The first time I entered my house in Kennewick, Washington , in spite of its rundown and dirty condition, something about it seemed oh so right. It seemed like the house was welcoming me: telling me to come live within it. Not long after I moved in, at times it did not seem quite so welcome. And I had yet to meet ‘Ralph,’ my silent mischievous housemate, or at least start to realize I was not living alone. Ralph was, and is, invisible to me, except for one very brief occasion.
I had lived in my house some two weeks when one day I heard the faint sounds of a baby crying. It seemed to be coming from the other end of the house. At first I didn’t pay it much attention. Just one of the cats, I thought. I had several and one, Cookie the calico, had quite an extensive cat vocabulary.
I heard this baby-crying sound several different times and each time Cookie would not be in site, confirming my belief that Cookie had added another phrase to her speech-making. I had already assured myself that the neighbors on either side of me had no small children or babies. So, I concluded, it was the cat making the crying sounds. With that mystery solved, or so I thought, I continued unpacking boxes and making the place my own. If anything else unusual happened I was far too busy to notice.
Then one day I again heard the faint cry of a baby. As usual, it was coming from the other end of the house. It never mattered which end of the house I was in; the sound always came from the other end. But this time when the ‘baby’ cried, Cookie the cat was sitting beside me. As the ‘baby’ cried I stared down at the cat. Cookie was quieter than I had ever seen her. She never opened her mouth, nor twitched a whisker. It was not the cat making the sound and it was the last time I heard the ‘baby’ cry.
I had no idea what had created the crying sounds, and still don’t. There was nothing I could do but let the incidents pass and get on with enjoying my house. It was a busy time, cleaning the place to a state of livable. Its most recent residents, before me, had been of the squeaky four-legged and long-tailed variety. Though unseen they had dropped plenty of evidence of their having been there in every cupboard and drawer. That was no problem. Armed with pail and rag, several cats, and mousetraps, I soon had my unwelcome boarders mostly eliminated. But, as I discovered one afternoon, there was evidence of some other uninvited guest lurking about in my house. And evidently it was a rather windy entity.
When I bought this house one of the gals where I worked gave me a housewarming present. It was a wind chime made from an inverted clay flowerpot that could be hanged by a leather thong. As it was winter still and I had yet to begin sorting out the yard, I hanged it from a hook that was in the ceiling in the dining area. As heavy as it was I feared to think how much of a big outside wind it would take to make it sway and activate the clay clapper. And, of course, being hanged inside with all the doors and windows tightly shut there wouldn’t be any breeze to move it anyway. But — there was.
One day I entered the dining area to see the heavy clay wind chime swaying back and forth. It must have been moving a good eight or ten inches in either direction. I just stood there, almost disbelieving what I was seeing. But I was seeing it as it swayed back and forth for several seconds before it abruptly stopped and remained still. My first thought then was that one of the cats had gotten up on the table, swatted the chime, heard me coming and scurried down and away. Knowing that my largest cat could stand on the floor on his tiptoes and reach up to the kitchen counter to at anything on the edge of the counter, I did some measuring from floor to counter top. I then measured from tabletop to the clay chime. The space from the tabletop to the hanging clay pot was a good two feet more in length than from the floor to the counter top. No cat had hit it and made it sway. The incident of the swaying clay pot occurred one other time shortly after that, then no more.
For a couple of years nothing more happened that seemed out of the ordinary. Oh, once in a while something would just happen to fall off of the top of the refrigerator — things I was sure had not been near the edge where they could fall. But, of course, I could have been mistaken. Besides they were just small things that couldn’t hurt anyone. I kept my big electric wok up there on top of the refrigerator and made sure it was well back from the edge. There was no fear of it falling. The heavy wok didn’t fall, but something else even more strange fell — of possibly flew.
By now there had been a few incidents of pictures falling, not down from the wall, but OUT from the wall. Actually, it had happened just a few too many times and I was starting to wonder and get suspicious. Houses just don’t make crying sounds or make hanging clay pots sway. I was seriously beginning to believe that something strange was going on. I had been in the house nearly three years now and although unusual things happened occasionally, nothing serious had happened that could harm anyone. Then something did happen.
I was in the kitchen on day, doing some of those necessary things you do in a kitchen. One of the things I did there that day, was duck, just as the lid to the wok came flying off the top of the refrigerator right at my head. Now things were getting serious, and scary.
As the wok lid clattered to the floor I shouted. And I to this day have no idea why I shouted what I did. I yelled: “Ok, Ralph, knock it off!” So now my invisible and silent housemate had a name, and since that time I’ve had many occasions to repeat those five warning words. Why did I call him ‘Ralph?’ I don’t know. I don’t even like the name especially. But it has been a little over sixteen years that I have lived in this little house with Ralph.
Sometimes a year or more will go by and I will have no indication that Ralph is still lurking about. Then, suddenly, he will pull one of his innocent pranks. At the present time I would not believe he is here except that I have learned to make sure, when I go outside, not to close the door completely and to make sure the little thing in the middle of the doorknob that locks the door isn’t turned to lock. I learned the hard way early one morning when I put the dogs outside. For some reason that I do not remember, I stepped outside also — and closed the door completely. When I turned the doorknob to reenter — it was locked. It was no fun climbing in a window. At the time I didn’t even consider that Ralph had locked the door. Then one day my sister was here visiting. We stepped outside together and I closed the door completely. We were locked out. If Ralph did it he goofed. My brother-in-law was inside and let us in. I didn’t say anything about Ralph to them. They wouldn’t have believed me. But since then I have been very careful not to shut the door tight unless I’m on the inside. Many times now, after coming inside I have found the little thing on the doorknob turned to lock. Telling Ralph to “knock it off” doesn’t seem to always work anymore.
