The 260-year-old Man

The last house on Elm held a special place in the hearts of its Kalb neighbors. In 75 years four families occupied the seven bedroom, three-story frame Queen Anne, and each, in their own way, contributed to late evening and weekend gossip folks told to twiddle away idle hours.

Four families produced two divorces, one a brutal affair; a runaway, an unsolved disappearance of a house guest, two murders, three stabbings during a Christmas Eve party, a backyard drowning, and the last family left behind a bizarre account involving their garage, a chain saw and two missing hands.

Told individually, none of the stories provoked much controversy, unless the story teller knew about how the hands disappeared from the hospital after surgery failed to reattach them. An intern probably mislaid those hands or threw them away accidentally or some such other plausable explanation. Or maybe even a college student walked off with them as part of a horrible fraternity stunt. Who knows? But the truth is, in the minds of dozens of 12 and 13-year-olds in Kalb, telling stories after midnight by a summer bonfire, no one can actually prove those hands didn’t crawl off by themselves.

So with not much to tell about other households on the street, and so much activity on one single plot, a feeling emerged about a sort of smirch the house held – like the place had a wicked sense of humor. One account suggested there was maybe a curse on the property and that to live there was like signing your own death certificate, or at least, like planning in advance to screw up your life or those of your loved ones. Property values, in this case, meant nothing. Neighbors joked about the place and how it now sat empty since poor Mr. Patire, the pianist, lost his livelihood in that garage accident. Parents used the tales to threaten rowdy children at bedtime. Drive-by teenagers scared each other with the stories on Halloween and on other dark nights. But no taxpaying Kalb adult with respectable home equity dared invest in a move up to the finest picture of turn-of-the-century architecture in a dozen blocks.

Why move into a place that invited trouble? The family next door, to the east, for example, was considering that very month the house went empty, of expanding their little castle to provide space for twin girls born two months earlier and who were straining the environment of the home’s other six members.

The house next door to theirs, the fancy Queen Anne, was cheap compared to other homes on the street, all inferior by most standards. Yet the Dickersons would sweat and toil and borrow and strain their budget, adding two rooms on the north side of their brick bungalow, a rather common addition compared with what lay next door.

Real estate was a seller’s market as no fewer than 18 homes were ever on the multiple listings at any given time. That is based on thirty or forty buyers looking for property at the same given time, an agent’s dream or nightmare, depending on how you looked at it.

Mr. Dickerson would have only had to put his house on the same market and apply a small deposit on what had been the Patire estate. He could have picked up two acres, nine rooms, three of them bedrooms, and come out ahead on the deal. Mr. Patire must have known the plight of the home because he wasn’t asking much for the place, based on other home values, and his neighbor could even have cut a bargain on that asking price. But Mr. Patire left town for a psychiatric hospital three hundred miles west and set his family up in a Chicago condo while he recovered. The Dickersons weren’t interested in moving next door and the house sat empty for three seasons with no attention to household detail except for small favors the selling agent paid on four or five spring visits.

Aside from its major tales, other stories appeared on demand, especially when one neighbor or another wanted to stretch the official account or rearrange the published facts to include his family or his property or any way to somehow claim a stake to a piece of the old home’s notoriety.

“Claire and I were driving by the place late, on our way home from a movie, when Mrs. Patire ran screaming from the garage that rainy night.”

It probably wasn’t raining and it was more than likely daylight and poor Mrs. Patire wasn’t running and screaming at all. Instead the neighbor probably swerved to miss the woman as she took the garbage out. But prying reality loose from its historical setting is one way to get close to stardom, even if you really remember it that way.

Take the case of Ginny Fryer. A nice woman in the right setting. But Ginny was the talk of Kalb late in her high school senior year when she was the bunt of a cruel practical joke. A young humorist somehow got into the yearbook office, after hours, fumbling with page galleys so the type under Ginny’s senior picture, after her name, read “most boring person in the senior class.”

Now it was true that Ginny Fryer’s father was dead ten years and her mother worked third shift at Kalb’s only all-night laundromat. And with five siblings in the rented Fifth Street flat above Keyster’s Barber Shop, and not much money, Ginny, by the end of her senior year, had never traveled further than the Indiana state line.

