The whistle of the tea kettle over the open flame on the stove filled the air. That whistle only meant two things. The first thing it meant was the water for my tea and oatmeal was ready. The second thing it meant was that the walking would begin in the apartment upstairs. That was the signal.
I quietly walked into the kitchen and took the hot whistling kettle off of the stove and poured the hot water in my flowered “Too Damn Hot” mug my sister gave me for Christmas and then pushed my bowl of instant oats towards the kettle and poured some hot water in the bowl. I reached for the sugar bowl and decided that I didn’t need it. I was trying to be on a low sugar diet. My sister sarcastically wished me luck. She knew that it would not last long and so did I. But, this morning I was determined not to add my usual two spoons of sugar in anything. I sat down at the green card table which doubled as a kitchen table and pulled out one of the matching chairs and sat down. I always liked the color green and since when I moved here I was too broke to buy a proper kitchen table my little card table had to do. I sipped my green tea and I waited. I knew that it would not be long now.
I listened for the footsteps on the ceiling. I didn’t have to listen for long. They came at the exact same time they come every morning, a quarter after eight exactly. The footsteps would match mine in the kitchen. The kitchen in the upstairs apartment was directly over mine. I would hear bare feet on the floor and the sound of a chair sliding across the linolen tiles. I knew that whomever was up there was doing the same thing I was doing. Well, almost the same thing.
I never met the person who lived in the apartment above, Apartment 2B. I heard from the neighbors in the building that nobody had seen the person either but they had heard that it was a woman who lived there. The name on the mailbox said, Mrs. Willis. Her mailbox was one over from mine at the bottom of the stairs. Her mailbox was always empty. I had imagined that she was an older woman with brick red hair that hung past the small of her back. She was short and she had large green eyes and never smiled or said a word to anyone. That was one way I had imagined her. The other way I had imagined her was she had short blonde hair which was always curled and never a hair out of place. She had a pale complexion and wore bright red lipstick. She had curves and liked to show them off. She could star in an old movie as the vamp. I always thought that she would be beautiful both in appearance and spirit. And of course she liked to walk
I laughed at the thought and moved from the kitchen table. The footsteps moved with me. I walked into my bedroom and so did the footsteps above. I pulled a pair of black slacks from my closet and a white blouse and closed the closet door. The closet door above me closed too. I glanced up at the ceiling and laughed. I was almost expecting to hear a laugh from above but all was silent for now.
I got home from work at my usual time and closed and locked the front door.
“Hello, Georgie.” I greeted my black and white cat. “Mommy’s home.” I said as I reached down to rub her soft fur.
Georgie purred and walked into the kitchen. She knew that it was dinner time for her. I followed her, tossing my jacket on the couch and opened a can of cat food. Georgie gobbled it down in what seemed like one bite. I laughed at my plump cat and walked into the bedroom.
I walked into the bedroom. It was time to settle down for the night with a hot cup of tea , a good dinner and a good movie.
The footsteps had begun over my head before the movie was done. It sounded like Mrs. Willis was in her bedroom. I heard her closet door close when I closed mine. I put on a pair of yoga pants and a long tee shirt and grabbed my fuzzy green slippers. I wondered if Mrs. Willis had some fuzzy green slippers too.
The footsteps followed me to the kitchen and didn’t not leave the kitchen until I did. I put an old fashioned meatloaf like mom used to make, according to the words on the package of the frozen TV dinner and set the microwave to ten minutes. I turned on the TV while I waited and I heard the TV upstairs turn on too. The bell on the microwave summoned me back into the kitchen and Mrs. Willis went back into the kitchen too. I wondered if she had a TV dinner cooking too. I wondered a lot about Mrs. Willis, especially since Mrs. Florence in the next building had passed away a month ago. Mrs. Florence lived to be 99 and was probably in better shape than me. I will miss her smile, and her sweet personality. I will even miss her double chocolate chip cookies she used to bake at Christmas. The smells would start to come out of her kitchen and fill the air of my kitchen starting the first week in December. I couldn’t wait for her to bring me some in a red and green Christmas tin wrapped with a big red bow. In return I would give her a loaf of homemade banana bread.
The movie went off around midnight. I turned off my TV and walked back to my bedroom. Mrs. Willis followed me. My kitty was already lying across my white comforter and lazily lifted her tail and head. She could care less that I had to move her out of the way to get in bed. I moved her slowly over to the other side and turned off the light. The next morning I waited. I knew that I would be followed to the kitchen as usual. I was not disappointed. A few minutes after I got into the kitchen and put the kettle on for my tea I heard the familiar footsteps of Mrs. Willis walking.
The walking continued for months until Thanksgiving. I didn’t hear anything that day or the next day. The days turned into weeks and pretty soon it was Christmas and I had realized that I had heard nothing for over a month. I wondered if Mrs. Willis was still there. I had to find out. Although I hadn’t met her I thought it was time that I did. I grabbed one of my homemade bread loaves from the fridge and a few apples and pears from the fruit bowl and placed them in a small basket. I was finally going to meet Mrs. Willis in person.
I gathered up the homemade gift basket and walked over to Mrs. Willis' apartment. I stood by the door and was getting ready to knock when she heard a voice coming from behind me.