I’d been living in the house some seven or eight years when I became disabled and could not work any longer. My daughter was going to work fulltime so I signed on as babysitter for her little daughter. My granddaughter was about three-years-old at the time. I don’t think Ralph cared much for the child being there. I had some small plastic Mexican decorations on one wall. They were extremely difficult to put up. I suppose they were designed that way so they would not fall off of the wall. However, on several occasions, when my granddaughter would be within a few feet of where they hung, one or the other of the decorations would come flying off the wall straight at her. They never hit, but just missed, and couldn’t have hurt if they had connected with her. Eventually, that game ended, just as others had. But always, when one game ended, I was certain with time, something new would happen. And it did, just before Christmas in 1996.
To make sense of what happened late in November of 1996 I have to briefly explain an incident that happened to me some twenty years previously. At that time, while living in Illinois, a person I will just refer to as ‘a friend’ sent me one half of a tissue in an envelope with a letter. This friend wrote that the tissue had been blessed and that I was not to destroy or discard it. Being one to keep cards and letters, I read the letter, put the half of the tissue and the letter back in the envelope and stuck it in a drawer in the bedroom. I thought no more about it. Soon after, I began having tremendous headaches that lasted for nearly a year, never really going away. Nothing the doctors gave me did any good and I, to this day, remember very little of that lost year. But, for some reason I can not explain, one day I did remember something.
Why I recalled the letter and the tissue my friend sent me I don’t know, but I thank God that I did. They were still in the drawer where I had put them. I took the letter, the envelope, and especially the tissue and burned them. Then I asked my husband, now ex-husband, to go buy me a silver crucifix on a chain that I could wear. He usually scoffed at my belief in the supernatural, but this time he didn’t. He immediately left and came home with what I had asked for. I put the crucifix on and lay down to rest.
My husband said later that I lay there twisting and turning and crying, and that he could not wake me. When I woke on my own the excruciating headache was gone. I continued to wear the silver crucifix for many years thereafter. Several times the chain would break. I would then buy a new chain and attach it and continue wearing it. The chain broke a couple of times after I moved into my house. The last time it broke I never found it or the crucifix. Always before, it would fall down inside my clothing or on the floor where I’d see it. This time the silver crucifix and the chain, which had a string tied to it where I have once done a quick repair job, was gone for good. For weeks afterwards I looked everywhere in the house for it. I could only guess it had broken, unknowingly, sometime when I was away from home. It had disappeared some two to three years before November of 1996. That November I had occasion, instead of telling Ralph to “knock it off,” to thank him.
That Christmas, being short of money, I was making a lot of my gifts. One I was especially proud of and was enjoying making was a large cloth doll for my granddaughter. The doll, when finished, would be as big as she was. I was sitting at my sewing machine late one night, making a dress for the doll. After a while I got up to go to the kitchen to refill my teacup. When I came back to the sewing machine the chain that had, some years previously, been attached to the silver crucifix, with the string still tied on it, was draped across the machine’s foot-feed. The foot-feed is the little foot-like thing that you let down on your material to hold it in place while you sew.
Had the chain dropped out of something I was using? That was my first thought. But that couldn’t be. Everything I was using to sew the doll and its clothes I had bought new just a week before. Besides, it was obvious the chain had been gently draped, not dropped, across the foot-feed. All I could think was — Ralph, and to thank him. Why, if it was
Ralph’s doings, hadn’t he also returned the crucifix as well? I didn’t, and still don’t, have an answer for that one either. In fact, it is something that is a little too scary for me to consider.
Time passed. A year or more would go by and there would be no indication that Ralph was still with me. Occasionally, a wonderful scent of male cologne will waft through the house with no logical explanation of its source and I will think — Ralph. At times, things fall off of tables or counters when really they should not have. Again, I will think — Ralph. Throughout all of this, I often wondered what Ralph had looked like when he was alive — if, indeed, he is a he. For several years nothing of major note occurred and my life continued to revolve around the usual things, cleaning, yard work, grocery shopping and caring for my cats and my dog.
By now, Cookie the calico, who I had in the early days, at first, thought had learned to make sounds like a baby crying was getting on in years. She had passed her fourteenth year and survived a mild stroke that left her far less agile than previously. She spent most of her time now in a place I found very strange for her to be.
I had a rocking chair in the living room. None of the cats had ever claimed it as their resting place because the least little touch would send the chair erratically rocking. But now, Cookie was spending her resting time exclusively in the rocker. She was there most of the time now, except for one occasion when someone else was sitting in it — someone who quickly dissolved into nothing.
I had been out grocery shopping. I came through the front door, both of my arms clutching over-filled shopping bags. Out of habit, I was looking downward to insure I didn’t step on a cat: I had a couple of new ones that were not fully-grown and hadn’t learned not to be where my feet were. Had I not been looking down I might have missed that brief glimpse of who was sitting in the rocker. And it wasn’t Cookie the cat.
I only saw the lower, jean-clad legs of the man sitting in the rocker. The jeans were well worn, as were the scuffed western boots he wore. In my astonishment and, I admit, fright I failed to glance upward to his upper torso and face before he instantly disappeared. It is a failing I will always regret. Was it Ralph sitting there, or someone else?
Cookie, the cat, spent her last days curled in that chair. I often wonder if the chair’s attraction was actually Ralph’s lap. If so, again I thank him.
That has been several years ago. Occasionally the scent of that wonderful cologne fills the house or a single room. At other times, something falls that shouldn’t have. Is Ralph still here? His antics may have calmed but, yes, I believe he is here. In many ways, I hope he is still haunting the rooms of my little house. But a kinder instinct also hopes he had moved on to that better place we tend to say the departed have gone.
© Mary Trotter Kion, 2005