The brown house was in a section of Atlanta that wasn’t bad, wasn’t great. Not normally anywhere we’d planned to visit on this vacation. After this we were going back into the city for dinner at a very nice restaurant, but for now, we had an errand to fulfill. Nitram pulled into the drive around the back of the house and parked the truck. We got out and stood there. No signs of life from the house.
“Are you sure we’re just supposed to go in?” Nitram asked.
“Yeah, they said she’s not always with it, so someone has to check on her.”
We went up onto the side porch and Nitram knocked on the screen door. Nothing. I opened it to knock loudly on the wooden door, which swung open slightly. We looked at each other.
“Hello? Hello…? Anyone home?”
We went into the kitchen, still calling out. Everything was cluttered and dusty, like old people’s houses can sometimes get when they’re no longer able to take care of things like they used to. And it was something of a time capsule: the kitchen table and chairs were from the ’50s — the telephone too, with its cloth cord — and the appliances dated at least that far back if not older.
“Well, I don’t know… maybe she went out?”
“I think we should look around. They said she doesn’t really get out much.”
Nitram headed toward the living room and I opened a door leading to the bathroom. The clawfoot tub was nearly filled with water and the old woman was lying at the bottom in her housedress, the shower curtain and most of the old metal curtain holder pulled down into the water over her. From the condition of the body it was obvious she’d been in there for some time. Her open eyes were wide and lifeless, yet she looked very angry, as if she had struggled greatly and lost. I thought: Murder — who takes a shower in a housedress? and began to hyperventilate. I staggered out of the bathroom and met Nitram in the kitchen and said something — I don’t know what — that conveyed to him what was wrong. His eyes were huge as he glanced into the bathroom.
I used the old phone to call 911. Instead of an operator, I heard a recorded announcement: “Thank you for calling 911. Please be patient and remain on the line. Your current wait time is approximately ten minutes.” I held the phone away from my face and looked at the receiver as if it was a thing I’d never seen before. I could feel that my eyes were as huge as Nitram’s, and I was still breathing oddly as I said to him, “They want us to wait… it’s a recording…” and then we heard the sounds from the bathroom.
It was a slight splashing of water, an almost quiet scraping of metal against porcelain. We turned to look back into the bathroom and a burp of fetid air escaped the small room as the shower curtain bulged upwards and the old woman’s hand reached up to clutch at the side of the tub. The effort made two fingernails slide off of her waterlogged skin.
I yelled, “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” and we were running. I don’t even recall getting through the door, just seeing the truck and sprinting for it. We leaped in and Nitram locked the doors and backed out of the drive so fast that gravel sprayed the side of the house. We hit the street way past the legal speed limit and kept going.
The cell phone was in my hand and I was dialing 911 again, or trying to: still too terrified to breathe right, I was shaking and realized I was dialing our Connecticut area code instead of the emergency number. I finally got it right and this time, there was no recording, only silence. With the phone still by my ear I said to Nitram, “There’s nothing this time. What is up with this town?” and a woman’s voice came on the line: “Now, you listen, honey — ain’t nothin’ wrong with this town. You don’t go tellin’ anybody different. Don’t need no high school girl tellin’ tales.” She had a sweet Georgia accent but sounded disturbingly scary underneath it.
I tried to reply to her but could only gasp a few times at first. My words came out in breathy bursts as I struggled for enough air to speak. “I… am… not in high school. I… am… a fifty-two-year-old woman… and I… need… to report… a murder.”
The operator’s voice came back sounding even more annoyed and scary. “Well, honey, don’t blame me if you sound like a child on the phone. No, there’s nothin’ to be done, hear? You and your man just keep on drivin’….” I realized her voice was that of the old woman in the tub and I dropped the phone and turned toward Nitram. He bent over me and shook me gently. “Time to wake up, Honey. C’mon, wake up.”
“Aag! Bad dream!”
“You had a bad dream?”
“Bad dream!” I reached for him and he hugged me. “Need tea!”
“I’ll go make you some tea.” He got up.
“Don’t leave! Want tea!” He hugged me again and went to make the tea. I got up and went into the bathroom, still mostly asleep. Halfway through peeing I realized I was only this far from the tub and I nearly jumped off the toilet: “Shower!” I just about ran out of the bathroom.
This is part of why I hate taking naps, and only do so when I’m so tired I’m loopy with it. I almost always have bizarre dreams. I went downstairs and told Nitram the dream while we waited for the tea water to boil, but first I hugged him and said, “You shouldn’t have left me alone!”
“But you wanted tea pretty badly.”
“You left me in there.”
“Well, I’m here now,” and we stood there hugging and I finally felt safe.