The attic is ghosty and the windows rattle. My grandmother’s house is old. She doesn’t live there anymore. Fogged now, she lives in a place where she is taken care of. The last time I went to visit her, early September, was the first time she didn’t recognize me. I introduced myself (I’m named after her), reminded her who I was (it’s your granddaughter!) as I approached her and saw no recognition in her eyes. “I didn’t recognize you!” she said, and reached out for an embrace. And after our brief reintroduction, she asked first about the house, which had belonged to her parents before her, which she loves in a fierce way, which I also love. You can tell by the way she talks about it that her best memories are there. Mine, too.
“Is it for sale?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said and my throat clenched.
Because she is fogged, she asked this question over and over.
“Is it for sale?”
“Yes. It is for sale. It is.”
Six times, seven, again.
And each time, fresh heartbreak on her face. Each time, the same wince. Each time, her right hand lifted from the armrest and pressed over her heart.
“Is it for sale?”
“Yes.” It will be gone.
I was there this past weekend scratching items off a punch list, getting the house ready for the winter. I sat on one of the beds in the attic, the attic which is my favorite place, and looked up at the broad boards that peak in the ceiling and looked for faces and shapes in the knots and swirls in the wood like I did every night when I was young and slept there, like looking for whales and dragons in clouds. The November wind rushed around the house, across the broad peak of the roof.
In a corner of the attic, dark, a dusty mess of boxes, old leather suitcases, black and white photographs of people I didn’t recognize, a section of board leaned against the wall, part of a plank from the ceiling or the floor. I lifted it, brought it to the light. Scratched slashes mark one side, the slash count for six. I left it there, returned to chores, wondered who the people were in all the photos.
After I had stripped the beds, lowered storm windows, draped old sheets over anything upholstered, I went back to the attic and I carried the board downstairs and I took it with me when I left.
There were comments when I walked through the town.
“You going surfing?” one man joked.
“Now there’s a girl who’s really bored,” punned another guy.
“What type of wood is that?” asked an older man with a mustache.
“Pine,” answered his companion before I could pipe up. (I would not have known the answer.) He had white hair and was dressed for the weather. We talked for a few minutes.
I asked if he knew what the slash markings were about.
“Yes,” he said. And he explained that a lot of the old houses were moved from one place to another, and this was a way for the builders to know which piece went where when they were putting it all back together again.
“I’ve worked on a lot of the old houses around here,” the man said. “Does your grandmother still live there?”
“No,” I said. “Not anymore.”
“The house is for sale,” he half-asked, half-stated as if he’d heard this story a thousand times before.
“Yes. The house is for sale.”
“You’ve got the memories,” he said.