The other side of the fence

by Debbie Carini

 

When we moved into our lovely, old house (circa 1925), we were delighted to find ourselves surrounded by equally long-standing residences—a stately Monterey colonial just to the south, a Spanish-style bungalow across the street.

And just to the north of our French revival-style cottage sat a Craftsman-style bungalow, although we almost couldn’t tell because the house was surrounded by trees. By all appearances, it was the proverbial “spooky” house—the one kids run past on Halloween.  The house was so overgrown that we didn’t even realize it had a second story until several months into our residency when we saw a colorful glow emanating through a stained-glassed window, 20 feet in the air.

I’m not going to deny it, I’ve always had a little (okay, a lot) of a Mrs. Kravitz (the pesky neighborhood know-it-all on Bewitched) streak. I was always peering out my windows looking for signs of life next door.

As time went by, we learned an elderly couple lived there and that they were extremely reclusive. Their windows were covered with shutters, which never let in a lick of light. Once, when our son’s baseball went over the wall, I made him walk next door and ask permission to enter the yard. His face was ashen when he returned.

“Mom,” he said, in a shaky tone usually reserved for telling me he’d just spilled a glass of juice between the couch cushions, “their house is really crowded with stuff.”

A few days later, I got to see for myself when the ball went over the fence again. I walked my son to the house and we knocked on the imposing wood door; when it opened, just a crack, I stole a look. There were books and boxes piled to the ceiling, I could barely discern the outline of a piano. The whole room looked like a giant Jenga game, and pulling just one piece of detritus might bring the whole stack crumbling down.

As time went by, the neighbors were removed from the home as it fell further into disrepair. Then their only son, who had grown up in the house, killed his wife in their cruise ship cabin.

“See,” I told my skeptical husband. “You can’t make this stuff up!”

While the house sat in probate, the trees were cleared and its lovely old architecture (and crumbling stature) were revealed. Renters moved in and though we tried to befriend them, they too seemed to recede behind the still-shuttered windows. Shortly after, they got divorced and moved on.

“It’s possessed,” I shouted to no one in particular, as the last of their furniture went out the door.

When the house finally sold, we were relieved that a couple who seemed intent on fixing it up moved in. They started a number of improvement projects, but never quite finished them: PVC pipe holding flailing electrical wires stood sentry at the front walkway, but light fixtures never appeared; grass was planted, but never watered; fences were raised only to be repeatedly bashed by their pair of demonic barking dogs (think Cujo). These people also receded behind the shuttered windows and, eventually, packed-up and left.

“Maybe that house is part of the witness protection program,” I said to my husband. “Because nobody who moves in there ever seems to want to have a barbeque or say hello.”

The house now may be getting the exorcism it desperately needs courtesy of the television show Vintage Flip on HGTV. The thrill of watching the home be tended to with such care is matched only by my efforts to perhaps be captured on camera!

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in our yard taking recycling to the can (bottle-by-bottle) and pretending, because we are in a drought after all, to water plants. I even tried to talk to one of the cameramen, and explain my theory of the home. He just looked at me, much as I’ve been looking at the house, as something or someone possessed.

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