The first thing they tell you about living in a haunted house is that you will need salt. Little crystal shakers. Big blue boxes with yellow umbrella girls on the side. The collection of glass worn smooth and salty to the taste even decades after you collected them with grubby fingers.
They told you salt was the trick. So you lined the sills with blues and greens and browns. Dusted the lintel, the baseboards, made a rectangle of umbrella girl salt around your bed. Tucked yourself in. Covered your face. Prayed.
The trouble with salt is that it spreads. Gets between your toes and crusts your eyes. It lives in your blood and tears and snot. You scream at the cat as she bats a chip of blue-green beach glass across the floor. They said you would need salt, but salt is not enough.
The second thing that they tell you about living in a haunted house is that you will need iron. Nails will do. Also the wrench you found in the shed. Rust spotted. You think about tetanus. But the salt didn’t work and you are more concerned about how all your shells and glass bits are gone. How someone swept away all your umbrella girl salt. Tetanus is a small price to pay for safety.
You put the nails in the windows. Driving them home. A lighting crack splits up the bottom pane. The landlady will have to understand that ghosts trump security deposits. It’s a security system of sorts. You take to carrying the wrench tied to a scarf around your waist. It’s not a terribly functional way to carry something so heavy, but the wrench makes you feel safe and safety is key.
You put your wrench under the pillow, but in the morning it was gone. You suspect the cat, but she doesn’t have the strength in her jaws. The dexerity in her paws. She has none of these things. You suspect the landlady. She was less forgiving about the nailed windows. Insists you pay to replace the broken windowpane. Makes lazy circles by her ear. Mutters meshuga. Yes, you are quite sure she has taken your wrench and nails.
The third thing they tell you about living in a haunted house is that you will need chimes. The fourth. Horsehoes. The fifth. Garlic. Except you are allergic to garlic so you keep it on the porch, and give it a wide berth when you go out. You go out seldomly, putting one Chinese slipper in front of the other. Trying to remember what your life was like before you lived here. You are having trouble remembering. The number thirteen is troublesome.
“That one’s bad luck.” The man at the pet store said when you held up the ball of charcoal fluff blinking at you in wonder. You laughed at his superstitions. Called her Lucky. This was before you lived in a haunted house. Lucky is up at all hours. It is a well known fact that animals can see ghosts. You wish she’d be less obvious about it. It keeps you up at night.
The last thing they tell you about living in a haunted house is nothing at all. They have not told you anything in a week now. Perhaps it is the garlic. Perhaps they don’t believe that you are actually allergic. You would show them. Rub it on your skin and present them with the hives as evidence. You do this. The landlady takes you to the urgent care. Meshuga. Meshuga. Meshuga. “Why do you say this word?” I ask her. More circles by her ear. More muttering. But she drives you in her clanking old Buick back to the house. You stay awake all night listening to the wind shift the panes of glass, and howl in the eaves, and give the chimes voice. You wonder if it’s worth it. New place. New life. New everything. You used to have so much hope. You used to laugh. You used to sing happy songs and not nonsense tunes set to the song of dancing chimes.
You haven’t seen Lucky for a week now. She has abandoned you. You don’t know whether to be happy that her black spectre is no longer shadowing your path, or sad that she is not there to warm your pillow at night. The horseshoe falls off the door. Someone has left garlic on the table. You wrap it in a towel and feed it to the garbage disposal. Your chimes have been stolen.
“You are late on the rent.” The landlady says. “Pay up or get out.”
You nod. All your money is gone. That is the curse of this house. It takes all your things. Scatters them to the wind. You pack your bag. Three outfits. That is all that is yours. Lucky never came back.
The thing they never tell you about living in a haunted house is that no one stays for long. Maybe they expect that if you’ve read the stories you know. The house always wins. It takes what it can from you and sets you back on the path toward something else. They don’t tell you that you’ll catch a bus to the next town. Find a job. A husband. A life. That in ten, fifteen, twenty year’s time you will tell your daughter of the six weeks you spent under it’s roof. You will not have the words. There are no words but this. The first thing you will need when living in a haunted house is salt.