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In My House are Many Rooms

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In My House are Many Rooms ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This stand-alone short story is a continuation of two previous stories: “I Have Never Known the River Ischabob to Flood” and “Birth of the Dodo.”)

For several days, rain and thunderstorms kept me inside, but I didn’t mind. I had always liked the rain. The sound of the thunder gently rolling over the hills was pleasing in a way I wouldn’t have been able to explain. I had no obligations to fulfill and so spent my time—for the first time in my life, it seemed—doing exactly as I pleased. I read, napped and, of course, I still had plenty to do putting my house in order.

Sometimes I liked getting out the hammer and nails and hanging a picture on the wall in a certain spot and then sitting for an hour or more looking at the picture, trying to decide what I had liked about it in the first place. Some of the pictures, and some of the books and other articles I took out of boxes, I couldn’t remember from my previous home. My memory continued to play tricks on me. I remembered things that hadn’t happened and forgot things I should be able to remember. I wondered if I should see a doctor, but, if I did, what kind of doctor would it be? Was I losing my mind? Mrs. Goldoni, when I bothered to ask, could offer no explanation. I told you it’s a different kind of house, she’d say.

In the evenings after supper I enjoyed sitting and reading with some music playing quietly in the background. We had no radio or television—Mrs. Goldoni explained we were too far away to get the signal—but I didn’t mind. Sometimes I would close my eyes and when I opened them again Lulu the life-sized doll and Sheridan, my dodo bird son, would be sitting in the room with me. When Sheridan saw I was looking at him, he’d give a playful squawk to let me know he knew I was there, and I was astounded all over again by his existence. I had had pets all my life, cats and dogs, but I never expected to own a real-live dodo bird. As for Lulu, she never made a sound and only moved when I wasn’t looking.

On the day one week after I had sat for my photographic portrait in the town of New Garland, I purposed to go back and get my finished portrait, as the man in the shop had told me it would be ready on that day. The rain had stopped, at least temporarily, so the day seemed auspicious for walking. I put on the same walking shoes and clothes I wore the first time I made the trip and then appeared in the kitchen to tell Mrs. Goldoni not to expect me for lunch as I intended to dine again at Fine Eats.

“I can go with you if you’d like,” she said.

I could barely suppress a smile, thinking about walking out anywhere with an old woman who was becoming an insect, with many legs to prove it. “It’s all right,” I said. “I don’t need a chaperone.”

“You have no experience with the Followers,” she said. “They can be especially nasty when they know you are uninformed. I know how to handle them.”

“Believe me, I’ll be fine. I remember: they can’t hurt me if they can’t touch me and they can’t touch me unless I let them.”

“Be suspicious of all,” she said.

“I can take care of myself.”

I was a half-mile or so from my house, walking toward the town of New Garland, when I saw a disturbing sight. A group of eight or so small children were pelting a man with rocks and clumps of mud. He, the man, was bent over, holding his coat up around his head. I don’t like getting involved in something that isn’t my business, but if I see a person or a thing being mistreated for no apparent reason, I must try to help if I can.

“Here, now!” I said, very loud, causing all the children to stop what they were doing and look at me. “Stop that! What has that poor fellow done for you to stone him?”

A grotesque girl of about eight, shoulders back and head thrust forward, approached me. She was very dirty and dressed in rags. Her matted hair hung about her head like tangled moss. I thought she was going to spit on me or jump at me and rip out my throat.

Here, now!” she said, imitating me. “Why don’t you mind your own damn business?”

The other children laughed and they all turned their attention on me. I saw at once they were Followers. The man they had been pelting looked helplessly at me across a distance of about thirty feet.

When I saw a small boy with a large, deformed head about to throw a rock at me, I held up my finger at him threateningly and said, “I have a gun in my pocket and, while I may not like to shoot children, I won’t hesitate for a second to shoot you if you throw that.”

The children laughed derisively at me, but the boy let the rock fall to the ground without throwing it. I picked a limb off the ground as big as a man’s arm and when I took a few steps toward them with the limb raised in the air, I could see they were afraid of me. They receded and retreated down a hole in the ground. A few seconds after they had all jumped in, the hole disappeared.

