She could swear the old house breathed at night. That the walls spoke.
It was the age of things, she thought.
She’d ask, but the next door neighbors gave off a distinct air of distance and her mother was too occupied with damp ceilings, leaky pipes, and bone-dry bank account. There were questions one did not bring up unless adults were in the right mindset, which was rare enough during calm times, let alone through times of grown-up strife.
So Sally kept her own counsel on the matter of whispers between bricks and words in languages that sounded just a step to the side of comprehensible. It had scared her at first to hear them, but when she set her heart to listen she came to realize that there was no malice in the voices. Or none that raised the hair on the back of her neck, which had to be good enough.
After some time, Sally thought of them as friends.
She had few besides.
A moldy suitcase in the attic spoke of travel and held the faint smells of smoke and grime and sweat. There were some clothes still in it: Petticoats holey with moth and yellowed with time; a faded dress that might have been dark blue or purple at the time; a pair of shoes with buttons, the leather wrinkled like the face of Grandam in her casket; some papers in ink-spotted writing that mice or something else gnawed on; a locket.
She fretted about the latter. She wanted to open it. She shuddered at the thought. She dared herself to do so. Hefted it. Stared at the latch. Could not bring herself to undo it. This felt more personal than the split drawers in the suitcase, with the faint brownish stains on them.
She left the locket closed. But she did find herself drawn to hold it. Dreamed of wearing it. Of the dark blue dress. Of bonnets and petticoats.
One morning, when no other dreams found space and her nights became filled with whispers, she decided to wear the locket on her necklace. The small, intricately carved metal heart felt cool against her chest. She hid it underneath her shirt.
Sally could hear her mother arguing on the phone with yet another contractor, voice shrill as she tried but could not quite keep desperate frustration out of her voice. Sally tiptoed down from the attic to the landing and slipped quietly out of the house to sit upon the stoop. The damp chilled her bottom, seeping through the fabric of her pants. She shuddered.
And it was no longer pants she wore, but skirts, dark blue, cascading around her knees and covering the indentation in the steps. Ancient, those.
The door of the adjoining house opened, and a butler poked his head, complete with white gloves and pocket watch.
“Good Morning, Miss Grenadine,” he bowed slightly in her direction.
She smiled, entranced by how neither her lips nor her eyes were her own.
“It will be a sunny one, once the mist burns off,” he said.
She nodded and plucked a petal off of her skirts. She did not quite trust her voice.
The butler bent to pick a newspaper off the stoop, tipped his head in her direction, and closed the door.
Her hand reached for the locket, which was hanging over ruffles and a row of tiny buttons. It felt warm.
“The longer you sit the further you will travel.”
She turned her head to the sound but saw no one. A crow perched on a stone across the next door’s stoop, beady eyes regarding her with something between expectation and reproach.
The bird did not open its beak but the words unfurled clearly in her mind. “Some things are better left unopened.”
The crow nodded, reading her mind. “But that does not mean keeping your eyes shut.”
She did not understand.
“Listen. Watch. Observe. Live on.”
Riddles. Crows were known for riddles. She shook her head and looked down at her knees to see a woolen skirt, knit stockings, an apron. Her arms in sleeves.
“Visit the past, but don’t forget to leave your own steps on the stairs,” the winged messenger noted, bobbed its head. Flew on.
“Sally?” Her mother’s voice sliced through the air.
The crow was gone. Her legs in sneakers on the step. The stairs the same.
She rose and eyed the door, the bowed indentation in the stones that led to it. Walked down to the pavement, turned, and pressed her feet into the tread.
She climbed. Making a path for someone from another time.