then I have something to look forward to while you stand around staring at long-forgotten memories with a single tear in your eye.”
Back to the kitchen. She filled up the reservoir with water, took a coffee filter from a drawer and scooped two scoops of ground coffee beans into it. An aromatic smell, one that she’d not normally associate with childhood memories, but today in this time and place, she did.
With a low hum the device sprang on, and she wandered out of the kitchen, past her boyfriend, and up the stairs. When she slept here as a child, a small side room turned into a guest room had been her room. With her father traveling all over the world and her mother in a psych ward she had indeed slept here quite often, most of her childhood perhaps. Slowly she opened up the door, and braced herself. What for, she could not quite tell.
Instead of a traumatic rush of memories, a crippling sense of melancholia or a hurricane of nostalgia she found only the blue carpet and the small bed that had been her childhood room. Vague memories played around her mind, but not of the intensity that she had in hindsight expected.
A few vague memories of waking up and going to sleep, a memory of complaining that this room was too dark, and a few of her grandparents fighting. Just like her parents, they always fought. Her grandmother’s mental illness had passed on to her mother, and their unreasonable behavior had made both of their husbands lives a living hell.
There was nothing for her here. As she turned around to visit her grandparent’s room, she was suddenly struck with a profound sense of Deja Vu. A dark night, a storm. A car slipping in the mud, a young couple dying.
She gasped for air and stumbled backwards. Confused, she sat down on her childhood bed. The feeling was so alien and intense yet faded away so quickly, like a dream vaguely recalled from days ago that she could barely form coherent thoughts about it. Her breathing slowly stabilized, and she got back up to go look for her grandparent’s room. It was across the hallway from the guest room, and looked out over the garden. So many mornings she had anxiously walked back and forth in the hallway waiting for her grandparents to wake up, incapable of staying in bed once she’d woken up. How curious, that now that she was an adult it was the other way around. If she didn’t set two different alarms, she might not get out of bed at all.
The room was dustier than she remembered. Perhaps the old man had stopped cleaning in his final days. Dark red carpet and old wooden furniture had an almost washed-out feel to it. Absent-mindedly, she opened drawers and closets. In the nightstand of her grandmother’s side of the bed she found a small book. Old leather, and in golden embroidery captioned ‘Diary’.
She put it back. It wasn’t right to read her diary, even if she had been dead for quite some years. Then again, she wondered. What insights into the strange mind of her grandmother, and perhaps her mother, who had seemingly inherited her insanity would it give her? A form of closure?
Sandra was long dead, and her daughter was hospitalized. Cassie opened the book, sat down on the bed and started reading.
It was the same thing her mother had always claimed. Seeing visions of the future. Wild claims, unprovable statements. Being unreasonably upset when nobody believed her, refusing to take medication. Starting fight after fight over the visions, until she died old and alone in a mental ward. How hard could it have been to just let it go?
Suddenly, a thunderstrike shook her out of her musings. She closed the diary, and walked down with it. Outside the sun was setting. Combined with the already overcast sky it was getting very dark now.
“Hey, Samuël,” she said as she walked down the stairs. “I’m done here. There’s nothing for me here. We should-”
As she said it the feeling of Deja Vu returned. A car in a mudslide, two corpses. Pouring rain, lighting outside windows.
“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I don’t know, a weird sense of Deja Vu.”
“Preposterous,” Samuël snapped at her. It startled her, his sudden, hostile reaction.
“That’s not a thing,” Samuël said. “Just a trick of the mind. An illusion.”
“I know,” she replied. “Anyway, we should leave. Before the weather gets any worse-”
And again it hit.
“Are you okay?” Samuël asked, worried.
“No I’m having,” she paused. What was she having? “I keep seeing flashes.”
“Like a migraine?”
Samuël raised one eyebrow. “What do you mean visions? Like a psychosis?”
She shook her head. “I’m okay. Let’s just go. It’s this house, probably.”
“Yeah. I hope you found closure.”
“More or less. I’m not gonna be able to find any more closure, anymore.”
“Well, let’s leave then. I’ve already washed my coffee cup.”
After making a final round to check if everything was turned off, to see if they hadn’t forgotten anything, they left. Outside rain was pouring, so they ran to the car.
“I hope I never have to come back here,” Cassie said in the car.
“You won’t,” Samuël assured her.
It was comfortable in the car. There was something cathartic about sitting in a car in the dark with rain pouring down everywhere around you, rattling on the roof. Something vaguely nostalgic about the lights in and in front of the car contrasting with the dark outside, but nostalgic to what exactly Cassie couldn’t say. Radio quietly playing in the background, Samuël started the car and drove off.
“I keep having this-”
“What?” Samuël asked.
“I keep seeing this weird vision. Rain, a mud flood, corpses.”
“Ridiculous,” Samuël said. “Maybe that visit wasn’t such a good idea. You’re starting to sound like your mother.”
“It’s not like that, okay. My mother was insane. This is different.”
“Sure,” Samuël said. He didn’t sound very sincere. Cassie didn’t respond.
In silence they drove on, turning from the small country road onto the main road towards the mountain pass, towards home.