“It was originally out on Andrews Road,” the realtor explained. “It was moved and set on the basement foundation here in town in May 1951. The Andrews family farmed just a few miles out of town and built the home in 1930. The son built another home and moved this one here.”
“Fascinating,” Kit breathed. “I always wanted an older home with charm and a story. Tom, this house is screaming for us to buy it.”
Kit walked through the kitchen into the hallway. Built-in cupboards and rich brown hardwood floors added to the home’s enchantment. Three doors filled the hallway, one to the master bedroom, one to the bathroom, and one to a substantial walk-in sized closet next to the built-ins. Kit opened up the closet door and immediately smelled something burning. It wasn’t like wire or rubber burning, but more like the nuance of a campfire. “I smell smoke.”
Tom walked to the closet and peered past Kit. He took a big sniff. “I don’t smell anything. Nice sized closet, though.”
“Disclosure notes a small kitchen fire in 1952, cosmetic damage only,” the realtor read. “It’s definitely priced to sell. It’s been vacant for years.”
“That explains your smoke smell,” Tom smiled. “The exposed studs and lath in the back of the closet likely absorbed smoke. Plus, it’s been locked up vacant.”
Kit wasn’t going to leave the adorable old house without making an offer, regardless of the closet’s smoke smell. This house spoke to her, captivated her. “It just adds more character.”
Two months later, Tom and Kit moved into the little house on West Walnut Street in Genesee, Idaho.
* * *
Kit pulled away from the kiss and smiled. “So, about the closet.”
“Man, way to ruin our moment.” Tom’s blue eyes sparkled.
After living in their new home for two weeks, Kit was ready to get cracking on projects. They stepped inside the closet together and surveyed the back wall. The exposed studs stared back at them. The bottom three feet of the wall was covered in sheetrock over the original lath. Obviously, a start they’d need to finish.
“You want shelves there?” Tom asked.
“Absolutely,” Kit nodded. “We’ll have to finish sheetrocking…shoot! There it is again! Every time I’m around this closet I catch the scent of smoke.”
“I have yet to smell it,” Tom shrugged. He leaned close to the exposed studs and sniffed them like a dog. “There’s no smell here. Maybe you have one of those brain tumors that makes you smell burning when there isn’t anything actually burning.”
“You’re hysterical,” Kit snorted.
“Just joking,” Tom soothed. “It’s because of that kitchen fire. Your sniffer is just stronger than mine.”
“I guess,” Kit agreed reluctantly. Something had nagged at her since moving in, egging her on to learn more about the fire. “I wonder if Mrs. Becker would know anything about the house and the fire. She’s lived here forever, right?”
“Charlotte? Yes,” Tom said. “She’s ninety years old and has lived here her whole life. If there’s an unofficial town historian, it’s her.”
* * *
“Hello dear, come in and sit down,” Mrs. Becker gave Kit a warm hug and peck on the cheek as she opened the door wide.
Kit met Mrs. Becker when she and Tom started dating. Tom’s family lived in Genesee until he was in sixth grade, and even after their move to Moscow, they stayed close with Mrs. Becker. When Kit and Tom shared they were moving to Genesee, Mrs. Becker was ecstatic.
“I’m sorry to pop in unannounced,” Kit said as she walked into the kitchen and sat down at the tiny table. “Tom and I thought you’d be the perfect person to ask about our new house.”
“Certainly, dear. Let me make tea. And please, call me Charlotte.” The elderly woman filled a copper tea kettle with water and turned on the stove. “Are you settling in?”
Kit prattled on about the trials and tribulations of moving furniture and large appliances into the house and deciding where to place all their possessions. Charlotte poured them both tea in beautiful flowered china teacups, then sat down at the table across from Kit.
“What do you want to know?”
“I know it was a farmhouse and built by Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, and that it was moved in from the farm and set on the basement foundation in 1951.”
“You’re correct,” Charlotte smiled, blowing on her tea to cool it before slurping a sip. “Ronald and Laura Andrews built the house and their son, Julian, was born there. Ronald and Laura died in a car accident when Julian was in college. He was an only child, so everything went to him. He met Helen, his wife, while he was in college and after his parents died, he and Helen moved out to the farm.”
“What made them decide to move the house to town?”