One Saturday night, after Frank Gumble dumped her for an Illinois State freshman, Ginny stole a taxi idling at Main and Pearl streets, and on a dare, drove herself, four girlfriends, and Brenda Lee’s kid brother, Daryl, to the state line. They never even crossed over to Indiana, a subject debated and regretted for weeks by Ginny and half the senior class. They rode back to town the next morning in three of five vehicles heading that direction and occupied by the Church of Christ’s Evangelical Debate Team returning from a lost evolutionist vs. creationist match in Evanston.

Rev. George phoned Mrs. Fryer and reported her daughter’s indiscretion and subsequent conversion, but the stolen cab part of the story kind of died down with Ginny’s newfound occupation with a religious bent. For a girl known to have kept boundaries mainly in town and rarely out of the very county she lived in, and as close to the state line as she was and not crossing over it, small town talk was bound to label her a perfect nomination for the hall of boredom.

If history was recorded correctly, as it rarely is, someone would step forward and tell that it was Frank Gumble who switched type on that yearbook galley. And if all the pieces of a mean joke could be told, you’d see that Ginny changed after that publication and set out to prove she was not a perfectly boring Midwestern daughter of an overworked, underpaid laundry woman.

Ginny was not really boring. No creature who rises on Saturday mornings before the sun to be first in line at Cheney Library’s used book sale is not boring. We can question their long-term motives, but we cannot say they are boring. Ginny’s passion for reading carried her away to foreign ports and Third World alleyways, a trait she imitated watching her mother get lost in quarter novels she bought from a back table at Ann’s Antiques along Church Street. Fantasies were precise for Ginny. Things would go exactly this way or that way in her mind. Sometimes she tried very hard to believe that the lower Church Street Bridge over the Hoosick River was a meeting place for spies. In one play out of the story, three men and a dog drew plans in the dirt with sticks that told about how they would rob Kalb’s only bank, under the bell tower, at noon on a Thursday. That story fell apart when Mrs. Kiski called Mark junior home for lunch and the Welty twins went off for a game of foosball at Helen’s Pizza on Main. The dog ran off to sit in the shade under a bench in front of Keyster’s Barber Shop. The more books Ginny read, the more fantasies she could create in Kalb. And since reading was personal, so were her fantasies.

When the ad appeared, Ginny was the first reader to match the address in town with the Patire property. It was a classified under help wanted in the weekly tabloid that advertised itself as the official village newspaper. The official part was for legal notices from village government and because no other newspaper published in Kalb. The only other news gatherer and disseminator was the counter at Will’s Alley Cafe between seven and eight-fifteen any morning of the week. The breakfast clientele seemed to make up a piece of most village governing bodies that counted, at least during election time, and stories traded there, beat out the newspaper by three or four days. During a thunderstorm once, at dead-line on Tuesday morning, just for fun, the cafe sent a messenger over to the paper with news that the old Bradley Street hat factory burned to the ground over night and two horses were dead. The old factory grounds were downwind of the newspaper’s Main Street office in the old Friedman Bank building. And besides, two members of the village board, sitting at the counter that morning, wanted to see what the newspaper would print about a decision pending on turning the property into a municipal parking lot.

Frank Warner, a village trustee who backed the parking lot project, went down to the fire and stood for four-and-a-half hours just in case someone from the newspaper showed up and he could retell his side of the project. When no one showed, Frank’s wife telephoned the village reporter’s wife and found out that the reporter, Tom Wilder, went off to see a sick relative in Ohio. The trip from the cafe in the morning was a last ditch effort to offer the newspaper a scoop about some structural tragedy that could turn itself around in the village’s favor.

When Ginny saw the advertisement for a live-in house attendant, she sat down and wrote out a response. The ad read simply: Wanted, full time, live-in house attendant, for number 30 Elm Street. Write P.O. Box 1X, Boston.”

Ten days later a telegram, no less, arrived in Ginny’s name with the abbreviated message: Hired. Stop. Report number 30 Elm Street. Stop. Saturday, October 31, midnight. Stop.

Ginny’s reputation may have been boring, but she was the first creature in Kalb, Illnois, aside from the selling agent, to find out that number 30 Elm would be occupied again.