The man was sobbing softly. I approached him to see if I might be of help. “Are you hurt?” I asked.

His head was bleeding and the blood was running down the side of his face onto his neck. All I could do was take my handkerchief out of my pocket and hand it to him. Realizing that he might also be a Follower, I made sure my hand didn’t touch his.

“I’m new to this place,” I said. “Every day I see sights that surprise me.”

He managed a weak smile. “I’ve been her a while,” he said. “I don’t remember every being any place else.”

“Do you live around here?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“How can you not know where you live?”

He shrugged his shoulders and I had a chance to look at him closely. He had red hair the color of a new penny, skin as white as alabaster, and a small, pencil-line mustache. His eyes were a clear blue, but they had dark rings around them, as though he had been ill. He seemed all right, but I still wasn’t sure he wasn’t a Follower.

“How did those children come to be throwing rocks at you?” I asked.

“They wanted me to play a game with me and I wouldn’t comply. The object of the game was to get me in a vulnerable position and then to snatch my soul and take it with them back to hell. That’s what they’ve been trained to do.”

“That seems highly implausible,” I said. “Small children?”

“Sometimes they’re worse than the adults.”

“And you’re not a Follower?” I asked.

“Do I look like one to you?”

“I couldn’t say. What’s your name?”

“Farina Alvarez,” he said.

“Well, Farina Alvarez, since you are obviously in a bad way, I’ll help you get to where you’re going.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’m only trying to keep away from the Followers.”

“I have a house,” I said, “on the banks of the River Ishcabob, which I have been told never floods.”

“I’m so happy for you,” he said, closing his eyes as though experiencing a wave of nausea.

“In my house I have many rooms,” I continued. “So many rooms that I haven’t even seen all of them yet.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I think we could put you up for a while, at least until you find out where you live and where you’re going.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out any,” he said.

“I have a housekeeper. Her name is Mrs. Goldoni. She has arthritis that’s turning her into an insect.”

“What kind of an insect?”

“I also have a son named Sheridan who is a dodo bird.”

“Aren’t they extinct?”

“Well, not all of them, I guess.”

“I have a wife named Lulu. She’s not my wife in the biblical sense. She’s a doll with a funny, old-fashioned cap on her head. I was in the room when she gave birth to Sheridan.”

“Quite a family you have there,” Farina Alvarez said.

“Well, with all the room we have, I was thinking you could come and stay with us for a few days. I don’t have any friends here and you seem like a decent sort, if we can fully establish that you’re not one of them.”

“I’ve already told you I’m not.”

“Mrs. Goldoni will know as soon as she lays eyes on you.”

“Where is this house on the banks of the River Ishcabob?” Farina Alvarez asked.

“It’s back that way,” I said, pointing with the index finger of my left hand.

“But you were headed this way,” he said, pointing in the opposing direction.

“Yes, I’m on my way to the town of New Garland on an errand. If you want, you can wait here for me and I’ll pick you up on my way back home. I don’t mean that in a literal sense, of course.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “If I wait around here, the Followers are sure to come back and get me.”

“Suit yourself,” I said.

“How long do you think it’ll be before you come back this way?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. Clocks and time don’t seem to have much meaning here. Let’s just say in about three hours.”

“I know what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll find a hiding place in a tree or a cave and in three hours I’ll meet you here on this spot.”

“All right,” I said, “but if you’re not here, I’m not going to wait.”

I walked on to the town of New Garland and went straight to Witherspoon’s Photographic Studio. The same man with the drooping mustache and high collar greeted me at the door.

“Remember me?” I asked.

“Indeed, I do, sir!” he said with a smile. “You’re the one with the dodo bird son.”

“What a memory you have!”

“Not at all, sir. It’s only been one week.”

“Is my photo portrait ready for me to take home?”

“Yes, it is, sir. I have it right here.”

He bent over and produced a little photo album from underneath the counter, which he hastily wrapped in paper, tied up with a string. After he was finished wrapping the album, he put it inside a small drawstring canvas bag and handed it over the counter to me.

“For you to look at later, when you’re at home, sir,” he said.

I paid the man and thanked him and went across the street to Fine Eats. I sat at the same table as before and the same tiny waitress came out from the back. Her hair was higher and more triangular than before, her brilliant, round eyes staring and unblinking. I wasn’t sure how she was seeing me because she always seemed to be looking out the window at the street.

