Cynthia always said the door was an oak one. The description of this door changed all the time, but the wood was always oak. It may have been painted red (with white swirls and gold twist knobs and hinges) or bleached oak (with a brass keyhole and a peephole painted black). It sometimes was as large as ten feet and other times just big enough for her to squeeze through at six years old. Most of the time it was a standard seven foot tall, dark brown door with a black handle that could only be pushed down, and squeaked when it tried to move open. It was, however, always oak.
Cynthia doesn’t have a key. Not in the way that Cyndy and I do — or rather I do, as Cyndy lost hers far too long ago. Cynthia does know, however, that her aunt had one. Aunt Grace had a long black iron key that she held on her at all times. Cynthia said it was far too heavy for her to ever hold. (Which was not saying much as the last time Cynthia had been to Aunt Grace’s was when she had been no more than eight and she had been a very weak child.)
Cynthia had only ever gotten a glimpse into the room once — although she swears she had never seen the room open in her life. This attic door, she claimed, was the gateway to a back attic room stuff full of old brown boxes and a single window looking to the outside. The exterior roofline of the house had no such window. And while Cynthia says that’s what she saw, she will likewise swear that it never opened. It never could open. It never should have been opened.
When Aunt Grace was alive, Cynthia had asked her about the attic and her aunt had hushed her telling her never to speak of the room, for what it held was misery and grief. Cynthia only felt it apt to speak to me about it after she had seen my key and told me about the man in black. She called him the man in black, identical to the man in white that I knew. She told me of a story when the man in black had come to her Aunt Grace’s to see the attic door.
Her Aunt had known his name, not that Cynthia remembered it, but she remembered what he looked like. His skin was pale, nearly translucent, and his eyes sharp. His teeth perfectly white in a way that was scary, and his hair the same stark color. He smelled like the deep of a forest, she said, like it had just rained and it was coming on to twilight. His presence had the soft hush about him that came with the lull of the time change when the day went to sleep and the lurkers of the night came to fight.
She said that he let himself into the house, he was not given permission. As such she wasn’t certain he could be malicious. However, her aunt had hidden her key and yelled at him. Ultimately, Cynthia said, the man in black was allowed to see the attic door and Cynthia was told to go outside. Cynthia did as she was told, and to this day she wonders if her aunt let him see the room.
Cynthia and her mother left the house the next day for their flight back to home. One day in the middle of the night her mother got a long distance international call, and her sister had been killed in a mysterious fire. The fire had burned most of the home, yet most things of value were not destroyed. Much of the downstairs was safe, and the majority of her possessions were too. Her aunt’s body was found in the attic with the remains of whatever had been in there. Why had she been in the attic? No one knew. They did not have to break down the door to get to her, as it had been wide open and the large black iron key had been lodged into the key hole.
The police passed on their condolences and as her next of kin, Ivory — Cynthia’s mom– was to go take care of her sister’s things.
It was no more than twenty-four hours later that they received another call. The police had responded to a neighbors call of wailing in the house. When they arrived, the house had been looted and emptied completely of all furniture, possessions, belongings, as if the house were new and no one had ever lived in it. While they were on the phone this time, the house sparked back up in fire from a supposed gas leak in the attic. The house burned to a crisp and Cynthia and her mother, Ivory, had to go complete what could be completed in the other country.
Cynthia has shown me pictures of her aunt, of the house, of the door. She has told me stories of the garden and of the world she loved to live in while there. So fashion me surprised when this sixth grader asks me, “what is it worth?” the day she saw my key hanging around my neck and told me this story.
“I’m sorry for your loss. Was she buried in a nice cemetery?”
“They lost her body.”
“They lost her body.” She repeated, telling me of how when they arrived to see the body, it was missing, vanished, gone like it had never existed and her record blacked out with lines of ink. “Aunt Grace isn’t even her real name. She’s named after a color like my mother, but no one remembers her name. No one remembers her face. All I have are these photographs and I’m worried if I place them down, they too will be taken from me.”
When you’re a little girl you don’t ask many questions regarding missing aunts and strange stories that seem too myth to be real. However, I remember Aunt Grace. I remember this story, and I know that Cynthia was meant to be with me, from the first day she met me.
On the first day of the new year, I was a seventh grader and waiting for my friend to get on the afternoon bus when the strange little blonde girl who had starred at me the whole time for the morning bus, spoke. “I saw you in a dream.” Now, I may find that creepy. Then? I was fascinated. She told me about a dream she had between me, her, and another girl. She knew my face, my name, and that I had two brothers. The fact that she knew I had two brothers may have been coincidence, as she has two brothers. All the same, Cynthia knew me.
Considering the things I have seen with Cynthia and Cyndy, I am not surprised that Cynthia knew me. We were meant to be together, linked in a way that only the moon knows and our many secrets reveal. I will always remember that which has come for us, even if they forget. I can not forget. I shall never forget. Not again. Not after I now know what forgetting can do.
That day on the bus, where I saw Aunt Grace for the first and last time was forgotten as quick as kids forget what they ate for breakfast. It was long told, long thought over, and long forgotten when we were sitting in the sweltering heat of the bus eight months later, opening the windows trying to find reprieve. There in the gas station lot was a man dressed in all black with white hair and perfectly straight white teeth smiling and waving at us. I saw him. Cynthia saw him. We jumped and tried to get closer when a car drove by and he vanished.
Thirty seconds later Cynthia got a call from her mother about a small fire in Cynthia’s room. Apparently one of her candles had fallen off her dresser and caught a box on fire. No one asked why it was that Cynthia had a lit candle in her room during school, or how it had gotten from her dresser to the floor without leaving a trail of wax. And as Cynthia raced through her backpack trying to find the photographs she held on to so dearly, she asked her mother “Do you remember Aunt Grace?”
“I’ve never had a sister, Cynthia.”
What was once unimaginable waves of fear and sorrow turned to an unfathomable sense of loss that could never be articulated. Cynthia cried, knowing then what had been taken before that too was taken from her and all that remained was the void of emptiness that she would never be able to fill. For Aunt Grace was wrong. Opening the door did not bring misery and grief, but rather nothingness. So much of it, in fact, that those facing it were either to suffocate knowing it existed or to forget it existed at all.
I remember even now that there are many things that Cynthia and Cyndy remember vaguely, a bit, not at all, or in heightened detail. They have chosen what matters to them, but I have never forgotten. There in my mind is the little girl who sat on the bus and told me she knew me with eyes as clear as pure glass. Cynthia knew me and I knew her. As I know Cyndy. And while they may forget, I will always remember.
The photographs were not in Cynthia’s backpack that day and Aunt Grace was never named again.
Don’t forget to check the first section of this saga. Cynthia, Cyndy, and the Narrator will return with another entry at some point. I promise.