Wendy had kissed Ben goodbye as he and his brother, Harold left for work. If you could call it work. They were helping out an old friend on some painting job for a couple of days. It was good money, it just wouldn’t last very long.She was feeling pretty good this morning. She had the whole house to herself and she intended to do some serious cleaning before her future Mother in Law, Clara, got home from work. Of course, she wasn’t entirely alone, since Aunt Nellie was in her bedroom in the front of the house. Being bedridden, she wasn’t going anywhere. Taking care of Aunt Nellie was the reason for Clara and her two sons living here and Wendy didn’t mind helping out.
Wendy began with the foyer/hallway that ran from the front door, all the way to the back of the house. It was about fifteen feet wide with beautiful, dark hardwood floors and light paint on the walls above walnut wainscoting. There was a lot of space, but most of it was filled with antiques, paintings, pictures and hand carved items in all types of wood, from all over the world. Nellie’s brother, Lewis had collected these during his travels with the U.S. Air Force. He had retired after thirty years in. He had collected lots of stuff! She intended to polish every bit of it.
Cobwebs were fairly easy to take care of with the help of one of Ben’s ‘painter’s poles’. It was six feet long, closed, but telescoped out to seventeen feet, fully extended. Wendy discovered that the head of a cheap, ‘Dollar Store’ broom would screw on this pole and thus, she could reach the thirteen foot high corners just right! She also used Ben’s ten foot step ladder to reach the chandeliers that lighted the hall. Even when he wasn’t here, Ben came in pretty handy. The antiques shined up really nice with some ‘Old English’ and a soft rag, though she had a bit of trouble getting into the little nooks and crannies on some of the carved pieces.
The last thing on her agenda, before lunch, was to dust and polish the banister going up the stairs. It was old oak and the stain on the top of it was worn off from over a hundred years of hands moving up and down, over and over. There had been children’s hands that grabbed and pulled little bodies up the stairs and held on to slow the same child’s descent. There had been young, strong hands that just barely rested on the banister as they hurried up or down, always with somewhere else to be or some errand to run. There had been old, arthritic hands that, like the child’s, held on for support and safety, maybe for the last and final time. It was a long tumble down the steep staircase.Wendy dusted and then polished to banister till it glistened. She did the same for the portraits that lined the wall, matching the staircase in angle of ascent. The portraits were of family long since gone. Gone, but never forgotten by those that remained. These pictures differed from others scattered about the old house. Those were of happy times and events, people smiling or laughing at the photographer. Some were professionally taken, but most were obviously amateur. The ones lining the stairs were of stern visage. No smiles adorned these faces staring out of the frames. The men were in topcoats and ties, stern and hardened with women of the same cut. Some of the men were mustachioed while others were clean shaven. None of the women wore loose hair, nor was it cut short, but all pulled severely back or in a bun. None of the frames had names attached so that later generations might know who they were. It seemed that they were considered too important to forget. Well, no one that Wendy knew had any idea who these people might be except for Aunt Nellie and she seldom spoke of them at all.
Once Wendy reached the top of the stairs she decided to sit and rest in one of the two bedrooms located off the large landing. The bedroom to the left had belonged to Nellie’s late sister Doris, an embittered old maid that, rumor had it, had been left at the alter when she was but a young lady looking to her future. She had never married, but had stayed in the family home all her years and ruled the household with a stern stare and sharp word when needed. Her bedroom, as Wendy explored it, lent evidence of someone that might have been quite different if she had not been dealt that heavy a blow so early on. There were beautiful dresses in the closet, some in dry cleaner plastic and some still with the sale tags attached. Some of the tags announced high end clothiers long out of business. There were shoes of styles Wendy had never been aware of. Hats with feathers or flowers or plain with bead-work. Doris seemed to have been a woman that liked finer things but, after purchasing them, had nowhere to go nor reason to wear them. Costume, (she assumed it was costume) jewelry filled polished boxes with glass and mirrored lids. Real silk stockings hung in the closet while beautiful sweaters were wrapped and stored in seemingly ancient, cedar chests. There was also a smallWendy looked at her watch and discovered that time, while seeming to stand still in the bedroom had continued for the rest of the world and, if she didn’t get a move on, she would be hard pressed to have dinner ready by the time the guys and Clara got home. She had passed more than two hours rummaging through Doris’ possessions. She closed the lid on the last chest and made her way to the landing where she stood for just a moment longer considering the differences between the great aunt Doris that Ben and Harold talked about and the one she had discovered in the room at the top of the stairs.
She took the first step with a firm grip on the railing she had previously polished and then the next when, surprisingly, she got the distinct impression that someone was behind her. Even though she knew no one had come up, she turned slightly to look over her left shoulder. Sure enough, no one was there. As she, again, began her decent she imagined the portraits on the wall were following her progress from behind glasses frames.
Just as she began scolding herself for an over active imagination, two small hands landed in the middle of her back with such force as to force the air from her lungs and send her on the beginnings of a head first tumble down the stairs to certain injury if not worse. Wend instinctively made a grab for anything to break her fall. To her right was only the wall and the portraits, but to her left was the bannister she had so lovingly polished. It was to the railing on the banister that her hand grasped toward and clung to, slowing her enough that she kept her legs under her instead of above her head.After stumbling and staggering down the remainder of the staircase, Wendy paused at the bottom to catch her breath and look up to see who had pushed her. No one. There was no one at the top of the stairs. She knew that she had been alone up there. She also knew that someone had pushed her. Could it have been Doris, angered at the intrusion into her private domain? Could it, truly have been the specter of this past matriarch of the family? Actually, Wendy didn’t spend much time considering who it might have been, she was too busy making a promise to herself that she would never again take the initiative to clean the banister nor explore the upstairs of this eerie old house.