If These Walls Could Talk

Burt Hollenkamp was a good man. He was a good husband, a good father and grandfather, a good employee, a good Catholic, a good neighbor. Burt and Alicia had been married for about 15 years, the second marriage for each of them. They’d already been friends and occasional Bridge partners, having gotten acquainted at church several years before Burt’s wife died after a long battle with breast cancer and Alicia’s husband passed suddenly from a heart attack just four months later. Mutual consolation brought them close quickly and they couldn’t believe their luck at discovering how well-matched they were. They were attending a church function pot-luck one day when Alicia piled her plate high with chips and a bright orange dip made from Velveeta cheese. Burt immediately dubbed her Alicia Velveeta but after they got married it was too much to say, so he just called her “V.” Then she learned he’d been an expert shot as a youngster out hunting rabbits with his bb gun, so of course he became “B.” Burt had never met a stranger. His daughter and son and Alicia’s two daughters were all grown up and having children of their own by the time V and B got married, but all the kids were so thrilled with their parents’ happiness, it was easy to become a blended family, in spite of their different upbringings and the distances they all lived from each other.

These were some of the things occupying Burt’s mind when he awoke in the middle of the night one October, to a voice that seemed to be speaking directly into his left ear.

“Hello, Burt” it said. “I know what you did.”

“Huh? What?” said Burt, wiping the sleep from his eyes and trying to remember what he’d been dreaming.

“I know what you did,” repeated the voice.

“Who is that? What are you talking about?” asked Burt into the darkness, rubbing the pins and needles out of his left hand. “Must’ve slept on it wrong,” he thought.

“B? Is that you? What’s going on?” Alicia croaked as she stretched herself awake. “Who are you talking to?”

“Oh, it’s nothing, V, go back to sleep, I’m sorry I woke you, I think I must’ve been dreaming about that tv show we watched last night,” to which Alicia lay back down and was snoring her doggie snore in no time.

“Burt, I know what you did, and I know what the people before you did, and the people before them. I’ve seen it all, and there’s no way to hide. But I don’t mind, really I don’t.”

By now Burt had gone downstairs to the kitchen, using every prayer he knew to maintain his composure as the voice followed him from his room into the hallway, down the stairs and to his seat at the head of the kitchen table with a hot cup of his favorite cinnamon tea. He decided to pretend like this was the most normal thing in the world – – at least long enough to calm his pounding heart. Maybe the voice would disappear as suddenly as it had appeared and he could go back to bed.

“If you don’t mind what I did, then why are you talking to me about it? And, as long as we’re having a two-way conversation, I notice you haven’t introduced yourself. If you would be so kind?”

“Pardon me, Burt, I thought it would be obvious to you that this is your house speaking. I am your house and I have seen everything that has ever happened within these walls, so I know everything you’ve done,” said the house in quite a matter-of-fact tone.

“All right house, first of all, let me just say that V and I, and our children and grandchildren, and Rufus the dog and Gigi and Furbit the cats are very grateful to you for keeping us warm and safe and sheltered for all the years that we’ve lived here together. If you’ve seen everything then you must remember the day I carried V over the threshold, even though I was well into my 50’s at the time and she was as sturdy a woman then as she is now. We were so happy to have found you, right when we were getting a new start together, in this lovely neighborhood within walking distance from St. Patrick’s and with a playground nearby for the grandkids. You have taken eminently good care of us and we are thankful and fortunate. But I’m very curious to know, why are you speaking to me now? Is there anything in particular that you’re referring to that I’ve done? Am I at fault, somehow? Do I need to make amends? Have I made you angry? And will you at some point – please – allow me to go back to sleep?”

“Burt, you have many questions, of course, and I will answer all of them. I am not angry. You are not at fault and do not need to make amends. I am speaking to you now because changes are coming and I wanted you to know that you are appreciated. Your goodness has not gone unnoticed. I do remember when you carried V over the threshold and I must say, I was so happy for the two of you I was tempted to let the threshold jump up and shake your hand, but I didn’t want to frighten you. I hope you are not frightened now, and I will also tell you that V will always be looked after.”

“Well, all that is very comforting, so thank you,” said Burt quietly, still not quite believing that this whole thing wasn’t a dream.

The house said nothing more for so many minutes that Burt decided to go back to bed, his hand still tingling. On his way back to the bedroom he noticed creaks in the stairway that he’d never heard before. It almost sounded like they were speaking. He lay down and went to sleep then, gently, and for the last time.

Photo by Janina Fuller

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