Information on small town matters, especially in a small town, made for a favorable position in just about every circle, considering the nature of number 30’s former tenants. The date and time of day mentioned in the message was savored by Ginny for ten or fifteen minutes before she let loose with the story during the third shift at Henriatta’s All Night Laundry. Ginny’s mother listened with the others; Carla Dalton, a 50-year-old seamstress, Maggie Stearns, a school teacher, and Betty White, a barmaid at Lou’s Third Base. Her mother spoke first, saying she objected to the meeting time, but that work was scarce in Kalb and that she probably ought to go. Betty offered to go along and help Ginny work out the details, but Carla advised Ginny to decline the offer unless Betty sobered up for the trip.

No one heard Ginny’s answer as she snatched up the telegram and threw open the side door, an October wind gutting the humid dryer area, and she disappeared into the unlit alleyway between the laundry and Third Street Hotel.

Further up Third Street Todd Barnes was puffing on a Winston and trying to blow smoke rings as he leaned against his new car, a ’68 Mercury Colony Park station wagon, parked along the street in front of Lou’s Third Base. Stuart Kline, one long year below the legal driving age, was sitting behind the wheel pretending he was driving. Actually Stuart was imagining he was driving something sportier and flashier, but the steering wheel and control knobs of a ’68 Mercury did the job this weekend night. And Stuart, doing a fine job of keeping his imaginary car on the road, and in good condition, caught Ginny in the rear view mirror, as she approached from behind. Todd was two years older than Stuart and both boys favored the company of any Midwest female on a Saturday night, to the lonesome hours they spent with each other. When Ginny seemed like she might slow down long enough to spend some time, Todd stamped out his smoke in the street and Stuart ended his foreign spy chase and climbed out through the passenger window.

The three teens sat along Third Street, on the curb behind the Mercury, and studied the Boston telegram for clues.

The job offer was officially a mystery, the newest pulp on Number 30 to hit Kalb’s population since 70-year-old Ida Mae Holloway claimed last month that her great grandfather, Col. Edward Stark, was the first person murdered in the house. The news of Ida Mae’s ancestry shot up into all but seven households in Kalb, and those seven were out of town. A job offer would bring a regular person off the street into the new families’ household and would most certainly provoke two murders this time and surely the town would suffer. That’s what everyone would say.

In the next ten hours, the same ten it would take for a story of this sort to get through Kalb, Ginny would become a celebrity, as absolutely everyone wanted a new piece of information on the event that no one else had so as to add to the rampant conversation with something new on the subject that everyone else didn’t already know.

Two business establishments on Church Street posted a copy of the telegram, keeping their patrons properly informed, and seven others on Main kept one behind the counter in case the subject came up. In other words, if Margaret Shaw, fondling a top of the line rake at Lou’s Mercantile, asked about the Ginny affair and said “I might buy one of these” in the same breath, Lou got the copy of the telegram out.

Ginny went home that night and slept on the living room couch and dreamed about the adventure the house would bring. Most of Kalb went to bed that evening thinking she’d get murdered or tortured or maybe scarred up pretty bad in some kitchen accident.

On Halloween Eve, five neighbors stood a quarter-block west of the Patire house while their combined eight children tricked or treated the street behind them. The subject of the Patire’s and the three previous homeowners came up and one of the group wondered out loud if the house would ever sell, considering its background.

In the distance, well beyond their Halloweener’s, a pinging sound grew louder and louder, until a grey shape appeared on the horizon, turning all their heads in that direction, and there appeared a 1956 Oldsmobile, a fine specimen of vintage automobiling, in need of a tune-up, trudging along the street, passing them in a slow pan, a single male figure behind the wheel, and turning the curb ahead of them, tooled up the short drive to the Patire home.

The engine went dead at the top of the drive, and heads cranked in that direction, a small man emerged and stood next to his aging General Motors product, and stared at the dark Queen Anne hulk 50 yards ahead.

Martain Crosby Van Buren saw the advertisement for number 10 Elm in the classified section of the Sunday New York Times, a hunch appeal the selling agent reserved to speed up a sale. Martain bought the house Monday at 11 a.m. on a whim shortly after Bob Stiles phoned to say the Cunningham deal went through.