When I tried to get her to look directly at me and she didn’t, it occurred to me that she wasn’t a “she” but an “it.” She was a doll endowed with motion like my Lulu at home. Had the man in the photographic studio with the dropping mustache been a doll, too? Was I a doll? I was pretty sure Mrs. Goldoni wasn’t a doll because she was an insect. Was Sheridan a real dodo bird, or was he, too, a mechanical “thing.” I would be most disappointed to find out that he, above all the others, wasn’t what he appeared to be.

“Today’s special is pickled herring or spaghetti and meatballs served with a red wine and breadsticks,” the waitress intoned in her odd voice that seemed to be coming from another room.

“I’ll have the spaghetti,” I said, having no desire to engage her in further talk.

She brought the wine before the food was ready and I had two full glasses while I waited. As before, there was nobody else in the place. The street also was empty. I heard music coming from some faraway place. When I strained to hear the music better, it stopped and then when I stopped thinking about it, it started up again.

The waitress brought the food and set it down in front of me and I began eating. It was the best spaghetti and meatballs I ever had. The wine was the best I had ever tasted. When I finished eating and was ready to leave, I was a little wobbly on my legs from all the wine. I threw some money on the table and went back out onto the sunny street.

When I came to the spot where I had left Farina Alvarez, he was waiting there for me, sitting on a little hillock beside the road. He smiled and stood up and waved at me.

“No more trouble with Followers?” I asked.

“I think you scared them off for now,” he said.

After we had walked some little ways without speaking, I turned to him and said, “Are you a thing other than what you appear to be?”

“I don’t understand the question,” he said.

“Some of the people here are dolls.”

“I know it,” he said, “but I don’t think I’m one of them. And, another thing about these dolls, they can change their size really fast. One minute they’re full-sized and the next minute they’re small enough to fit into a shoebox.”

“What’s it all about?” I asked.

“I don’t know anything,” he said.

When we got to my house on the banks of the River Ishcabob, it had been raining on us for the last quarter mile or so. I didn’t mind so much because it was a warm rain and I knew I was near home and could dry off and get into clean clothes soon enough, but Farina Alvarez was freezing. His teeth chattered; he held the collar of his thin coat up around his ears. Still, I made him wait outside for a minute while I went into the house and got Mrs. Goldoni. I wanted her to look at him and confirm that he really wasn’t a Follower.

She took a step outside the front door and shaded her eyes with her hand, even though the sun wasn’t shining. Insect eyes are different from human eyes.

“Who do we have here?” she asked.

“His name is Farina Alvarez,” I said. “On my way to New Garland, I happened on a bunch of Followers taunting him and throwing rocks at him. I took pity.”

She made little clicking insect sounds with her mouth and looked him up and down. “Tell me, son,” she said. “What’s the Holy Trinity?”

“Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” Farina Alvarez said.

“He’s all right,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “He’s not a Follower.”

“You can tell just from asking that one little question?” I asked.

“Sure can,” she said. “If you ask a Follower a religious question, it makes them vomit.”

“So, he’s all right, then.”

“I just said he was, didn’t I?”

I smiled at Farina Alvarez and took him by the sleeve and pulled him into the house.

“He’s going to be staying with us for a few days,” I explained to Mrs. Goldoni. “Find a comfortable room for him to stay in.”

“Do you suppose I could get a bath?” Farina Alvarez asked.

Mrs. Goldoni took him by the arm and started to lead him away. “Give him a good room that has a view and that isn’t gloomy and scary,” I said, “and give him some of my clothes to wear. I have more clothes than I know what to do with. Let him take his pick.”

I was weary from my long walk to and from New Garland, so I laid down and had a little nap. In an hour or so, Farina Alvarez emerged, looking scrubbed and wearing some of my clothes. Mrs. Goldoni had fixed him up with a bandage on his head.

“Feeling better?” I asked.

“Except for a headache,” he said.

We sat down to supper and, as we ate, a tremendous thunderstorm shook the house and made the lights go off. Mrs. Goldoni appeared with an antique candelabra and set it in the middle of the table.

