(If you missed Part 1, check it out here!):
I follow the voice, trailing my feet across the spotted carpets. A man sits in the corner, a pack of cards splayed in front of him. He stares at them, snatching one up, staring at it hard, then throwing it down with the pack. This he does over and over again, as if committing each card to memory. I pass him by.
“My mother was a tailor.
She sewed my new blue jeans.”
A curtain pulled aside casts a strip of light on the winding staircase as it twists itself up to the second level of the house, like a winding vine. The voice echoes down the staircase, spilling over the steps and into my ears. I place my hand on the railing and work my way up, stepping over and around bodies sleeping lazily in midday. A man stares at me with dark eyes, tendrils of smoke wafting up in my face from his skinny cigarette. He offers me a lazy smile, then turns to kiss the girl on the step below him. Her eyes struggle to pull open as if weighed down with lead as she glances at me. I can feel their eyes following me as I continue up the staircase.
“My sweetheart was a gambling man
Down in New Orleans.”
As the voice becomes more and more familiar to me, I start to move faster. There’s something about this house and these halls that make me uneasy. Got to get out before I suffocate.
“Marie?” I call her name, walking down the long, winding hall. A door swings open suddenly. A girl steps out, her tears and eye makeup mixed together creating black streaks down her rouged cheeks. Her dress hangs low on her hips, the top falling off her shoulders, her corset strings coming undone. She cocks her head, a touch of pleading in her eyes. And then someone inside the dark room yanks her back, slamming the door shut. I move onward, my steps quickening. The voice draws me to it, pulling me like I’m at the end of a rope. Sobs echo from inside one of the rooms. Voices rise and fall like a tide. I hear a crash, something shatter, and then silence. I keep moving.
“Oh, mother, tell your children.
Not to do what I have done.”
The door at the end of the hall cracks. I pull it open. There she sits, pushing aside the scarlet curtain with one hand decked with rings. She sits in the windowsill, one leg completely exposed from the slit in her old, silk robe patterned with russet-winged butterflies and cherry blossoms. Her once golden, now straw-colored locks spiral in ringlets down her back. Only three feet away, a man lays in the bed, fast asleep, snoring gently into a pillow. Empty glasses litter the countertops. Cigarette butts dot the carpet.
“Shun that house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun.”
She stops singing, her doe eyes widening. She turns rapidly to face me and the curtain falls shut, drowning her in darkness.
She rushes towards me, flings her arms around my neck, and sighs into my hair. My big sister, finally here in my arms. I hold her tight, then draw back suddenly. She’s so frail I feel like I could shatter her bones without exerting any strength at all.
Her greying eyes meet mine.
“What is it? What’s the matter?” she murmurs.
“I . . . I came to bring you back. We’re all worried about you. We hadn’t heard from you in so long and I just . . . I wanted to see you.”
Her eyelashes flutter, struggling to catch the tears before they fall. “I’m so happy to see you, darling, so happy.”
She goes to hug me again. I pull her arms down, link her fingers through mine. I swing them back and forth and glance briefly at her filthy nails, bitten down to the finger. “Come on with me. I’m staying at a hotel downtown. We can catch the train tomorrow and go home. Don’t you want to go home?”
She forces a smile on her lips. “Course I wanna go home. See Daddy and everybody. But I can’t just yet, baby. I’ll come, but I can’t just yet, alright?”
She inhales deeply, holding me at arm’s length and her soft voice oozes love and warmth. “You’re so pretty. Look at you, so grown up. Came all the way here to get me and—”
“Marie, listen to me,” I say. “You got to come back with me. You have to.”
“Why not?” I demand, shaking her as my own voice trembles. “You can’t stay here. You’re not . . . not like these people.”
She steps back, chin raised. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean we’re different. You and I. We come from a good, respectable family. Don’t forget that.”
“You think you’re better than me?” she asks with a smile attempting to mask the hurt I can see in her eyes. “Than all of us here?”
“No, but I—”
“I’m glad you came to see me. But this ain’t a place for a respectable girl, like you said. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to get on that train by yourself. Now, I’ve got to get washed up and ready, but if you want to see me one more time before you leave, come by tonight. Love you, darling.”
She plants a quick kiss on my forehead and before I know it, she’s pushed me outside the room and shut the door in my face.
To Be Continued Next Week. Check back here next Thursday for The House Part 3