Cunningham Fruits opted to buy Martain’s services in a move that would triple his output. The time had finally come where Martain could move out of New York and operate from a foreign port if he so chose.

The idea of a Queen Anne that occupied one corner of a shady Kalb cul-de-sac, maybe a library on the second floor, some stained glass and enough land to holler and scream late Sunday night in the back yard of and no one would hear, amused Martain. The town itself was a mystery to the salesman, but searching for its controls was a decision-making reason for moving there. Driving along Route 80 crossing Michigan in his 1953 Pontiac to take ownership, Martain thought about where he might fit in and who was mayor and what’s the zoning board of appeals like and where should he drink with the boys late at night and who were the boys?

He wanted to get there and put the house in order again so bad he ordered the entire staff, one housekeeper, to assemble shortly after his intended arrival at the end of a long road trip from the city that would put him home before midnight Halloween.

In the city he was out of place, collecting his idea of vintage anything from old books to a Brattleboro, Vermont pump organ. In the country, as he thought of Huntersville, the surroundings would give him room to control more of his environment and maybe give him a greater say so in control of those surroundings.

There was no socializing with New York’s Mayor Koch, but he imagined lunching with the Kalb mayor or having a beer with the Republican socialite during a political rally.

At an art gallery party once, the night before he left for Kalb, and on a bet with two patrons he’d met five minutes earlier, Martain made a fuss over a peculiar water color and offered to bid on it. That particular piece was purchased, coincidentally, 10 minutes later by Rev. George Archibald to fulfill the minister’s annual relic-collecting hunt, for a figure several dollars higher than Martain’s fraud bid attempt. The three, for a couple more dollars bet, moved on to a second work of art, two rooms over and at ransom, made a fuss and offered to bid on the piece within next hour. Fifty minutes later the painting, the next to sell since the reverend’s buy, sold 10 percent higher than Martain’s rumored bid.

By this time the three had consumed two more intoxicating drinks

Daffney Coleman concocted in a pinch, and offered to buy all five of the Stahlman artist’s ink drawings. Ten minutes later they were gone when the C.E.O. of a western hotel chain doubled Martain’s offer. If these three boys had only known Martain was wearing the wrong identification pin, one that should have been attached to art critic Jack Dalphin, they surely would not have tried their luck a fourth time. And on the fourth run of their drunken wager, no one bid against Martain’s $400,000 offer for a French artist’s Duck Soup.

Martain walked out the back door two minutes later to avoid actually paying out against the painting or the $225 he would have lost on a bet gone sour.


The Vintage Lamp

a short story by Roger Marsh

Most folks in town described Anita Perkins with peculiar detail. A few could talk about Anita for up to three hours without repeating a story, many could hold an audience while three consecutive beers were consumed at Taylor’s Saloon, but just about everyone held onto one story or another that they could tell to a traveling relative or at a convention three states away.

Mary Stuart said Anita once asked her to change the date for an outdoor gathering because it would rain so hard that day it would be difficult to both attend and enjoy the event under such moist conditions. Anita had touched Mary’s back and said the years of pain would be a shame. Mary was suspicious and curious of Anita Perkins from then on because it rained that June after­noon, she slipped on a concrete patio while rushing the olive tray inside, and her back has never been quite the same.

Most of the other stories are not as prolonged as Mary’s back ailment, where she will feel some pain off and on for 10 years. Many were quite simple but made an impression on people the same way a man looks at a ripe apple in the bottom of a Coke bottle. Mystery has a way of carrying itself from mouth to mouth and yet no one would ever ask if the Coke bottle owner had tied his empty container to the branch of an apple tree and let the apple grow up inside. That would dispel the mystery, and no one would have anything to talk about on weekends.