“I like I good thunderstorm,” Farina Alvarez said, “as long as I have a roof over my head.”

I could tell we were going to be friends.

After supper the lights came back on. Mrs. Goldoni washed the supper dishes and went to bed. Farina Alvarez retired to his room and I was left all alone. I remembered I hadn’t yet looked at the little photographic album wrapped in paper that I had carried home with me in a drawstring canvas bag from the photographic studio in New Garland.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in the album. The first picture was of me laid out dead in a coffin, my hands crossed over my chest. I’m wearing a dress suit, my hair is neatly parted and I have a tiny pencil-line mustache, but, more astonishingly, Sheridan the dodo bird is sitting on the half-open lid of my coffin looking down into my face. He is obviously dismayed at seeing me dead. His beak is open partway as if he is emitting one of his most pitiful squawks and his eyes look watery.

I turn the page and the second picture is equally surprising. It’s of Mrs. Goldoni, dead in a coffin, a lily in her crossed hands. Her mouth is drawn down at the corners and her hair is arranged in a severe style. I had only ever seen her with Jean Harlow hair, but this dead woman is obviously her.

On the third page is a picture of Farina Alvarez. I had only known him for a few hours, so I didn’t know why his picture would be in my photographic album. If I had learned anything in my new home, though, it was not to ask questions for which there were no answers.

On the other pages of the album were photographs of other dead people I didn’t know, even though a couple of them looked slightly familiar. The others were, I suppose, of people who somehow played a part in my long-ago life that I didn’t remember.

Then I remembered the letters on the window of the photographic studio: Photographs of the Deceased.

I could hear it raining through much of the night. Ordinarily the sound of rain acts as a soporific to me, but I had trouble sleeping. About daylight I got out of bed since I couldn’t sleep, took a long shower, and dressed. When I went into the kitchen, Mrs. Goldoni was cooking breakfast.

“We’re all dead, aren’t we?” I said to her by way of greeting.

She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. “I knew you’d figure it out on your own,” she said. “That’s what we all have to do.”

“Why didn’t you tell me when I first came here?” I asked.

“Because that’s not the way it works. For it to be meaningful, you have to find it yourself.”

“Like an Easter egg hunt?” I asked.

“We’re all put here to learn,” she said. “To find things out. You’re no different from any of the rest of us.”

“We’re in hell, aren’t we?”

“No, it’s not hell,” she said. “And it’s not heaven, either. It’s somewhere in between. It’s what the Catholics used to call Purgatory. We have to learn what we’re sent here to learn before we can advance to the next step.”

“What’s the next step?” I asked.

“Nobody knows.”

“Some people have been here for hundreds of years, if not longer. This is not a physical place. It exists in the spirit world. That’s why things are so different here from what you’re used to.”

“I have to tell you,” I said. “I don’t feel dead.”

“I know,” she said. “I don’t feel dead, either.”

“So, we just wait here and let things happen to us and try to escape from the clutches of the Followers and then, one day, we move on.”

“That’s right.”

“Why are you turning into an insect?”

“I wish I knew. It’s part of the plan of the one who made us all.”

“What will happen when you’re an insect and no longer a person?” I asked.

“I try not to think about it,” she said.

“You want to keep on being a person?”

“Yes. That’s why I say my trouble is arthritis. It’s a little conceit of mine. I don’t think insects get arthritis. If I can convince the world, and myself, that arthritis is the reason I’m turning into an insect, it makes me feel more human.”

I went and got the photo album and showed it to her. She turned the pages to the end, making the clicking sounds with her mouth.

“It’s the same for all of us,” she said.

She turned to her own picture and laid the album flat on the breakfast table.

“That’s you, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Have you asked yourself why I’m in your photographic album?” she asked.

“My mother died when I was five years old,” I said. “I don’t remember much about her.”

“I remember everything about you, though,” she said. “I remember the day you were born.”

“So, you’re telling me you’re my mother?”

“Yes.”

“Who is Farina Alvarez?”

“I suppose you’ll find out one day.”

I put the photographic album away and Farina Alvarez emerged from his room and we had breakfast. I wanted to ask him if he knew we were dead; I wanted to show him the photographic album, but I knew I couldn’t. He had to discover these things on his own, just as I had done.

