Kerjigger

1950s bedroom, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Master Bedroom — 1950

Jonathan took two faltering steps into his parent’s master bedroom and stopped. His hand still rested on the door jamb, lingering outside the room for one final moment. Under the pads of his fingers he could feel the empty nail holes embedded in the wood. Remnants from the last time he’d done this.

It’s strange, what lingers,” he said, bitter amusement trickling past the dread leaching into his bones.

“Is everything alright, sir?”

Startled, Jonathan released his grip on the door jamb. He stepped properly into the room and turned to face the man behind him. “Yes, Jeeves, everything’s fine.”

“Jeeves?”

Jonathan cursed himself. Such a simple mistake, but potentially costly. Still, at this stage in his planning, did it matter? Throwing caution to the wind, he said “It’s not Jeeves, then?”

“No, sir,” the butler said, his moustache failing to hide a frown of concern. “It’s Bob.”

“Bob? That’s not a proper butler name. Have I missed something?” Then, seeing Bob’s quizzical look, he waved his hands dismissively. “It doesn’t matter. If it’s Bob, it’s Bob. It’s too late to change, anyway. Ignore me, and pardon my mistake. I’m not feeling quite myself today, I’m afraid.”

“I understand, sir.” Bob, chewing his moustache, clearly did not understand. But his training forbid him from even professing anything but a positive demeanor.

Jonathan stepped farther into the room and began examining the numerous portraits on the walls. After studying each face for a few moments he would nod to himself, mentally approving the images that were portrayed. He touched piece of furniture, subtly adjusting small things like lamps and drawers. A finger run along the top of the mantle revealed a tiny smudge of dust, which also earned a nod of approval. Then he caught himself staring at the rug in front of the bed.

“I don’t remember this,” he murmured, toeing at the image of a swan floating in a pond, a butterfly floating lazily above it. “Where did this come from?”

“It was a gift, sir,” Bob said. “Brought back from Nepal by Sir—”

“No!” Jonathan interrupted. “Don’t say it. Don’t say his name.” He squatted down and quickly rolled the offending rug up into a tight coil. Picking it up, he shoved it into the butler’s chest. “Dispose of the cursed thing immediately. Burn it. Then return to me.”

Bob, looking as confused as ever, turned and departed.

Jonathan returned to his perusal of the room. Inside the top drawer of the dresser, he found the letters he’d written to his mother while he was serving. He carefully withdrew each one and checked the wording, verifying their accuracy. He shook his head at the date scrawled across the top of one of them – June 5th, 1944. “Who thought the Yanks could land safely in that fog?” he said to himself.

When Bob returned from the basement furnace, he discovered his employer standing in front of the mantle and furiously kicking in the plaster wall that had covered up the old fireplace. Without pausing in his assault, Jonathan turned to Bob and said, “Is the rug gone?”

“Yes, Sir,” Bob said.

“Where’d you say it came from again?”

“It was a…” Bob faltered. Shook his head. “I’m not sure, sir.”

Jonathan grinned. “Was it a gift?”

“I couldn’t say, sir.”

“How long have we known each other, Bob?”

Bob, apparently growing accustomed to the strangeness of the day, said, “Your entire life, sir. I worked for your father before he married your mother.” Then, in case his answer wasn’t adequate. “Thirty one years, sir. Thirty two in September.”

Jonathan scrunched up his forehead, thinking. “For me it’s been…almost two hundred eighty eight years. Never once were you named Bob, though. Not until this time. Strange how mundane details in the story change.”

Bob, not hearing a question, dutifully avoided responding.

“Did you prepare my list, Bob?” Jonathan asked.

“I did, sir.” The butler drew a crisp, folded piece of paper from his inner pocket.

“So, the wine cellar?”

“No signs of damage, no missing vintages.”

“Even the Portuguese selections?”

“Fully stocked, sir.”

“Very good. And the trophy room?”

“Boar heads, moose, and a stuffed ocelot.”

“Anything else?”

“An elephant tusk.”

“Anything else?” Jonathan pressed.

Bob chewed at his moustache. “Nothing…unusual, sir.”

“Excellent. The Chicago Tribune?”

“A misprint, sir,” Bob said, looking slightly flustered. “Dewey did not defeat Truman in 1948.”

“Of course not. Forget I asked. A joke, and a bad one at that.”

“Of course, sir.”

“And the guest bedroom in the south wing?”

“Does not appear to resemble a jungle.”

“No trees?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to deal with themed rooms, especially when you’re ninety four years old.”

Bob remained silent.

“So, everything back to how it should be. No more perturbations, at least not backwards. Forwards? Never figured out the library. That place is a mystery. Too many possibilities.Too many stories in this house.”

“Sir?” Bob said. Jonathan ignored him.

“No matter. The library will keep for a few more years at least. As for the conservatory…” he shuddered. “No. Not again. But that’s so long from now. Perhaps I’ve done enough this time. Maybe…”

“Sir?”

Jonathan startled, as if surprised he wasn’t alone. “Bob! I need you to fetch some boards from the stable. And a hammer. And lots of nails.”

“Pardon me, sir?”

Jonathan stepped up close to his manservant. “I want you to board up this room, Bob. No one will ever enter this bedroom again, do you understand?”

“I…yes sir,” Bob said.

“Good. I’m going to drive back to the city. I won’t return for a few days at least.”

“Very good, sir.”

Jonathan nodded and disappeared down the hallway. Bob sighed, folded up his odd checklist and placed it back into his pocket. He then exited the bedroom, off to fetch wood to complete one final task for his eccentric master. He carefully closed the bedroom door behind him as he left.

A few minutes later the bedroom door opened up again, and Jonathan snuck back into the room. He closed the door behind him, and then lay down on the floor and rolled under the bed. He waited until the hammering began outside the door, and then waited until the footsteps outside retreated. Then he waited a few more moments, enjoying the peace and quiet.

“Nine times,” he said to himself, and forced himself to roll back out from under the bed. “When did this moment stop terrifying me?” He laughed. “Not yet.”

He dusted himself off and retrieved the small wooden chair from the corner of the room. “Still don’t have it right. Close, but not there yet. Damn it.” He swung the chair angrily at the fireplace, smashing it to splinters. He kicked the fragments back into the firebox.

“June 4th. Can’t be right. Germany held out until 1947. That’s longer than when I interrupted the Poland invasion.”

Footsteps began to sound from downstairs. He ignored them. He retrieved his letters from the dresser and began to crumple them up and stuff them amongst the ruins of the chair.

“Is the house cursed? Or is it me?” He laughed again. “What’s the difference?”

There was a pounding on the door outside. Too late, of course. That never changed. It was always too late. Maybe next time.

Jonathan dug into his pockets and found his book of matches. There were two matches left. There were always two. He wondered what would happen if he wasted them. What if they didn’t ignite?

It didn’t matter. The first one sparked and flared just like it always did. A moment later his letters were burning, and a few minutes later the wood from the chair was blazing merrily. The chimney, sealed before the fireplace was plastered up, failed to let any of the smoke or heat escape the room, and it didn’t take long for the flames to escape the fireplace and begin clawing up the walls. The door splintering behind him only served to let more oxygen into the room and fuel the inferno.

“Maybe next time,” Jonathan said, as his clothes and hair began to smoke and crackle. He coughed around a grin. “Maybe I can stop telling this story.”

Smoke filled his lungs, and he fell to the floor, consciousness fleeing the pain and resignment.

Some stories needn’t be told over and over.

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