The grade school principal said the Perkins woman tried to talk him out of purchasing a $150 dress for his wife. Anita said it would be embarrassing for his wife to open the gift in two months and, having gained 20 pounds on a family vacation, she would not be able to wear the garment. Mrs. Graham left Mr. Graham three weeks after her birthday once the weight gain touch­ed off a series of arguments that caused irreparable damage in their marriage. Mr. Graham was convinced Anita was both a tramp and a witch. He tells that story at every haircut on the corner of First and Lincoln. Those who listen repeat it now as the number two story about Anita Perkins, just after Mary Stuart and the rain.Anita was a tall, big boned woman, with long, light hair, frizzy, the kind that if caught in the right light made it look like she had a halo. The clothing she wore was always cartoony-colored. Sometimes she wore red knee socks, a bright yellow skirt, and a blue and green tapered blouse. She always wore a flower in her hair. The red roses looked best when she wore her blue dress. Harvey Stetson liked Anita’s blue dress so much he kept a fresh rose behind the counter every day in case she came in wearing it and had forgotten to put a flower in her hair. To date, Anita has been in Harvey’s Feed and Grain Store once. Anita spent seven minutes getting warm in Harvey’s store when the bus was late on the day she was having the oil changed on her car.

They never even spoke.

Anita Perkins had built herself a reputation for precogni­tion in town. The local newspaper even once reported that Anita had requested and had been turned down by the city for a stop sign to be placed at an insignificant intersection 17 blocks from her own home. The intersection was the scene of 7-year-old Lidia Ketchman’s death nine weeks later when Mr. Graham was driving too fast and didn’t see Lidia as he was traveling to an alimony hear­ing. A city councilwoman remembered Anita commenting after the month­ly meeting that Mr. Graham’s job loss would be a shame, and that the drinking would only make matters worse. Of course, Mr. Graham started drinking after the accident, what with the school superinten­dent’s daughter dead and everything, started missing too much work, was fired, and spent 16 months without work or character.

With all the stink about Anita Perkins, and the small size of the town to discuss matters properly, the thought of someone challenging the powers of so legendary a figure would seem un­real. But Bud Collins and Steve Jackson were curious.

Bud did not directly collect or inquire about the Perkins woman. He didn’t have to. Steve Jackson, his roommate on Roosevelt Street, did all of the collecting and inquiring. Steve claimed he saw Anita purchase a dozen candles and four gallons of kerosene three days before the two-day power outage in ’05’.  Most people had to stand in line for those items when the lights went out, but Anita sat comfortably at home.

Steve had it figured that Anita would slip up some day and expose herself in front of the townspeople with something like a text on witchcraft, a bottle of demonic potion, or maybe a voodoo doll. Someday, he said, she was going to actually be caught doing something in public that would lead him to the source. It was the source of her powers that intrigued Steve.

Steve and Bud spent the following Saturday parked a half-block east of Anita’s green three-story home on Pearl Street. It was the only home in Huntersville that had a lookout tower. The observatory was like a giant ice cream cone attached to the north side of the top floor.

A retired fisherman had the home built in 1889 with money he’d won gambling on a train from Philadelphia to Chicago. Garson Stiles said his grandfather once told him the home was the center of controversy in 1894 when it was rumored the old fisherman, Girty Langer, had built a kind of contraption that was going to change the way people lived. Girty was the kind of man in town that people respected because he had forged and completed a noble career in the East and had chosen Huntersville as a place to retire. New money was welcomed in Huntersville in 1889 and espec­ially so from a salty gray-haired gentleman who minded his own business and paid taxes on time.

It seems Girty was overheard talking to an out-of-towner in a city tavern one evening about this thing he was building in his cellar. The story was picked up in fragments from James Tuttle who was within eavesdropping distance but whose hearing had gone bad after a day-long battle in the war between the states. James didn’t know exactly what Girty was building, how long he’d been building it, or even what kind of changes it was going to make in people’s lives. Casey Randall was a clerk with the electric company then and said Girty’s monthly bills were three times higher than most folks with a house the size of his. Sitting around the fireplace at Will’s Tavern, Brady Fisher matched Casey’s story with a list of packages that arrived at the post office for Girty over a two-year period.

Even the Presbyterian minister joined ’round the fireplace when Brady pulled the crumpled paper from his pocket and held it out to read.

“January thirty-first, postmarked, London, England. February twelfth, New York City. April first, Paris, France.”  Brady read on for two minutes, pausing only to get help on a pronunciation, or to describe the size and weight of some of the packages. Casey was the kind of man who did regular things at regular intervals and did not favor anything as impractical as a puzzle.

“Now what would a man do with trappings from all those places?” he asked. “What’s he building down there anyway?”