Charlotte paused with a thoughtful look. “I’m glad you asked, Kit. I know a lot about what happened there because Helen was a friend of sorts. We ran in the same social circles and saw each other often. She was a real gossip. She always had some snotty story to share. Nowadays you’d call her unique and passionate, but back then, she was as crazy as a loon and wielded a wicked temper. If you crossed her, she would go out of her way to exact revenge. I managed to stay on her good side, thank God.
“Helen was from Spokane,” Charlotte continued. “She came from good stock with money and status. She met Julian when they both attended Gonzaga University. When Ronald and Laura died, he quit school to run the farm. It forced him and Helen to marry quickly, and that was when the slap of reality hit Helen she was an official farm wife. She constantly complained farming was dirty work, but her intense love for Julian won out. Well, for several years, anyway. Finally, after begging and pecking at him for years to move into town, Julian got fed up with Helen and moved the house. Not exactly what she wanted, but to save face she acted like it was. She called it the ‘town home,’ while the new house Julian built at the farm was the ‘country home.’”
“Wow,” Kit replied. “I love that our house has such a sweet story.”
“Oh, there’s more, and not all of it sweet,” Charlotte winked. “Julian built a big, beautiful mansion to tempt Helen to stay at the farm. She spent days out there usually, but she always stayed nights at the town home. Julian dug his heels in and never slept in the town home.”
“Sounds like a separation,” Kit surmised as she sipped her tea.
“Actually, it wasn’t unusual for some farmers to have a country home and a town home,” Charlotte remarked. “But Helen made such a public spectacle about moving the house into town it seemed more scandalous than it really was. Don’t get me wrong. There was a little scandal. Seems Julian was frustrated because Helen couldn’t get pregnant. She told me they tried, but nothing ever happened. Julian needed an heir. It was quite a pickle.”
“Interesting,” Kit murmured. “Do you know anything about the fire in the kitchen?”
Charlotte picked up her teacup and took a long sip. She slowly put the cup back in the saucer and sighed. “I do.”
Kit’s heart sank. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“There definitely was a kitchen fire,” Charlotte commented. “The young woman who worked for Helen— Rose—somehow got locked in the hallway closet and something on the stove caught fire. Helen swore up and down Rose was depressed, started the fire, and locked herself in the closet to commit suicide. But no one believed that. The closet locked from the outside. And it was common knowledge the lock was faulty. Either way, the fire department rushed Rose to Gritman Memorial Hospital in Moscow, but she passed. She was pregnant, so the baby died, too.”
Kit sat back in her chair, the wind knocked out of her. “I had no idea. That’s horrible.”
“Back then most housewives had help,” Charlotte explained. “They were called ‘girls’, but usually, it was a younger woman just out of school who took the job for some income. The ‘girl’ helped with the children, shopping, laundry, cleaning, cooking, and sometimes even light farm work. And even though Helen and Julian had no children, she insisted on having a ‘girl,’ like all the other farm wives. Helen saw it as status. Julian saw it as a way to keep Helen happy. Rose was bouncy and cute, with brown bobbed hair, big green eyes, and smart as a whip. She wanted to be a journalist, like you, Kit. She was from Minneapolis. Rose’s mother was Helen’s cousin. Rose came to Genesee after high school to stay one year, then return to Minneapolis to marry her beau, Walter. Rose arrived right after Julian finished the country home and moved the farmhouse into town. Sometimes, when Helen came for tea she brought Rose. My ‘girl,’ Evelyn, and Rose became friends. Helen and Rose took care of the daily chores at both the town and country home. Rose made Julian and his farm crew meals, but after dinner, Helen and Rose always came back to the town home. It was a little bizarre, but no one said much about it.”
“Wait, so how was Rose pregnant when she died?” Kit asked.
Charlotte smirked. “At first, Helen told people one of Julian’s farm hands was responsible. Then it got ugly, and Helen said it was Julian’s. For whatever reason, Helen made it her mission to ruin Rose’s reputation. But Rose had married Walter during a trip back to Minneapolis and that’s how she ended up with child—in an honest way. Helen never relented that the baby was Walter’s. Helen’s jealousy of Rose’s pregnancy reached monumental proportions and sparked Helen’s lie about Rose committing suicide. Believe it or not, Helen’s story is what stuck.”
