After Arthur died the house seemed empty to his widow, Mrs. Patrick. Her two daughters were married with busy and active lives of their own. They worried about her, she knew that, but there was little they could do except to call her on the telephone once a week. Her daughter Christine lived in Texas with her husband and three teen aged children. Her eldest daughter, Marietta was a museum curator and lived in Minneapolis.
During the last few months of his life, Mrs. Patrick’s husband had spent his days and nights in a hospital bed. The bed was still in the spot where once there had been a dining room table in their home. Each time she passed that empty bed she felt the stark reality that Arthur had died. She also felt his presence and so she refused to have the bed removed.
The echo of music, conversation, and laughter grew fainter each day in her Victorian home in suburban Boston. The house felt too large for one person. She lost interest in tending her African violets. It took her longer to get around to responding to correspondence. She continued to take a cab once a week to the local grocery store and prepare meals for herself. Otherwise she had lost her vitality.
Just up the hill from her house was a seminary. “Mom, why don’t you inquire if there are any students who need housing in the area?” one of her daughters suggested. She rather liked that idea; it would give her joy to share her home with someone studying for the ministry.
What Mrs. Patrick did not expect was that not one but two graduate students, would ring her doorbell, to ask if she might rent them both rooms. “Why not?” she said, “One of you can sleep on the third floor and one on the second. That still leaves me two spare bedrooms.”
Robin and I moved in, relieved to be out of the basement studio apartment in the city, which a friend had invited us to share until we found another place. We ached from sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag. We were frazzled from outrunning the snarling dog the landlord released on us each time we entered or left the flat. We were weary of the sirens, blaring music and screams of the city after dark. We had had enough of the odors from the alley, vomit, urine and garbage.
By contrast, Mrs. Patrick’s home was a sanctuary. She shared her refrigerator and kitchen appliances with us. Each morning when we left for our classes she would wish us a good day. Each evening when we returned we would stop to chat with her before retreating to our rooms.
In late November, Mrs. Patrick’s youngest daughter sent us a holiday card with a note. “My sister and I expected our mother would die of a broken heart. Instead she now seems happy again. Thank you.”
In mid-December, Mrs. Patrick informed us that she would be visiting one of her daughters for several weeks. “Now, girls,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes, “I expect you to have a party in the house while I am away.” We glanced anxiously at her antique furniture and oriental rugs. “Thank you,” Robin said.
The first night after she left for Texas I awoke in the middle of the night. I could hear distinct footsteps coming up the stairs from the first floor. I lay in bed trying to decide whether it was better to crawl under the bed or to make a run for the phone to call the police. Gripped by fear I did neither of these and lay as still as I could in bed hoping the intruder wouldn’t notice that I was there. The footsteps went past my door and directly to Mrs. Patrick’s empty bedroom, then down the stairs again. I decided it was best not to investigate until sunrise.
In the morning when I got up for breakfast there was no evidence that anything was out of place. All the windows and doors were closed and latched. Nothing seemed to be missing or disturbed. When it happened again the second night I began to question my sanity.
“Did you hear anything last night?” I said tentatively to Robin.
“You mean the footsteps?” she replied.
Involuntarily I shivered, “Arthur?” I said joking.
That night when I heard the footsteps coming up the stairs, I said “Arthur, she’s fine. She has just gone to visit your daughter in Texas.”
We never heard the footsteps again.