“Miss, if you are looking for someone in that apartment you won’t find anyone.” The voice of an older man said.
“Huh? I’m looking for the woman who lives here.” I said, trying not to sound or look nervous.
“That’s what I am trying to tell you. There’s nobody in that apartment.” The older man said,
I turned to look at him in disbelief. He was an older man, probably in his 70’s and he reminded me a little bit of my uncle. His gray hair was tied back in a ponytail and he was dressed in a yellow pull over weather and brown pants.
“Someone has to live here.” I said, putting the gift basket down by my feet.
“Nope Miss. I have been living two doors from this apartment for ten years and believe me if anyone lived there I would know. The last person who lived there moved out twenty years ago so I am told. “ The man said.
“Are you sure?” I said,
“I sure am. You don’t know about that apartment?” He asked.
“No, what about it? My name of Thema by the way.” I said,
“Well, back about twenty years or so the rumor is that someone passed away in that apartment. It was of natural causes so they say. They didn’t find any signs of foul play and the lady had a lot of medical problems and the neighbor, Linda something, I can’t remember her full name but anyway she hadn’t seen the lady for four days and she called the cops to do a welfare check. When the cops and fire department got there they found her on the living room floor dead. She was surrounded by beer cans and an open wine bottle was found on the counter in the kitchen. So, I guess the alcohol didn’t exactly help her much. She lived alone and the only other relative she had still living was a sister. But, she didn’t get along with her sister and she only came to visit her once in the ten or so years she lived there.” The man said.
“No, that can’t be. I hear footsteps every day. I live in the apartment below.”
“Well, Thema, I don’t know what you are hearing but nobody lives there. But, maybe the rumors of the apartment being haunted are true. Everyone who has lived there since she died has seen something or heard things. Some say it sounded like footsteps. They said they heard footsteps early in the morning but of course nobody was there. Word got around that the apartment was haunted and it’s been empty ever since. Nobody wants to rent a haunted apartment. Not around here anyway. “
“What is the woman’s name who lived there and died there?” I asked.
“Her name was Thema Willis.” The old man said.
“What? Thema? That’s my name. Are you sure?” I said, trying to hide the shock I felt.
“Yes, I am sure. That’s her name alright. I remember it because it is somewhat of an old name and you don’t hear about too many Thema’s these days. Everyone names their kids something you can’t pronounce or after a fruit or something. Back in my day kids had simple names like John and Mary. Know what I mean? Oh, by the way, my name is also John.” The man said.
“So, John, how do you know so much about Thema?” I asked, trying not to look totally freaked out about what she was feeling. The pit in her stomach which started out small now felt like it was the size of a watermelon.
“I hear stuff. People around here like to gossip. So, all I can say is that maybe you are hearing the footsteps of the ghost who has your name. I don’t know what else it could be, right?” John asked.
“I need to get into that apartment.” I said.
“Well, I don’t know why you would want to go in there. Most people don’t and won't and stay far away from this apartment. It took a long time before anyone would rent the apartment next door.” John said.
“I’m not scared. I just need to get inside that apartment. Can you help me with that?” I asked.
“I can help you if you are sure that is what you want to do. I have a set of keys to that apartment. A few years ago I did the maintenance in the building until I retired and the owner, Mrs. Kelley told me to keep the keys to that apartment because it was haunted and nobody was going to ever rent it. I keep them hanging by the front door at my place. Hold on, I will get them for you.” John said.
A few minutes later John returned with the keys and jiggled them in his right hand. He extended his arm in Thema’s direction and she took the keys from his hand.
“Are you really sure you want to go in there? “ John asked again.
“Yes, I am sure.”
I turned the key in the lock and unlocked the door. She took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold into the apartment. She turned and looked at John who was standing on the other side of the door and he nodded.
“Is the electricity still on?” I asked John.
“As far as I know it still is. Do you want me to come in there with you?” John asked.
“No, I think I will be fine.”
I switched on the light switch near the door. The room lit up. The living room was totally empty but it smelled like a combination of beer and perfume. I thought that was odd. I moved from one room to the next and the smell followed me. I ended up in the bedroom and she stood in the place where the bed probably was at some point. I felt a chill come over my entire body. A few seconds later I heard footsteps in the kitchen. I took a long deep breath and walked towards the kitchen. The footsteps got louder the closer as I got to the kitchen. I saw something or someone in the kitchen standing near the stove. It was a dark shadow although I couldn't make out any facial features I knew instantly that it was Mrs. Willis. Suddenly, I felt a warmth go through her body and I knew what I had to do.
“Hello, Mrs. Willis. I believe that you know me already. I came to tell you that it is okay. You can leave now. You can rest easy now. I know that you were waiting for me and I am here now. I promise you that this Thema will watch over things for you. You can be at peace now.” I said.
The shadow disappeared and a calm feeling came over her. I knew that I would never hear the footsteps again. I left the apartment and gently and slowly closed the door.
“Are you good?” John asked.
“I am more than good. Thank you so much. I don’t think that you will have any trouble renting that apartment anymore. Thema’s spirit is at rest now. She’s finally at peace.” I said.
John reached down and picked up his three year old grandson and held him in his arms. He introduced the young boy as Alex. Alex lived with him and his wife and he wanted to visit the ice cream truck. They walked to the truck and I walked with them.