Very few people really knew where Mr. Mungeon lived. It wasn’t like it was a secret. It was just that his house wasn’t easy to get to.
You could drive to the address, that was easy enough. 216 W. Church St. was right in the middle of town, just off the town square. The Presbyterian church, the big one, the first one, made of substantial granite stones, weathered brown with all the years they’d seen, was just across the street. The house just simply wasn’t there, not as far as anyone could see.
Mr. Mungeon had lived there all his life, as had his parents before that, and their parents before that. They had moved to this town as soon as they’d saved up enough money after arriving by ocean liner from Romania. That trip had cost them all they had, scraped together over the years and added to in the last month before they left by selling all their furniture and most of their clothes. Not like they could have taken any of it on the ship. They were lucky they could take as much as they did, as everybody was subject to a weight restriction.
Mama and Papa were sure they could make the grade, but they weren’t sure all of their five children could. Every ounce counted. Once a week they weighed themselves and their belongings, all together, on the scale down at the local hardware store that served the farmers. Every week they had to pare back more, unsure what more they would have to give up the next week. Papa started exercising to lose weight. Mama cut her meals in half to do the same – not like she could afford to, stick thin as she was. After they had sold everything they could, it still was obvious that as a group they were over by 46 pounds. It was decided that the oldest child, their eight-year-old son Bogdam would stay back with his grandparents. There were tears of course, but it was for the best. If it wasn’t him, then two of the younger children would have to stay behind. He promised to be brave, promised to make his parents proud by working hard on the grandparent’s farm, promised to obey them as if they were his own parents. That was many years ago, but the effects of that separation were still felt.
After the family had endured the poking and prodding and paperwork at Ellis Island, along with all the other hundreds of newcomers searching for a new life, they stayed in the cheapest housing they could afford, tucked away in a narrow back alley, a warren of an immigrant neighborhood in New York. Papa Mungeon, Ionut by name, worked hard at the shipyard while his wife Beata took in laundry and watched other people’s children for a few pennies a day. It took them nearly 2 years to save up enough money to relocate.
All during that time they never mentioned Bogdam. It was as if he’d never existed. It was easier that way. In many ways he was dead to them because this trip had been one-way all along. Everyone knew it. “The American wake,” the Irish called it, mourning their living at the docks because they would never see them again. Letters were possible, of course, but they took months to travel across the sea. But it wasn’t as if anyone in the family could write, or read, for that matter. No, this way was for the best. A clean cut heals faster.
The house was perfect for the family when they finally saw it. Ionut had bought it on faith, having heard about it from another immigrant he met in the shipyards. Members of his family had already moved to this town, so far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It took nearly a week of travel by rail to get to it, and after the sleeper cabin, not to mention the nearly 2 years of being packed like sardines on the fifth-floor walk-up apartment they had in New York, almost anything would have been an improvement. But this was palatial to them. Three bedrooms, a living room where they could all sit in chairs and visit at the same time, an actual kitchen, and even a bedroom with a real tub. It was a dream come true. Sure it needed some work. What would you expect for a house for $20,000? But Papa was good with his hands and had learned enough while working at the docks to do most of the work himself. You had to do a little of everything to get by.
The family history was well-known to the current Mr. Mungeon who occupied the house, all except the part about Bogdam. When there are many generations living in the same house year upon year, the history tends to stay intact along with the heirlooms. No need to pack up the fine china by putting plates, saucers and serving trays in a big pieces of brown butcher paper to prep them for a move when you stay put. No need to divide up the bedroom furniture among the grandchildren. No fights over who got the dining room table or the coveted rocking chair that Grandpa carved. It never left – any of it. They never had to buy housewarming gifts, never had to have going away parties. They never had to fool with undertakers or coffins either, because they created a cemetery in the backyard.
At every funeral they opened with a recitation of all the previously deceased members of the family, and that was when the problem started. Everything was fine until Bogdam died. Since they had omitted him for their story, they had no way of knowing their mistake. He died unnoticed, unremarked, all those many miles away in Romania. He was living alone by then, the grandparents having died years before. He kept up with the farm, same as he’d done since he moved there. Nobody in the village knew how to contact his family in America when someone finally went to check on him nearly a week later, so they buried him without any ceremony and went on with their lives.
The first funeral in the family in America after his death, there was a pause in the air, heavy and expectant, after they read the customary list of names. It was the same kind of pause a parent imposes while waiting for their child to say “thank you” after someone has bestowed a kindness upon them. Everyone felt it, but no one thought twice about it.
Until it happened again, eight years later.
Then, when Papa Ionut died, it was more present, more dense, as if silence can have presence, as if silence can take up space. It was as if there was someone else in the backyard with them, someone they had forgotten to invite.
Every year after that the presence grew heavier, denser, taking up space in an invisible yet present way. Every year it sought to make itself noticed and known to them. It focused on the bricks of the house itself. One by one it made them disappear to the eye. They were still present, still a part of the building. One by one they just weren’t there, but yet they were.
The spirit of Bogdam hoped that they would come to question it, wonder about this happening, wonder how something could be there and yet not be there at the same time. It hoped they would see it as a sign, or maybe an omen. What else was missing? What had they forgotten? Who was absent in their hearts? Secrets cannot stay that way for long. The burden is too great. They spring forth like jonquils, pushed up out of the ground all of a sudden one spring morning.
Yet they never noticed. The secret had been unspoken for so long it had stopped being a secret, had stopped being real to them. The memory of Bogdam had not been suppressed, so much as erased. It wasn’t even like a palimpsest – there was no trace of the former message. It wasn’t as if the page had been pulled out of the family records book. It was as if they had created a whole new book from scratch.
Over the years, the house had simply faded from sight. It wasn’t as if the walls were see-through, though. Anyone who went inside vanished from view as well. There was no trace of furniture at all. It was all there. It was simply that the house and anything inside it was not visible from the outside.
Because it happened so slowly, the family did not realize it had occurred. They rarely invited people over, so friends never mentioned anything was off about the family homestead. Because the furniture was still visible once the family members got inside, they never even suspected anything was wrong. It was as if their minds simply expected to see a house, so they did.
The mailbox and front steps near the street were still quite visible, so they still got mail. The postman had gotten used to it the same as they had, and since there was little turnover and nobody else ever bid on that route, the same postman served that street for nearly 25 years, the time it took for the house to fade from sight. By the time he retired, his son had taken over the route and he knew better than to question. Nobody bothered him at the house. Not children, not dogs. The mail was collected daily – it was never left to the vagaries of the weather. Who was he to question? They never seemed to order any parcels that needed to be signed for, so he never had to negotiate that potentially awkward situation. If he had, he would have discovered the house was just as real as it had always been. It was just as solid, just as present as ever. Just like Bogdam, who was still part of the family even though he was out of sight (and out of mind).