“But I don’t understand,” Kit exclaimed. “How could it be suicide if the closet was locked from the outside?”
“Exactly,” Charlotte nodded.“Helen insisted Rose purposefully set the fire on the stove, locked herself in the closet, and waited to die. No one really questioned it because that would mean questioning Helen. She’d gained status by then. But we all knew the lock was faulty. On a few occasions both Rose and Helen found themselves locked in.”
Kit sat back in her chair, dumbfounded. “How come this wasn’t disclosed when we bought the house?”
“Because Rose didn’t die in the house,” Charlotte pointed out.
“So no one questioned it or did any investigation?”
“No, I think the papers said it was an accident, but Helen always stuck to her story Rose committed suicide,” Charlotte answered. “Helen hired a new girl within a week of Rose’s death. I never had much to do with Helen after that. I’m convinced Rose didn’t kill herself and her baby. But I never had any way to prove what actually happened.”
* * *
Kit shared the horrendous story with Tom over dinner.
“That’s awful,” Tom sighed. “I can’t believe it involves our house.”
“Even if I knew the story ahead of time, I would’ve wanted the house, though,” Kit said. “I can’t explain it; I had to have this house. It bothers me a mother and child died because of the fire here, but, I’m with Charlotte. There’s more to the story.”
“Maybe you should do some research to see what you dig up,” Tom suggested.
Kit’s journalistic senses clicked into over-drive. “That’s a perfectly perfect idea.”
* * *
The next morning Tom left for work, and Kit rushed around to go to the Latah County Courthouse to research Rose. Her internet searches revealed little, so she’d have to do it the old fashioned way. She hastily threw her brown hair in a pony, lightly dusted her hazel eyes with shadow, dotted on some lipstick, and raced to pick up the towels from their morning showers. She opened the hallway closet, smelled the now familiar smoke scent, and tossed the towels into the proper “whites” bin. She turned and felt a hard tug on her shirt sleeve. She whirled around, suddenly feeling like someone was in the closet with her. She quickly flipped on the light. Without thinking, she asked, “Is that you, Rose?”
She stood a moment longer, aching to have some sort of sign it was Rose. Then it hit her. She grabbed the step stool leaning in the closet and climbed up so she was eye-level with the top of the door. Several layers of paint covered the old door, but there, on the outside of the door and casing, lumps in the paint confirmed the existence of a lock of some sort had been there at one time. A tiny piece of evidence it would’ve been almost impossible for Rose to lock herself in the closet on purpose.
* * *
Kit’s research—which included stops at the Courthouse and library—spread out before her on the dining room table. It was getting late; she needed a break to let her thoughts percolate.
She joined Tom on the couch. The TV gave off the only light in the house.
Suddenly, both Tom and Kit jerked their heads in the direction of the hallway. Then they looked at each other.
“Did you see something?” Kit breathed.
“Maybe,” Tom replied.
“What’d you see?”
“What’d YOU see?”
“I saw a shadow move across the hall,” Kit squealed.
“Me, too,” Tom whispered.
Kit jumped off the couch and scurried into the hallway. “Are you here, Rose?”
Tom looked through the windows. “It could’ve been light from a passing car or something.”
Kit ignored him and opened the closet. The familiar smoke smell wafted into her face. “I know it’s you, Rose. Don’t give up on me; I’ll figure out what really happened to you.” In response, a cold whisper gently tickled Kit’s face.
* * *
The next evening, Kit and Tom tried to decipher what they saw in the hallway. Tom drove their car from the top of the hill past their house to see if headlights created the shadow. Then Kit repeated the process. The light-play in the house as the car drove by both times didn’t cast any shadows in the hallway. Kit proclaimed the shadow was Rose. Tom reserved his opinion.
* * *
Kit stomped into the kitchen and grabbed the Irish Creme from the back of the refrigerator. She took a long drink and then another. Leaning against the 1970s harvest gold Formica countertop she sighed. The fruits of her research sat spread out on the dining room table. The Courthouse visit produced the original building permit and the permit for the move of the house into town. The Andrews were the only owners, first Ronald, then Julian. When Julian died, his estate managed the property until it was sold to her and Tom. When Kit tried to speak with the attorney’s office for more information, they said they knew nothing more than what was on the paperwork. A dead end.
