At the end of my street is a house with wooden walls charred black. Mrs Jones lives there still, even after the fire. I thought she was a witch when I was a kid. We all did. Dare you to touch her front door, we'd say, and someone would sprint up and touch it and run back to safety. Without fail, Mrs Jones would always appear at the window when this happened. We'd all get chills, and run off whooping into the gathering evening gloom until next time.
When I got older, I realised Mrs Jones was nothing special, just a kind lady who went grocery shopping once a week, went to church every Sunday, and had a kind word in return if you wished her good day. One day I watched a group of kids daring each other to touch the front door of her house, and the next day I saw her in the shop. I asked her, how do you always know when someone has touched your front door? Are kids too noisy? Is it a creaky porch floorboard? Mrs Jones just smiled and made a general comment about the exuberance of youth and their shenanigans.
The fire happened in the middle of the night. I woke up to the sound of sirens and ran out to the street to see. I saw the whole house ablaze, with Mrs Jones out the front watching and firemen pointing sprays of water at the house. She said to me at church that she had been inside the house with fire blazing and had come out the front door just as her neighbour was about to come in to find her. The neighbour had smelt the smoke and had already called the fire department before she could, she said. Mrs Jones said she was glad she had attentive neighbours who cared. The church ran a donation drive to help her and the pastor's wife offered their spare bedroom for her to stay in, but Mrs Jones declined, saying that the house had held together enough even after the fire and she would continue to live there.
I asked about Mr Jones one day and what happened to him. I asked her if that's why she always wore black. She got a far off look for a moment. She said, I will always stay in this house, and I always remember him. I asked her, why live in your house even after the fire? and she replied, noone else will, then she changed the topic.
Last week I dreamt the black house was breathing. I dreamt it was alive and angry. I dreamt that it wanted to reach out and take the children that touched its door, but Mrs Jones wouldn't let it. In my dream, the fire happened again but the house never stopped breathing. Then Mrs Jones appeared and I stopped dreaming about the house.
I told Mrs Jones about my dream at church this morning. Her mouth smiled and her eyes got sad. She said, it's funny what dreams tell us about life. She looked like she was about to say more, but the pastor started his service then, and the subject was lost.