Sabbath with Aunt Helen, by Susan Lindsey
Sabbath with Auth Helen, by Susan Lindsey
It didn’t take long before weird things started happening. On the first night in her new home, Megan crawled into bed, exhausted after moving boxes and furniture all day. Moving day sucked when all your relatives were six states away.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw a faint glow in the center of the ceiling. She turned on the bedside lamp and saw nothing. She turned it off again. As soon as her eyes adjusted to the dark, there was that faint light again. She realized it was coming from the attic, through the edges of the hole cut for the light fixture.
“Aw, crap,” Megan groaned. “I must have left the light on upstairs when I took that last box up there.”
She rolled off the bed and onto her feet. She flicked on the lamp and made her way through the apartment to the back stairs and up to the attic. Sure enough, the light was on. She flipped the switch off and headed back to bed, stopping first in the boys’ room to check on them.
Her last thought before she drifted to sleep was, “I could swear I turned that light off earlier.”
Megan had lucked out when she found the apartment on the upper floor of the stately limestone home. She remembered the day she met the rental agent at the house. She had stepped out of the car and stared up at the beautiful, three-story façade. The late summer sun reflected off the diamond-paned windows on the top floor; the house seemed to wink at her. It was a fantastic place—she probably couldn’t afford it—but it was worth a look.
It was just as incredible inside as it was on the outside.
“You’ve got two bedrooms and two full bathrooms, plus the living room, dining room, breakfast room, kitchen, and sun room,” said Sam, the rental agent. “As you can see, it’s a little old-fashioned—built in the 1920s—but it’s roomy and in one of Louisville’s nicest neighborhoods.”
“It’s wonderful! I hate to ask, but how much is the rent?”
“What’s your budget?” Sam asked.
“I was trying to stay under $900 a month,” Megan responded. “I recently went through a divorce. I get child support, but even with that and my job, I have to be careful. I’ve stayed with a friend the last few months, but it’s time for me to have my own place.”
“Well, I’ve looked over your application and faxed it to the owners. They’re sisters who inherited this place from their aunt. The aunt and her husband couldn’t have kids, and they doted on these nieces. The nieces are older ladies themselves now and they’re anxious to have a good, stable renter. They were both real happy with your application.”
“But how much is it?”
“How do you feel about yard work? If you’ll mow the yard and rake the leaves come fall, then I figure we can knock off some of the rent and you can have it for $900.”
Megan smiled and shook Sam’s hand. “You’ve got a deal.”
“OK, then. Let me show you the access to the attic. Some of the old couple’s stuff is still up there. The nieces don’t want it and haven’t gotten around to sorting it, but there’s still plenty of room up there if you need storage space. Oh, and the nieces said that if there’s anything up there you can use, you just help yourself. They don’t want it.”
Megan’s jaw dropped, “Seriously? I get this great apartment for less than I expected, I have free storage, and I get to pick through cool, old stuff? I’ll move in on Saturday.”
* * *
After that first night when Megan found the light on in the attic, other odd things began to happen. At first, she thought it might be one of her boys up to their usual mischief. Joe was five and Rainey three. They both had endless energy and imagination, but they denied turning lights on and off, leaving doors open, and moving objects around.
Then Megan thought it might Elle, her babysitter, who came each day to watch the boys while Megan worked. She was sweet, but a little quirky.
On the first Friday evening in the house, Megan came home from work and found her good silver candlesticks set out on the kitchen counter, along with two candles.
She stepped into the living room where Elle was hugging the boys good-bye.
“Elle, did you set out my candles?”
“Candles? No, why would I do that?”
“No reason. Don’t worry about it. Have a great weekend.”
After that, every Friday evening, Megan found her candlesticks and candles on the kitchen counter. Every Friday evening, she put them back into the china cabinet. One Friday, as she closed the cabinet door, she noticed her grandmother’s teacup had been moved forward on the shelf. It was a beautiful Haviland pattern with roses on it. Grandma had had a whole set of it once.
Megan moved the cup back where it belonged and closed the door. Just then the phone rang, startling her. She grabbed it.
“Good evening. Is this Megan Hill?”
“Miss Hill, my name is Jean Hasson. My sister and I own the house you’ve moved into.”
“Oh, yes,” Meagan said. “The rental agent told me about you.”
“Miss Hill, I know this might be short notice, but I live in Nashville and I’m headed up to St. Louis tomorrow to see my sister. I wondered if I might be able to stop by and meet you. It would be nice to put a face to a name, and I could answer any questions you may have about the house.”