The library visit produced two newspaper articles pertaining to the fire. One, dated May 30, 1952, reported the kitchen fire with little damage and mentioned a young woman found in a closet was transported to Gritman Memorial Hospital to treat severe smoke inhalation. The article was tucked away on the last page towards the bottom of the front section.
The other article, dated May 31, 1952, stated Rose Himmel Drake, aged 20, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, died due to smoke inhalation. The last sentence read, “Mrs. Drake’s unborn child also perished.”
After some digging, she also tracked down digitized copies of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune. She found in the public notices the marriage announcement of Rose Himmel to Walter Drake, January 18, 1952. That pretty much confirmed Rose’s baby was likely Walter’s.
However, after methodically piecing together her efforts, all she had was a timeline and Charlotte’s account of what happened. She’d spent an extraordinary amount of time on this little project, and for what? A married, pregnant woman named Rose Himmel Drake, aged 20, died from smoke inhalation from a kitchen fire in 1952. That was it. It was a story with no beginning or middle, just a crummy ending, with two lives lost.
She took one last swig of Irish Cream and walked into the closet. “I’m so sorry, Rose,” she softly whispered. “I wanted to find your whole story, not just your end. You’ll always have a place here if you can’t find peace on the other side.”
A gentle breeze fluttered through the closet, softly rustling through Kit’s hair and giving her a chill. She laughed. “Hello, Rose.” Facing the back wall, she closed her eyes and reached out to touch the bare studs and lath.
Without warning, black and white snapshot-like images popped into her mind’s eye. A young woman in a suit standing next to a dashing young man. The outside of the house. A leather journal.
Kit quickly opened her eyes. Inspiration and epiphany hit. Rose was showing her the way.
* * *
Tom came home from work to find Kit peeking around the corner of the closet, her face dusted with something white. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to knock a hole in the sheetrock in here,” Kit said matter-of-factly.
Tom started laughing and took off his jacket. “I’m not going to ask why, but let me help you. You’ll hurt yourself. Or hit the pipes and cause thousands of dollars of flood damage. You realize you could’ve just unscrewed the screws and removed the sheetrock.”
“Oh. I didn’t think of that,” Kit reflected. “The sledgehammer was right here, so I went for it.”
Tom rolled his eyes and gently swung the heavy-headed hammer, knocking a hole into the dent Kit had made in the sheetrock.
Kit smiled. She already knew what was behind the wall, Rose showed her.
After several calculated swings, Tom created a hole the size of a basketball. He clicked on his flashlight as Kit squirmed in front of him.
“Let me,” she exclaimed. She peered into the void, then shoved her hand into it. The tips of her fingers brushed against something.
“One more swing, Tom,” she instructed.
He swung and knocked another chunk out of the wall, revealing a small, brown leather book behind the lath.
“Whoopie! It’s here!” Kit shrieked as she shoved past Tom and grabbed the book. There, on the cover—like in her vision—the word “Journal” was embossed in script lettering. The brown leather was worn, but the treasure was in pristine condition. She sniffed the leather. Smoke. She immediately leafed through the pages covered with script handwriting, spying on the first page a notation: This journal is my account of working for Mr. and Mrs. Julian Andrews. Rose Renee Himmel.
Kit jumped up and down, grabbing Tom in a hug. Laughing and crying she shouted, “It’s her story! Rose’s story!”
* * *
Still scratching his head how Kit knew the journal was hiding behind the sheetrock and lath, Tom labored away tearing out the broken sheetrock. Kit sat on the hallway floor, absorbing what the journal shared. When she finished, tears streamed down her face.
Tom sat down next to her and put his arm over her shoulders. “Show me.”
PART II (continued from May/June 2019 issue)
May 12, 1951
Today I started my year working for Mr. and Mrs. Julian and Helen Andrews in Genesee, Idaho. Helen is Mother’s cousin. I’ll perform housework and other chores. I can’t believe I’m here, but Mother begged me. Apparently, Helen has a difficult time keeping help and called Mother, frantic the new home (TH or town home) in Genesee, along with the country home (CH) at the farm, would overwhelm her without having “a girl.” I agreed only on the condition I marry Walter immediately upon my return to Minneapolis, either after one year when Walter is finished with college, or, if I get my way, this Christmas when I go home to visit. We shall see.
