Dear Miss Jones,
I am writing you this letter to assuage whatever anxiety recent events in this house may have caused you.
Please allow me to explain:
1. I did not topple that porcelain vase in the foyer that evening. You forgot to close the window before you went up to bed and, consequently, a gust of wind knocked it down and broke it to pieces. I don’t blame you in the least. You looked exhausted when you entered the house that night. Your concert must have really worn you out;
2. I am not responsible for the creaking sounds you hear at night in the corridor. My house, or rather your house – for this dwelling is now legally yours – is, as you are well aware, made almost entirely of hardwood and is extremely old. It contracts and expands according to the weather;
3. The noises you hear at night are not “voices” or “whispers” but are rather the crackling of the leaves in the trees outside, and the sounds you described as “sinister laughter” or “perverse groaning” are in fact the cries of wild beasts that are to be found aplenty in the forest beyond the courtyard;
4. As a rule, I do not play the pianoforte whenever you are around. I always make sure that you are out of the house whenever my mood moves me to play a few sonatas. I am fond of these pieces for they remind me of my childhood and of my dear mother. Perhaps what you hear when you arrive home are the faint echoes of the notes I have generated in the morning. Let me promise you that from now on, I will only limit my time at the pianoforte to half an hour, so that the music will not linger far into the evening;
5. You might have detected the faint scent of flowers and candles in the library. Do not be alarmed by them, my dear madam. My sister, Maria, was fond of collecting roses, lilacs, and lilies when she was still a little girl. She kept them tucked between the pages of her letters and she sealed them with candle wax. You can find them on the top shelf of the bookcase behind my, or rather your, desk. I don’t object to you perusing them – my sister’s letters and collection of flowers, that is; and I don’t think she would mind it either if you will take a look at them – but I don’t think it would be very prudent for you to go up the wooden ladder. In fact, I strongly advise you against it, for the ladder is quite old and might break. I worry for your safety;
6. The sensation that woke you up that particular evening – the feeling of being touched lightly in the cheek – has, alas, a supernatural cause. I am terribly sorry to confirm your suspicions. The truth is, my sister is very fond of you, and despite my explicit warnings never to disturb you or cause you alarm or distress, she still went and sat by your bed. I was in the study when I heard your screams. She’s such a careless and headstrong girl! But let me assure you that she meant you no harm whatsoever. She only wanted to keep you company and comfort you for she said you appeared sad and lonely that night. That does not excuse her, however. She promised me never to do it again;
7. I assure you, madam, that I am fully aware of your right to privacy. I therefore conduct my daily affairs with that in mind. I never ventured, nor do I have any plans of venturing, into your bedroom, bathroom, and powder room. I never trespass into people’s private spaces. It is true that I can pass through walls, but I can’t see through them, so there is no reason to worry. I also keep my distance at all times. I make sure that I am never less than 20 feet away from you at any given moment. Whenever you are in your studio, I stay in the foyer. Whenever you are in the foyer, I stay in the living room. Whenever you are in the living room, I stay in the veranda. Whenever you are in the veranda, I stay in the library. Whenever you are in the library, I go back to the foyer, or else I take a walk in the garden under the moonlight and come back before daybreak;
8. Here, however, I am going to confess to a real sin, madam: the “clapping” sounds which you suspected you heard just the other day in the studio were indeed “clapping” sounds, and the exclamations of “bravo, bravo!” which immediately followed them were indeed exclamations of “bravo, bravo!”. You see, I am a great admirer of your music. I have been admiring you since your first album came out and I have been following your career for the past 14 years. So great was my joy therefore when I found out that my heirs managed to sell the property to Norah Jones herself! I would not have allowed them to sell this house to anyone else. Were you surprised to find your vinyl records in the library when you moved in here? I have managed to obtain copies of your albums from the nearby record stores. It’s a long story. Anyway, your rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” that night was masterful and I couldn’t help but praise you for your performance. It was simply superb! You made the song your very own. You have a way of owning every single