Yesterday, Levi came over for Sunday dinner. If you think I’m not much of a cook, you really should see how pathetic Levi is in the kitchen. He makes me look like a star. For one thing, he doesn’t eat vegetables, and when a person refuses to recognize one-eighth of all available foods, you can guess he isn’t going to possess a sense of culinary adventure.
I made pot roast and mashed potatoes, thinking even Levi would eat that. In lieu of a vegetable, I put out a jar of apple sauce. I was going to make myself a salad, but figured why bother with all that artful composing for just me. I tore leaves off the lettuce head I’d bought, stuck them under the faucet, shook them dry, and put them on my plate undressed.
After lunch, as I cleared the dishes, Levi snooped around the rest of the house. He’d only been on the first floor before. He examined the art on the first floor, looked in every cupboard, then asked if he could visit the second and third.
“Be my guest,” I said. “Watch out you don’t trip on the acorns from the squirrels living on the third floor.”
He was gone a long time. I had time to clean the kitchen thoroughly before he came back downstairs with a framed drawing done by one of the kids who used once lived here. I’d noticed it before hanging in the hallway next to the bathroom on the third floor. It has a superhero flying over the roof of this house and two grown-ups and four small children outside standing on the lawn gawking at him. Scrawled in crayon are the words: “MY FAMILY + CAPTAIN AMAZING (me.)”
“Does it bother you living with ghosts?”
“The owners’ stuff? Their art and dressers and clothes and purses, you mean.”
“I’d be tempted to do a big purge if I were you. It’s time to claim this place as your own.”
Levi didn’t realize I’ve removed the saddest relics already. The bulletin board with invitations to parties that the owners didn’t live to attend; the wife’s note to her husband apologizing for snapping at him the night before; the perky mobile of stars and planets over the baby’s crib.
“That seems so final. Like they’re definitely not coming back.”
“You actually think they are?”
“When, exactly? If someone lived in this house and wasn’t dead, why wouldn’t they have come a long time ago? Why wouldn’t this be the absolute first place they’d come to?”
“Hard to say. Maybe the person’s leg is caught under a piece of a building and they can’t get out.”
“For twenty-two months?”
“Well, there could be this nice policeman who stops by to feed him everyday. He brings soup and packets of peanuts. He promises help will be there soon.”
“You’ve thought this through thoroughly, I can tell.”
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.