May 27, 1951
The days fly by working at both homes. Mrs. A and I go out to the CH to work for Mr. Andrews during the day, then go to the TH at night. I have two of everything to manage. Mr. Andrews pays me well, but not double and certainly not extra to put up with Helen’s unbalanced moods and tantrums. I sure miss Walter. I’ve almost convinced Mother and Dad to let us marry when I go to Minneapolis in January. (No Christmas visit for me. Helen threw an absolute fit. I must stay to help with holiday parties and meals.)
June 8, 1951
Mrs. A and I visited Mrs. Becker (Charlotte) and Evelyn today. The two ladies took their tea on Mrs. Becker’s porch, while Ev and I took ours in the kitchen, gossiping quietly about my employer’s strange situation with two homes. Ev thinks Mrs. A has paranoia. I’m inclined to agree. Ev has a car, so we’re going to a movie tonight in Moscow, but we can’t eat at the Nobby Inn after the show because Helen refuses to be alone in the TH longer than a few hours.
July 4, 1951
Independence Day! No independence for me, though. I’m cooking and serving the Andrews’ guests at the CH, both lunch and dinner. Exhausting, no doubt, but I received a letter from Walter yesterday and am saving it to read tonight. Happy 4th!
August 20, 1951
Haying started right after the 4th. I enjoy cooking for the big crew, and all the men are nice. Helen insists I not speak with them. I do anyway. Rather than have me stay at CH for simplicity, Helen requires I drive her to TH every night after dinner. I only catch a few hours of sleep before I have to get back out to CH to cook breakfast. Then I dash back to TH, pick up Helen, take her back to CH, and whip up lunch. Helen naps or reads while I tend to the garden and prep for dinner. Then we do it all over again the next day. Ridiculous. Walter, I swear the money I’m making doing all this crazy woman’s work, I’m buying myself a new red scarf and some hot pink lipstick!
September 15, 1951
They finished harvest last week. The grain crop was bursting—best Mr. Andrews has ever seen. He gave me a bonus check. I’m not to breathe a word to Helen. I appreciate his kindness, I’ve been working my fingers to the bone. Now, comes planting season. The crew is down to eight, four returned to school at the University of Idaho. I asked Mother if I could buy a new suit for my civil wedding ceremony at the Courthouse when I’m home. She and Dad agreed to everything. I’m marrying Walter in January, and we’ll host a grand celebration in June to commemorate our marriage and Walter’s graduation (and me leaving Genesee!). I’m thrilled beyond belief!
October 31, 1951
Boo! Handed out popcorn balls to the trick-or-treaters. So much fun. Helen stayed in her room, claiming a headache, but she tends to shy away from kids. She’s confided several times her concern she can’t get pregnant. She’s paranoid, thinking Mr. Andrews will divorce her if she can’t produce a child. I comfort her, imagining how sad I’d feel. Walter and I want several children. I don’t tell Helen this, of course. I try to remember her situation during her daily tirades and outlandish behavior, like last week when I had to scrub the entire master bedroom floor at CH with baby powder, then clean it. She thought the smell would help her become pregnant. Maybe if she stayed at CH more, it might happen faster. Lord, please forgive me for writing that.
November 22, 1951
Thanksgiving. I’m extremely blue. I miss my Walter and family. I wanted to go home but Helen needed me to stay. It’s the first Thanksgiving ever not being home. Mother insists that if I treat Helen with kindness, it will pay off. She’s right. If I do anything Helen dislikes (like stop off at the post office to visit with my friend, Ethel), she completely goes ape. It’s not worth it. I do what Helen wants and limit my time visiting friends when she’s gone to Moscow or Lewiston for lunch or shopping.
December 10, 1951
CH Christmas party. Ev came to help me. Farmers, businessmen, and friends—adults only, no kids—filled the house. Decorating started the day after Thanksgiving, and Helen was still fussing around this afternoon while Ev and I slaved in the kitchen. Ham, turkey, goose, elk, casseroles, salads, fruit and vegetable trays, and an entire table full of deserts. I’ve never assembled so much food at one time in my life. And I get to do it again next week for the TH party. I’m earning my way back to Walter, though.
January 18, 1952, will mark the happiest day in my life. I haven’t told anyone about getting married, not even Ev. I’ll tell everyone when I return on February 1.
December 17, 1951
TH Christmas party was a repeat of the CH Christmas party, minus the farmers. That’s so Helen. Less guests meant a little less work for Ev and me, though. Mother and Dad sent my plane ticket (my early Christmas present), so I’m getting excited to leave Genesee in a few weeks and marry the most handsome, remarkable man I’ve ever met.
December 24, 1951
Christmas Eve. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews requested I stay at TH tonight alone. I fixed them a lovely candlelight dinner and left them in the glow of the Christmas tree lights at CH. It’s nice to have a moment of solitude, but I wish Walter was here. I miss him desperately. He sent me a present, the dear. I’ll open it tomorrow.
December 25, 1951
Walter sent MY RING! It’s a gorgeous gold band with a big diamond, at least half a carat. I put it on immediately. I wore it until I had to go out to CH and make Christmas brunch. It’s hanging on a long gold chain resting against my heart for now. It’ll only be secret for a while, though. When I return from Minneapolis, I’ll be wearing it as Mrs. Walter Drake. Merry Christmas to me!
December 31, 1951
New Year’s Eve party at TH. Same crowd as the TH Christmas party. Everyone got drunk, so they didn’t notice Ev and me sneaking champagne at midnight. I’m just getting to bed; it’s 3am. Oh, the mess those folks make! Mr. Andrews is coming in to spend the day with Helen tomorrow. I’ll cook brunch, but they’re going out for dinner, so Ev is coming to watch TV with me. Happy New Year! 1952 is MY YEAR!
January 10, 1952
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews dropped me at the airport in Spokane. I’m waiting to board. Charlotte agreed to let Ev help Helen while I’m gone. I bet Charlotte (and Ev!) gets the short end of THAT stick! I’m so excited to see my precious Walter and become his wife. He’s my everything.
January 15, 1952
Mother and I purchased a beautiful light blue suit, a white silk blouse, and beautiful new white gloves for me to wear on my wedding day. Dad said he’d order me a corsage.Walter gave me a new string of pearls. He also made reservations at The Grand Hotel for our Honeymoon. I’m over the moon excited. I’ll finally be Mrs. Walter Drake.
January 17, 1952
Only one more sleep until I’m married!
January 18, 1952
I’m lounging on a chaise in our suite at The Grand, wearing a fluffy, white robe, waiting for Walter to finish his shower so we can share a nightcap. The room at the Courthouse where the justice of the peace performed the vows was encased in beautiful dark wood with a simple, but elegant chandelier hanging above us. I felt lovely in my new suit, and Walter, well, I’ve never seen him look more handsome. Our parents and a few close friends joined us. Ten in all. Dad took us out to lunch at Jax. Steaks, seafood, and strong cocktails made us giddy. Walter hauled me off to this luxurious suite in enough time for a little nap, some alone time, and a delicious late dinner at the 5-8 Club (where I devoured a Juicy Lucy burger). My heart is bursting with emotion. I’m so honored and happy to be Mrs. Walter Drake. This is just the beginning!
February 2, 1952
Back in Genesee. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews picked me up at the airport yesterday and treated me to a nice dinner before we drove home. Mrs. A dissolved into tears after Mr. A left. I wanted to go unpack but realized I’m back at work, a 24/7 endeavor with Helen. She shared she had a miscarriage a week after I left. Devastating for them both. I comforted her and fixed her several gin and tonics. She finally passed out.
February 3, 1952
No mention of the crying jag last night. It was like it never happened. I told Mr. Andrews I had some big news to share with them. He suggested dinner tomorrow night at TH.
February 4, 1952
It’s almost 11pm, and Helen is upstairs still yelling and screaming at Mr. A. He didn’t do anything. I did. I got married. When I told them, Helen’s reaction was completely unexpected. She flew off the handle. What does it matter if I’m married? I’ll still do my job and stay the agreed amount of time (but no longer). I attempted to reason with her but finally gave up. Mr. Andrews allowed her to carry on. As I headed downstairs to retreat to my room, I saw a look on his face I’ve never seen on him before. Anger. I haven’t heard him yell, so bravo for his strength. No matter how upset Helen is, I refuse to feel guilty about my happiness with Walter.