I took Farina Alvarez on a tour of my four-story house. I showed him the room with the haunted watches and the room where Sheridan was born. I took him into the room where Lulu the human-sized doll and Sheridan my dodo bird son spent most of my time, and he seemed genuinely happy to see them. He was as astonished as I was at seeing a real-live dodo bird.

When I saw the people I didn’t know lurking in the hallways or standing in a doorway, he saw them too, and he saw them as they seemed to dissolve in the air. I explained to him that they were always there but never bothered me. I showed him the River Ishcabob, which I had been told would never flood, and he saw the hundreds of workers on the river who moved so fast they were just a blur. I took him next door to the bed and breakfast and introduced him to the smashed-flat woman, Mrs. Woolwine. She gave us beer and we spent a couple of hours laughing and talking at her kitchen table.

In our long and serious conversations, Farina Alvarez told me he didn’t know how long he had been in this place and he couldn’t remember being in any other. I was gratified in a way to know that his experiences paralleled my own.

It continued to rain almost every day for two weeks and I started feeling sick. For a while I could keep my sickness hidden, but then I started to feel worse and couldn’t get out of bed. My days passed in a blur. I woke and slept and woke. I couldn’t tell the waking from the sleeping. At times I was aware that Mrs. Goldoni, Mrs. Woolwine, Farina Alvarez, and Lulu the doll were standing around my bed, looking anxiously on. Sheridan the dodo perched on the footboard, looking intently at me.

And then, once when I woke up, I was in a different place. I was in a high bed. To my right was a blue wall and to my left a bank of medical instruments. A man stood at the foot of the bed, looking down at something he held in his hands. He didn’t know I was awake so I spoke his name.

He looked at my face and smiled. He had red hair the color of a new penny and a pencil-line mustache and icy blue eyes. I was glad to see somebody there that I knew.

“Farina Alvarez,” I said again.

He came around to side of the bed where he was closer and I could see him better. “What did you say?” he asked.

“I just spoke your name. Are you going to tell me you don’t know who I am?”

“Yes, I know who you are,” he said. “You’re my patient. You’ve been very ill for a while.”

“I know,” I said. “You don’t need to tell me I’m dead because I already know it.”

“I could call you Sleepy Beauty, but since you’re a man, I guess I’ll have to settle for Rip Van Winkle.”

“Where’s Mrs. Goldoni? She needs to know where I am.”

“Is that somebody you know?” he asked.

“She’s my mother. She’s my housekeeper.”

“All right. Just keep yourself calm. We’ll bring you back by degrees.”

He turned to a woman all dressed in white. She stepped forward and took his place beside the bed. I felt a needle jabbed into my arm and then she began fussing with something I couldn’t see that was over my head.

“What is that place?” I asked.

“You’re in a hospital,” the woman in white said. “You’re going to be fine.”

“Where did he go? Where did Farina Alvarez go?”

“If you mean your doctor, he’ll be right back. He went to see another patient for a minute.”

“Tell him I need to see him. I need to tell him something.”

“You can tell me,” the woman in white said.

“I don’t want to be here! I want to go back to where I was! Tell him for me! Will you tell him for me? It’s very important!”

“Would you like to try to sit up?”

“No! I want to go back to where I was! I have people waiting for me. If I don’t come back, they’ll wonder where I am! I have to see my dodo bird and make sure he’s all right.”

“You’re very confused,” the woman in white said, “but that will pass.”

“No!” I said. “I don’t want it to pass. I want to go back to my home on the banks of the River Ishcabob.”

“There is no such place,” she said. “You’ve been dreaming. Imagining things.”

“No,” I said, more weakly this time. “I have a four-story house with many rooms on the banks of the River Ishcabob. I have family there and friends. They’ll be worried about me. I want to go back. I don’t want to be here. I want to be back there, in my home, with my friends and family.”

Farina Alvarez came back into the room and I felt comforted. He took my hand in both of his. He smiled at me and I smiled at him. He had hair the color of a new penny and a pencil-line mustache. His eyes were the bluest I had ever seen. He squeezed my hand and when he did I was borne away on a bank of black fog. I knew then that in just a few seconds I’d be back where I belonged.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp