What’s In Your Head

In the mailbox this morning, we find an envelope addressed to us from our realtor, the one who had helped us to get this house in the woods in which we now live. Inside this envelope is a second, smaller envelope, like one that would come with a bouquet of flowers, and a folded sheet of paper. Hunter hands the second envelope to me while she reads the letter.

“Claire says there’s a key in there,” she says.

“Sure is,” I say, having unsealed the smaller envelope and tilted the key out into my palm. It’s an antique-looking thing, all tarnished brass and scuffed, with an intricate bow at the top, looking something like a Celtic knot, and an old-fashioned thick single bit at the bottom. I hold it up and show it to Hunter. “Certainly not a front door key,” I say.

She shakes her head. “Claire says she doesn’t know what it’s for, but that Ruby and Dylan sent it to her, so she mailed it on out to us.” Ruby and Dylan were the people who owned the house before us, having relocated to Montana or a Dakota, I can’t remember which. Hunter hands me the letter and I give her the key, and I read while she turns the key over in her hand. “No idea what it goes to,” she says. “I don’t think any of the old doors even have locks on them.”

“Maybe something for the old barn.” The original house had a barn attached to it back in the 1850s, but there’s nothing left of that now except a bit of foundation outside the 2007 addition at the rear of the old house. We have no idea what happened to it, if it fell down, burned down, or was taken down. Owning a hundred and seventy-four year old house means there’s always going to be a certain amount of history that’s left shrouded in a bit of thick fog. “Well, we can hang it on a hook and call it art,” I say. “I like anything to do with the original owners.”

We walk back down our long dirt driveway, and I’m thinking about the things we’ve discovered on our property so far since moving here last fall. There’s the rusted undercarriage of an old car out by the copse of birch trees to the east of the house, a weathered and delightful skeleton of an earlier age of transportation. We’ve got an old plow blade that’s covered in lichen balanced on top of one portion of one of the multitude of rock walls that run through and around the property. We’ve found piles of half-buried old chimney bricks by one of the small streams that run across the land when the rain or snowmelt washes through. There’s a plenitude of crumbling and unidentifiable (to us, at least) pieces of barrels and farm tools and agricultural God-knows-whats parceled out here and there, put beneath stones or against trees, or underneath deadfalls. We don’t consider any of this to be junk, not by any means. As we like to say, anything left out here on the property long enough has ceased to become garbage, and is now just art.

Which is of course how the mysterious key has now taken up its place on an old nail on the south wall of the dining room, once we verified that it did in fact not fit into any lock for any door that we have, either in the old part of the house or the new.

“Maybe an old wardrobe?” Hunter says, her arms crossed, while we examine our new art piece.

“Figures we finally get our dream house, and somebody gave away our Narnia portal.”

“Could be worse,” she says. “It’s Stephen King Country. Could be a key to a pet cemetery. That would never end any way but badly.”

“We can take it up the hill,” I say, meaning the old cemetery just up the road from us. “See if it fits anything there.”

“No thank you. Let zombie dogs lie.”

“It’s not a pet cemetery.”

“Either way,” she says. “It’s our house now. No zombies allowed.”

“It’s nearly two hundred years old. You just know somebody died in it at some point.”

She shrugs. “Ghosts are fine. I have no problem with ghosts. Zombies can fuck right off, though.”

“I’m glad you let me know where the line is drawn.”

“Boundaries,” she says. “You’ve got to have them.”

I start to quietly sing the chorus to the Cranberries song, “Zombie,” and Hunter elbows me in the gut.

“Boundaries,” she says again.

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