February 14, 1952
Walter sent a dozen roses, which put Helen over the edge. She sent me to CH without her. No Valentine’s Day celebration for them. When I returned, I only had 11 roses in the vase in my room.
February 28, 1952
The past two weeks have been horrid. Helen has decided to tell anyone who will listen how I betrayed her by getting married. Ev and Charlotte told me not to worry, to hang on until the end of May. There’s no crime in getting married. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to be around Helen, but I do my work and say very little.
March 12, 1952
I’ve been so sick the past week. I finally asked if could go to the doctor. Helen reluctantly allowed it. She said it’s just the stomach flu. I think different.
March 13, 1952
I’M PREGNANT! Doctor Smithers said I’m about five weeks along. I’m over the moon! I called Walter from the doctor’s office to tell him. (I gave them money to pay for the call.) He was elated! I asked the doctor to not tell a soul. Mrs. A will be very fragile about the whole situation. Doctor Smithers knows of her troubles and agreed. I have to figure how to tell Mrs. A. Do I tell Mr. A first? Do I tell her with Ev and Charlotte with me? Walter said to just tell her. Worst case, he said he’d send me a plane ticket to go home. I’m so tempted. I told Mother what was going on, and she asked if I would stay until the end of May to fulfill my obligation. She and Dad were very happy about the baby. Honestly, I’m so focused on my husband and baby, I can’t worry about Mrs. A’s sadness. I’m going to be a mother!
March 27, 1952
I told Mr. Andrews about my baby when Helen was in the house napping. I assured him I understood the sensitive situation. He was thrilled and hugged me. He suggested dinner tomorrow at TH to tell Helen. He said if she gets too upset, he’ll haul her to CH to calm down. He also said if things got too treacherous, he’d pay to send me home. What a wonderful man.
March 28, 1952
I returned from picking up groceries to find Mrs. A left to go to lunch with friends. While I waited for the washing machine to finish its cycle, I went to my room to do my favorite thing, count the money I’ve earned. When I opened the small box hidden in my underwear drawer, my money was missing. All of it. I frantically looked everywhere, but there’s nowhere else it could be. I was so shocked and horrified I threw up. No one has been in this house except Helen and me. $872. Gone. I know she took it. I was so mad, I made a long distance call to Walter, which is a big no-no. He said he’d wire money and to let it go. Then he said to be careful, it’s obvious Helen is in a mental spiral.
I shared news of my pregnancy at dinner. I also suggested Helen check her valuables, as my money had gone missing. She stood, stomped to her bedroom, and slammed the door. Mr. Andrews smiled and said, “That went better than I thought it would.” He told me he’d reimburse the money. I thanked him. He suggested after I cleaned up dinner I should retreat to my room. I’m to call him if a problem arises. Again, I’m not sorry for being married or pregnant. Even Miserable Helen can’t squash my happiness.
April 24, 1952
My belly is starting to swell. I feel terrific, other than Mrs. A has gone on a complete rampage to ruin me. I don’t care much. I like the people here, especially Ev, Charlotte, and Ethel, but I won’t live in Genesee after May 30th. Mother and Dad sent my plane ticket and discussed my departure with Helen. Ev will take me to the airport on the 30th. Walter wired me money, and Mr. Andrews said he’d settle up with me when I leave. He’s trying to spend more time with Helen to keep me from being her target, but it’s spring planting. He’s busy. Helen barely speaks to me and glares at me and my belly. I do my work and say nothing.
May 7, 1952
Ev told me Helen”s gossiping my baby is Mr. Andrew’s. How dare she! I’m married! Mr. Andrews approached me yesterday, apologized, said he’d spoken with Helen about the gossip, and told me to hold on, only thirteen days until I leave. It’s stressful, but when I go to bed at night and am still, the baby kicks at me. It feels wonderful and weird. My future is in those kicks.
May 13, 1952
I’ve spent the last hour in the hallway closet, yelling for Mrs. A to unlock the door. The stupid lock is still messed up from when the house was moved. We need to remove it. I guess Mr. A’s mom put it on the outside of the door up high so he would stay out of the closet when he was a toddler. The more I yell, the more I hear Helen laugh a sick, deranged cackle. She’s going off the deep end. Thank goodness I keep my journal and a pencil handy in my apron pocket so I can write while I wait for her to stop playing games. I yell out every so often, including that I will relieve myself on the floor if she doesn’t let me out. Finally, the lock clicked, and I heard the front door slam before I could even open the closet door. I didn’t see her until dinner.
