Jones had been a “counter” since he was a lad and he was counting the hours until his meeting with Miss Tinsley. He wasn’t an obsessive, compulsive counter…just a counter.
As a boy, he knew how many steps it took to walk to school. He knew how many steps it took to get from one class to the next. He even knew exactly how many pieces of paper his notebook held at any given time.
He had carefully counted how many stairs he ascended and descended in the grand lady. He counted how many steps it took to get from one room to the other. He knew that there were 38 windows on the first floor alone but what he didn’t know was how the house came to be.
The hour finally came and Jones walked the forty-seven steps to the church. Reverend Deutch and Miss Tinsley were already there, enjoying the usual doughnuts and coffee. Jones politely refused the refreshments…he was too anxious to hear what Miss Tinsley had to say.
Miss Tinsley wiped her mouth with a delicate, lace-trimmed handkerchief and said “you want to hear something about the house, correct?” Jones said “yes ma’am. Anything you can tell me will be greatly appreciated.”
Miss Tinsley was apologetic when she leaned toward Jones and softly said “I’m sorry dear. I’ve forgotten your name.” The Reverend Deutch smiled and “introduced” them once more.
“Well,” she said. “As I recall, the family who had the house built, lived upstairs and ran a funeral parlor downstairs. It seems to me that their name was Mills, or Merchant or Meade or something like that. I can’t remember. It’s been a long time and age does things to a girls’ memory you know.”
Jones asked if she knew what happened to the family. Miss Tinsley said “well, if not mistaken, I seem to recall that there was a tragedy.”
“Do you remember what the tragedy was?” asked Jones.
Miss Tinsley said “I don’t know the particulars. I was just a young girl and Mama and Papa didn’t talk about it but I’m pretty sure that there was a death.”
Jones was afraid he would offend Miss Tinsley but he couldn’t help himself when he said “well, isn’t that what a funeral parlor is for? Because there has been a death?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “But this was an unexpected and accidental death. I do know that it brought a lot of shame onto that family and they were shunned. After that, when there was a death, folks started going to the next town for the services. I remember when I got older, Mama said ‘now, don’t you walk by that house. You cross the street. Don’t even look at that house’.” She smiled when she said “I always thought it was haunted. It looked so desolate and nobody ever saw any lights in the house. But even as a young girl, I remember a feeling of great sadness when I walked by.”
“Did you ever look at the house when you walked by?” asked Jones.
“Oh my Heavens, no!” Miss Tinsley said. “I didn’t dare disobey Mama and Papa. They would have ripped the hide right off of me.”
“And you don’t know what happened to the family?” Jones repeated.
Miss Tinsley said “most of them have gone to be with their Lord…well, hopefully. He is a forgiving God and even though nobody else forgave them, I hope He did. But I did hear that one of them stayed here and became a recluse. If I could just remember his name…oh, land sakes. It’s just been too long.”
Jones said “well, I’ve lived there for several months now and I have never had a sense of foreboding or even sadness.”
Miss Tinsley smiled and looked at Deuce. In her soft, proper Southern voice, she said “Reverend, if it’s not too much trouble, could you take me home now? It’s time for my afternoon nap.” Then she looked at Jones and said “it was so nice to meet you dear and I’m sorry but I’ve forgotten your name.”
Reverend Deutch and Jones both smiled as if sharing an inside joke. Jones wondered if she couldn’t even remember his name, could he rely on the information she had given? But he also knew the phenomenon of old age stealing the present but almost totally recalling the past.
Just as Deuce and Miss Tinsley reached the door, Jones was startled when she suddenly turned and said “have you seen the light in the middle window yet?”
To be continued____________________________