Dear Miss Jones,
I am writing you this letter to assure you that there is absolutely nothing in this house you should fear.
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 strong gust of wind knocked it down from the table 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. I understand you completely;
2. I am not responsible for the creaking sounds you hear in the corridor at night. 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 those 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 very 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 is such a careless and headstrong girl! But let me assure you that she meant you no harm at all. She only wanted to comfort you and keep you company for, she told me, you appeared sad and lonely that night. However, that does not excuse her. 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 ever since. How long has it been, 14 years? So great was my joy, therefore, when I found out that my heirs managed to sell the property to no less than Norah Jones herself! It was just as it should be for 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 obtained them a few years ago from a nearby record store. I value them like I value my rarest collection of books. 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 sing or cover. If I loved your music and talent any 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 their contemporaries – 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 my 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. I will only admire you in silence. Your singing is the one thing I look forward to hearing every single day;
9. And I am going to admit to another thing. I am the reason why your beau, the bass player, left you. I can see through any 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 your soul. A real gentleman conducts himself with strict propriety. It was thus highly improper of him to visit you even though you do not have a chaperone. And it was highly imprudent, and I daresay quite shocking, of him to tempt you to kiss him in the driveway and elsewhere in the house. Finally, it was absolutely scandalous, 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 really only rightly consummate their love for each other if they do it within the context of the sacrament of matrimony. But let us not speak of love for I penetrated through his heart and did not see love there. I only saw lust and an insatiable appetite for pleasure. His motives were impure from the very 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 impersonation of Count Dracula must have been convincing for he jumped up right away even before he could unzip his pants. He dashed out of the house through the kitchen door so I teleported down the driveway and met him there. He was beside himself with terror. I warned him, in a tone of voice at once ghoulish and sinister, that if he did not want me to haunt him for the rest of his life, he better not return here or make any attempt to reach or contact you. 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. You deserve a better man.
Madam, is it true what I overheard? Do you really wish to resell the house? This news fills me with the profoundest grief. This house won’t be the same without you. The bedrooms, study, library, foyer, living room, drawing room, sitting room, veranda, courtyard, and garden will be haunted by your absence. I beg you, kindly reconsider your plan of leaving. I am sure that this is all just 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 more. 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, but I now have to be liberal in expressing my feelings. I will miss you terribly if you will go away. I will miss the sound of your smoky, languid voice. I will miss your singing. What will become of this house without your music? I will miss your pianoforte, your Wurlitzer, and your guitar. I will miss your jazz 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 parents’ portraits that are hanging on the walls always looked at you with the highest 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 when you walk or when you run. I will miss your laughter. I will miss your shadow. 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 can ever tire of looking at you. I never tired of gazing at you, Norah.
My dear, dear Norah. I am a terrible liar. The truth is, I simply cannot live without you. That may sound strange — me saying that I cannot live if you will go away — considering what I am. But it is true. I cannot live without you. I will literally pass away again, and pass away every day, if you will leave. I am not ashamed to confess that I have been weeping since I heard the news yesterday. Yes, people like me do weep.
Dearest Norah, is there anything I can do to convince you to stay? If you’re not comfortable with 20 feet, I can increase the distance between us to 30 feet. If you’re worried that you might hear my voice again, I can go as far as 50 feet. If you’re totally not comfortable with me looking at you, I can banish myself up the attic and stay there for as long as you want. It will be most painful for me not to see you, but it will bring me consolation to know that we still live under the same roof.
My dearest Norah, are all of the above to your liking? Please let me know soonest. I am most anxious to hear your reply. Is it too much to ask you to dine with me tonight? I won’t be eating, of course, but I would love to prepare for you a modest dinner of paella, filete de cerdo, and escabeche, with a bottle of vino tinto. Maria is excited to play the violin for you.
*An earlier version of this story appeared in this blog several weeks ago.