May 29, 1952
After all the unpleasantness Helen has caused me, I’m ready to leave. Genesee’s a wonderful town, but I’m relieved to go home to my husband tomorrow. I told Ev she was welcome in Minneapolis any time, but I’d never venture near this town again as long as Helen lived here. In the morning, I’ll fix Helen breakfast and clean up, then skip my big belly to Ev’s car when she arrives to pick me up to go to the airport. Walter will be waiting for me when I land. I’m finally going to live as Mrs. Walter Drake, soon-to-be-mother, and eventual journalist. My blessings are abundant.
May 30, 1952
She did it again. I’m sitting here in the closet waiting for her to unlock the door. When I came in here to get flour for the pancakes she requested, she rushed behind me and slammed the door. I heard the lock click and then her sick laugh. She yelled, “Oh, I’m sorry, did you get trapped again by that pesky lock? Hope you get out before you have to leave.”
I yelled back, “Unlock the door, Helen!”
At least I had the sense to tell Ev to come into the house and get me if I didn’t come racing out when she arrived to pick me up. I’d told her previously about getting locked in the closet, and she assured me she’d get me to the airport on time even if she had to slap Mrs. A to do it. Wouldn’t that be a sight?!
It’s been an hour. I hear Helen getting ready in the bathroom. Now I hear her high heels clicking on the wood floor. I yelled for her to please let me out, but she isn’t coming. I hear her banging around in the kitchen. She’s doing something at the stove. Now I hear popping and crackling. Now I hear the front door slam.
I think she left! I yelled for her, and there was no reply. The popping and crackling are getting louder, and I swear I smell smoke. This realization sends me to sheer panic.
It’s FIRE. Please, let Ev come now to get me and save me!
I shoved the sack of flour to cover the door crack, hoping it’ll help. It’s not working. Smoke’s seeping in.
The smoke is making it hard to breathe. I couldn’t get the door to give an inch. I threw everything at it, including me. It won’t budge. My heart is beating so fast; I feel faint.
On floor to escape smoke. Still snaking in under door. Helen locked me in and left. Terrified. Scared. Angry. Praying. So much praying. Please, Ev, someone, anyone come soon.
Choking. Coughing. Walter, we never got to start our life together. I’m so sorry I didn’t leave sooner.I don’t want this, Walter. I’m scared. I love you.
Mom, Dad, I love you. Forgive Helen.
Shoving journal behind lath on back wall. Praying someone finds me or my journal to know what really happened today, the day my baby and I died.
* * *
Both Kit and Tom sat with silent tears trickling down their cheeks, feeling the impact of Rose’s entire story. Their precious ghost, Rose, and her baby were murdered, and Kit and Tom were the only two people who knew it and that Helen did it.
“Tom,” Kit whispered. “This is why this house—Rose—spoke to us. This.” She tapped the journal’s cover.
She jumped up and stepped into the closet. “I hear you, dear Rose. Mrs. Andrews stole your voice, but now I will give it back. I will tell your story.”
* * *
For two weeks, Kit slaved and toiled, tinkered and crafted Rose’s story. Her editor raved and immediately approved it for her nationally syndicated column. Julian and Helen, Walter, Rose’s parents, everyone had long since passed. But now, thousands of people would read about Rose. No longer silenced in the closet, Rose and her baby would receive their justice. Sixty years late.
Kit arrived home, exhausted but triumphant. She poured a scotch on the rocks in honor of Rose. She settled onto the hallway closet floor, light off, doorway only open enough for a crack of light to peek through.
“Cheers to you, Rose.” She took a sip of her drink. The burn of the golden liquor went down her throat the same time a tear slipped down her cheek. “Thousands of people will read about you. I shared everything you shared in your journal. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for choosing me and nudging me along. I promise Tom and I will create countless happy memories here in your honor.”
The familiar faint breeze with a chill kissed Kit’s cheeks, and the smoky smell she’d grown fond of lingered in her nostrils. Then, suddenly, both were gone.
Kit never smelled the smoke or felt the soft, breezy tickle after that day. Rose and her baby were finally free.
This fictional story was inspired by true events.