“Sure. What time?”
“I could be there about one o’clock if that would be all right.”
“I’ll see you then,” said Megan.
The next day, a few minutes past one, she heard a soft knock. The boys raced to the door. Joe flung it open and stuck his hand out.
“Hi, I’m Joe. What’s your name?”
A slender woman in her mid-sixties stood at the door. She repressed a smile and solemnly shook Joe’s hand.
“I’m Missus Hasson,” she said. “And who is this other young man?”
“That’s my brother. His name is Rainey and he’s shy.” Rainey peered at the lady from behind the safety of Joe’s back.
Megan stepped to the door. “Hi, I’m Megan. Please come in. Boys, you need to finish putting away your toys in your room.”
Mrs. Hasson smiled and stepped into the living room. “Oh, it’s lovely,” she said. “You’re nearly unpacked! I don’t think I could get settled that fast. It’s nice to see a family in the place. I know my aunt and uncle would be pleased --” She stopped speaking and stared at one of the many photos displayed on the mantel.
“What is it?” Megan asked. “Are you all right?”
Mrs. Hasson walked over to the mantel and picked up a silver-framed picture. “Where did you get this?” Her voice shook.
Megan walked over and took the photo from the woman. It was an old picture—maybe World War II era. A young couple beamed from the black-and-white image. The woman was wearing a suit and an orchid corsage; the man was in a U.S. Army uniform. “I didn’t put this there. I don’t know these people.”
“I do. This is my Aunt Helen and her husband, Charles . . . the ones who used to live here. She always kept this photo on the mantel.” Mrs. Hasson carefully set the photo back where she had found it and then sank into a nearby chair. “It’s started again,” she said softly.
“After Aunt Helen died, Uncle Charles used to say that she was still here. He would find things of hers lying about, lights left on, and so forth. He swore she came to visit him at night. We all thought he was just getting old, but then my sister and I stayed here one weekend. Aunt Helen was Jewish and they always lit Shabbat candles on Friday nights. My sister and I found her good candlesticks and candles laid out on the counter.”
A shiver traced Megan’s spine. “That happened to me, too.”
“Have you found lights on in the attic? Uncle Charles used to complain about that. We knew he wasn’t doing it; he couldn’t manage those stairs.”
“Yes, I have! And sometimes the hall light is on when I know I turned it off.”
Mrs. Hasson stepped over to the china cabinet and pointed to the cup that Megan had put back in place the previous evening. It was in front of the other cups again. “Aunt Helen had this china pattern—Haviland Bellefleur. She loved it.”
“That cup was my grandmother’s. I found it moved earlier.”
“Helen wants it where she can see it. Oh dear, are you all right? You look a bit pale.”
“Look, I don’t believe in ghosts, but this is pretty strange. Are we in any danger?”
“Oh, no! Aunt Helen wouldn’t hurt a soul. She probably adores having your boys here. They always wanted kids.”
“You know, one morning Joe told me he had had trouble sleeping, but that a lady came and sang to him,” said Megan. “I thought he was confused and meant our babysitter, but he said, ‘No, Mom. It was a different lady—like a grandma.’”
Mrs. Hasson stayed a little longer, telling Megan about the many years that Helen and Charles had lived in the house, crazy over one another and their home. When it was time for her to get back on the road, she gave Megan a quick hug. “Don’t worry, sweetie. Helen and Charles were wonderful people. If anything remains of them, you can be sure they are benevolent spirits.”
* * *
Over time, Megan really started to feel at home in the old house. She quit moving the Haviland cup and saucer to the back of the shelf, and left the photo of Helen and Charles on the mantel with pictures of her family and friends. She came to think of them as relatives, too.
Old children’s books appeared in the boys’ room—the Tom Swift books, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Joe and Rainey often spoke of Aunt Helen. They said she told them stories at night. The boys were actually eager for bedtime and slept soundly.
Megan got in the habit of checking the attic light each night before she went to bed. She found some knickknacks up there and brought them into her home—a pretty antique cream and sugar set that she put in the dining room, an elegant brass bowl that she set on the hearth, and a hand-hooked rug of deep burgundy and gold that now graced her front hall.
Every Friday night just before sunset, she lit the two candles she always found on the counter. “Shabbat shalom, Aunt Helen,” she whispered. “Peace.”