“Ever,” my mother added for good measure.
“But what about your things?” the interviewer asked. “Your clothes? Your possessions?”
“It’s all still there,” my father answered.
As with most things related to the Book, I never believed it. We couldn’t have left everything behind.
Yet as I stare into a closet filled with my old clothes, I start to think that maybe my parents had been telling the truth. That suspicion is heightened further when I go from the bedroom to the adjoining playroom. The floor is scattered with toys. Wooden blocks. Chunky Duplo bricks. A naked Barbie lies facedown in the carpet like a murder victim. It looks like a little girl had suddenly left the room mid-play, never to return.
I try to think of why my parents would have done such a thing. Why deny their only child her clothes? Her toys? Surely, I must have loved some of them. A favorite shirt. A beloved stuffed animal. A book I’d made my parents read to me over and over again. Why take that away from me for no good reason?
The best answer I can come up with is that it was for verisimilitude. That no one would have believed my parents if they had returned to grab that Barbie, for instance, or those gum-marred sneakers. That, in order for this long con Chief Alcott talked about to work, they needed to willingly abandon everything.
I guess my parents thought it was a sacrifice worth making. One they later made up for by lavishing me with things following the Book’s success. My father was especially fond of spoiling me. I was the first girl in my school to have a DVD player. And a flat-screen TV. And an iPhone. When I turned sixteen, he gave me a new car. When I turned seventeen, he gave me a second one. At the time, I chalked up the gifts to post-divorce guilt. Now I think it was a form of atonement for making me live with the Book.
Call me ungrateful, but I would have preferred the truth.
I leave the playroom and head down the hallway, peeking into the other rooms on the second floor. Most of them had been guest rooms during Baneberry Hall’s stint as a bed-and-breakfast. They’re small and, for the most part, empty. One, presumably a remnant from the B&B days, contains a twin bed stripped of sheets and a tilted nightstand, the shadeless lamp on top of it leaning like a drunk man. In the room next to it are an old sewing machine and spools of thread stacked in tidy pyramids. On the floor sits a cardboard box filled with Life magazines from the fifties.
Since most of this stuff came with the house, it makes sense that my parents would leave a lot of it behind. None of it looks to be of any real value, and I can’t imagine there was any emotional attachment to a broken nightstand or a mid-century Singer sewing machine.
It’s a different story in my parents’ old bedroom at the end of the hall. Although I assume this is where my father slept during his annual overnight stays here, the room looks like it hasn’t been touched in twenty-five years. Just like my playroom, it’s been frozen in time. My mother’s jewelry from back then—far more subdued than what she wears now—litters the top of the dresser. Nearby is a striped necktie, coiled like a snake. A dress sits in a puddle in the corner. The heel of a black pump peeks out from beneath the fabric.
The room, in fact, is filled with clothes. The dresser, arranged with a His side and a Hers, is stuffed. Each pull of a drawer reveals socks and underwear and things my parents never wanted me to see. A box of condoms. A tiny bag of marijuana hidden inside an old Band-Aid tin.
More of my mother’s clothes hang in the closet, including a floral sundress I remember only because she’s wearing it in a framed photograph my father kept in his apartment. She looks happy in that photo, with my father beside her and baby me in her arms.
Thinking about that photo now, I wonder how it ended up at my father’s place. Did it once grace Baneberry Hall? If so, did my father take it with him when we left? Or did he steal it away years later during one of his many secret visits here?
Then there’s the biggest question: Why take just that photograph?
Because everything else has been left behind. My father’s suits and jeans and underwear. A watch that still sits on the nightstand. My mother’s wedding dress, which I find in the back of the closet, zipped into a plastic garment bag.
It’s all still here. My father hadn’t been lying about that. It makes me wonder what other aspects of the Book are true.
All of it.
The thought jabs into my brain, unprompted and unwelcome. I close my eyes, shake my head, will it away. Just because we left everything behind doesn’t mean this place is haunted. All it means is that my father had been willing to sacrifice everything—his house, his possessions, his family—for the Book.
Back in my own room, I unpack my bags, stowing my adult wardrobe next to my childhood one. I strip off my jeans and work shirt, replacing them with flannel shorts and a faded Ghostbusters tee stolen from an old college boyfriend. The irony of it was too funny to resist.
I then climb into a bed that was slightly too big for five-year-old me and too small for present-day me. My feet stretch over the edge, and a good roll in either direction is likely to send me tumbling to the floor. But it will do for the time being.
Rather than sleep, I spend the next hour lying awake in the darkness and doing what I do with every house I work on.
And Baneberry Hall, it seems, has plenty to say. From the whir of the ceiling fan to the creak of the mattress beneath me, the house is full of noise. Outside, a gust of warm summer air makes the corner of the roof groan. The sound joins the chorus of crickets, frogs, and night birds that inhabit the woods surrounding the house.