Matron Of Melancholia

There is a house across the front field. A soldier and his family live there with dogs who almost never come outside. It is very rare that I see them, Black Dog and Wiener. When they do come out they are never alone. The dogs are always guarded by the humans. Watched every moment. Taken back inside promptly.

The soldier’s wife came outside often when they first arrived in the village. She would bring a beverage and sometimes a book and sit on the porch at length. Sometimes she would bring out projects to be painted or she would plant things to tend. Occasionally she would host a market of her projects and treasures. Villagers would come to buy or trade.

She stopped coming out so often, gradually less and less. No more painting or reading on the porch. No market days. I hardly ever see her now. Like the dogs, she is a rare sight and only a brief one. When I do see her I can feel the sadness in her body from across the field. I see the movement of her body heavy with defeat. I used to be able to hear her voice but there is no power left it. It no longer carries across the field. Only the low hum of her sadness.

There were two boys also living there for a time; the soldier’s sons. The older boy left one summer and never came back. One of the villagers told me he’d gone to college but he never visits, so he must be gone to more than college. The remaining boy never smiles or laughs or plays with chums anymore. He walks up the road and returns from time to time, always silent and sullen. Once I saw his mouth move to his mother on the porch. Her mouth moved in response. His shoulders dropped and he shook his head, retreating back inside the house. She followed behind him promptly.

The soldier is gone for long stretches of time. During those stretches it would be easy to believe no one lives in his house. The family once spent so much time outside on the porch and playing or puttering in the field that I once mused they were outside more than in. I joked they could have rented just the field since they so rarely occupied the house. Something happened to change it — reverse it, really. The soldier’s wife faded first, then the boys, then the dogs, and now only the soldier sits outside whenever he is home, spitting into the stagnant stillness.

Everyone in the family looks bloated and cranky. Everyone glowers now. No laughter. No recreation. Even the dogs appear downtrodden. I’ve been calling it Depression House. To myself, of course. But now I think maybe they are being haunted. I’ve had early morning encounters with an old woman in their field. I can’t be sure if she is real or not, though she looks real enough. She doesn’t speak; just stares at me. Maybe she is what happened. Maybe she is why the older boy never comes home anymore.

In the summer I rise early to tend the front field. The sun is intense as it pours into the valley so I try to toil in the shade until it breaks over the eastern hilltops. One morning as I worked in the field I felt someone watching me. I turned toward Depression House and saw an old woman in an old-fashioned flowered housecoat staring at me. Black Dog was near her. She wore old-fashioned slippers as well. I smiled and waved. She simply continued to stare so I went on with my work. Eventually she and Black Dog drifted into Depression House without a sound.

A few days later it happened again. She watched me intently as I worked. No smile, no acknowledgment, so I didn’t bother with a greeting. I looked back at her for a few seconds to communicate my awareness of her and then went about my business. The second time she was accompanied by Weiner Dog rather than Black Dog. Neither of them made a sound as they eventually turned and went back inside Depression House. Since then I’ve never seen her outside at any other time of day.

I don’t remember her joining the family or moving in. I’ve never seen her coming or going with the family or even alone, other than mornings in the field. It’s as if she just suddenly appeared. If she’s real, she must be the source or cause of the communal depression of the household. If she’s not real, must still be the source or cause of the depression. I’m speculating. Maybe the depression came and then she followed, attracted by it. She and the depression seem connected. She’s haunting the family either way. And you’re right, of course; it is none of my business.

Except appearing before me to stare me down is my business, though I largely ignored it once I reckoned staring was all she intended to do. If she’s real, I’m sad for the family, because she must a matriarchal relative making them sad. If she’s not real (a live human, I mean), I’m fascinated by why she would want to depress that poor family, and why she bothered making herself known to me (visibly, at least). Unless she can’t help it that I can see her and realizing I can see her, she wanted to know my intentions.

The vibe from her was unfriendly both times, so perhaps the unspoken message was You stay on your side of road and I’ll stay on mine (or this one). This is generally my policy anyway unless someone is hurt or extends an invitation. The inhabitants of Depression House don’t seem inclined to do any entertaining right now, so unless there is an emergency of some kind I anticipate no encroachment on my part. Madame Lovie Housecoat need not be worried. My neighbors and I do not have a relationship conducive to marching over there to tell them I suspect a grandmotherly ghost is depressing them but only I can see her.

But still, to satisfy my curiosity I’d like to know if she’s real or not. And I do wish those dogs got more exercise. But the rest really is none of my business. Unless the rules are different between spirit folk and it is incumbent upon me to help humans in need of relief from a mean/oppressive folkster. I don’t know. Is there a code somewhere? Where would one extend her learning in this field? Are the butt in/butt out rules the same across human and spirit lines? Even if I was up for it I confess I feel under-prepared for a rumble with a geriatric ghost/witch who can command hounds without speech and slothifies whole families.

The simplest answer is usually the correct one, which means she is likely a flesh and blood relative and everyone is depressed because she moved in and the older boy doesn’t come because she’s living in his room. If so, that would make this post so rude of me. But my instincts say otherwise. I think she’s a real something and intentionally or not she’s making that family sad and seven-deadly. But what to do about it? I haven’t decided. For now, nothing until I do decide.

However, if this story develops further I thought it would be a good idea to frame the future reference.

I’ll keep you posted.

— Mercy

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