song you decide to cover. If I loved your music and talent less, I would have been less effusive in expressing my admiration. In fact, if I had not been bound by all of these restraints, I would have been more vocal in complimenting you. I am more into classical music myself – Wagner, Bach, Mozart, and the like – but ever since you came into this house, I have come to appreciate and even love blues and jazz music. You see, I lived before Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Aretha Franklin were even born, so jazz music was unheard of in my time. I absolutely understand why you “freaked out” (your term) and stormed out of the house when you heard my voice and clapping that night. My deepest and sincerest apologies, madam. I assure you that the next time you decide to sing a song or record a tune, I will keep my mouth closed. Your singing is the one thing I look forward to every single day;
9. And I am going to admit to another thing. I am the reason why your boyfriend, the bass player, left you. I can see through a person’s character, and he clearly was a sleazy kind of individual. I saw that right away when he first set foot in this house. It was too obvious that he was only after your body, not your mind and soul. A real gentleman conducts himself with propriety. It was highly improper of him to hold you the way he did. It was highly imprudent of him to tempt you to kiss him in the drive way and elsewhere in the house. And it was absolutely inappropriate, if not downright immoral, of him to seduce you. Marriage was far from the scoundrel’s mind, and it is my belief that a man and a woman can only rightly consummate their love for each other within the context of the sacrament of matrimony. But let us not speak of love for I saw through his heart and saw that love was not there. He only had an appetite for pleasure. His motives were impure from the beginning. Hence, I drove him away. Just as he was leading you by the hand into his bed chamber, I appeared in front of him as a macabre reflection in the mirror, and I contorted my face in such a way as to give him a very good fright. My imitation of Count Dracula must have been near-perfect for he jumped up right away even before he could unzip his pants. He ran out of the house through the kitchen door and I met him in the driveway. He closed his eyes so he won’t see me. I warned him, in a very ghoulish tone of voice, not to come back here or contact you, or else I will go after him and haunt him wherever he was. My dear madam, I do not at all regret what I did. I believe I saved you from a relationship that would have given you nothing but misery.
Madam, this house won’t be the same without you. The bedrooms, the study, the library, the foyer, the living room, the veranda, the paintings, the china, the furniture, the sculptures, the books, the courtyard, the garden, and every square inch of this mansion are now yours. They now belong to you. They now exist for you. I beg you, kindly reconsider your plan of leaving. I am sure that this is simply a matter of misunderstanding. Forgive me for saying so, but I believe you are being too hasty in wishing to relocate to a new residence, considering that your stay here has not exceeded a month. The house will grieve if you will insist on going away. Maria, too, will grieve. I will grieve. And eternity shall pass us by once again. Eternity is such a long time and I cannot bear to go through it without you.
Diego Lopez del Fuego
Dearest Norah, please forgive me for being too liberal in expressing my feelings, but I have to say that if you go away, I will miss you terribly. I will miss the sound of your smoky, languid voice. I will miss your singing, above all. What will become of this house without your music? I will miss your piano, your Wurlitzer, and your guitar. I will miss your records. And although I can no longer eat food, I will still miss the smell of your cooking. The kitchen has gotten used to the aroma of your unusual recipes. I will miss seeing you brush your long hair in my mother’s dresser. My parent’s portraits that are hanging on the walls always look at you with great admiration and approval. I will miss hearing your steps in the stairs and hallways. There is always a musical quality to the sound of your heels whether you’re walking or running. I will miss your laughter. I will miss your shadow. And I will miss your very presence.
God knows there are still many things I want to say. For instance, the garden will wither away without a lady to look after them, and even if I could take care of them myself, what good will the sight of roses bring me? One eventually tires of looking at roses, whereas no one ever tires of looking at you. I never tired of gazing at you, Norah. Is it too much to ask you to have tea with me? Please let me know. I will be in the library in case you changed your mind.
*An earlier version of this story appeared in this blog several weeks ago.