Casey, James, Brady, the Reverend Fox, and the others, scratched the sides of their heads, made firm and straight stares up at the ceiling, and as a group drank over 40 noggins of beer that evening and everyone of them went home without even a reasonable guess at what Girty had in mind.

The subject came up four consecutive Saturday nights and still no one could answer the favored question in the minds of Huntersville’s leading citizens. Between the fourth and fifth Saturday, Girty was buried just outside the city limits after his heart gave out. The home was willed to and taken possession six months later by Girty’s niece, who neither mentioned nor alluded to a cellar contraption that would change man’s destiny. Clara Reese willed the home to her daughter in 1936, and Anita purchased it in 1983, four days before Stella Reese was placed in a home for the aging, where she died the following year.

Garson heard these stories when he was 20 years old, in 1944, and repeated them some 60 years later, after his grandson, Steve, began inquiring about the previous owners of Anita’s home.

From the driver’s seat of his beige sedan, Steve wondered if there truly was some crazy machine in the house and that maybe Anita had happened upon it after her purchase 11 years ago.

After daylight passed Steve and Bud got out of the car and sat in the grass in front of the Dawson’s house. The Ford rolled an entire car length before either man took notice. Steve swore later that he hadn’t left the car in gear. However it happened, the car rolled, and with it, Steve and Bud ran behind, both hoping that years of watching daredevil car chases on television had paid off.

Neither of them caught up with the car until seven feet of Carol Bronson’s new split rail fence lay wasted, three shrubs the Coleman’s wanted taken out anyway were run over, and the bottom two wooden steps of Anita Perkins’ front porch lay in splinters. About the same time the two arrived on the scene and were only beginning to wonder how to explain the car, Anita Perkins opened her front door.

No human being should be treated to more than three or four moments of real terror in their lives, and one of them should be explained away as easily as saying the boogey man does not live under your bed. He lives under someone else’s bed in a town you never heard of, can’t be in two places at one time, and is not fond of travel.

Learning to explain away terror can’t be done in some cases, like war, and during earthquakes and things. And like some quick and subtle disaster dished out by Mother Nature, having Anita Perkins open her front door and see you standing on her lawn, in the dark, next to your car where no parking space had been intended, and having no way to come closer than eight feet to each other because there were some missing steps, is a terror no human being should even watch from a distance.

But what happened was as gentle and understanding and casual as saying thank you after receiving a pleasurable gift from a close friend. Anita Perkins looked straight across the splinters on the hood of Steve’s car and spoke two simple senten­ces.

“My telephone is in the entry here. I hope no one was hurt.”

As Steve was about to explain that they probably wouldn’t have to phone anyone, and that they could just back the car out onto the street again and return in the morning with a check for the damages, the front right tire on the car hissed and went flat, steam began pouring from the radiator, and the sound of the engine died. Since there was no need to say what he was thinking now, Steve and Bud climbed up onto Anita’s front porch and step­ped inside.

From the entry hall there was a warm feeling standing on solid mahogany floors. The golden glow of turn-of-the-century lamps lit up dark corners and brass door knobs. Two sitting rooms opened left and right of the entry, a staircase made one long appeal to the second floor, and an orien­tal runner marked a path back into the kitchen area. There were fresh flowers all around and from the sitting room facing west, came the sounds of a harpsichordist playing Bach. The smell of freshly baked pumpkin bread hung in the air.

Anita remained still, until Steve and Bud had their fill of looks around. She pointed toward the black telephone on a wooden stand at the bottom of the stairs.  After the phone call, Steve and Bud moved toward the door and were stopped when Anita spoke.

“Don’t you want what you came for?” she asked.

Bud could not reason an eye level higher than the entry floor, and Steve imagined what range of damage a woman her size could do between where they were standing and the time it would take to reach the street.

“It’s important that it be moved tonight,” she said.

Anita walked into the sitting room where the music played and stopped by a lamp on an end table in front of the window facing the street. The lamp had an ornately-carved rosewood base and the shade was made from cut glass of probably 80 different colors, all mixed into a swirling form, that, when studied for very long, intimidated those who gazed.

Steve and Bud moved into the room and stared at the lamp.

“Girty had it all figured wrong,” Anita said. “He thought it could just stand here in front of this window forever. But I know better.  It must go tonight, or it probably won’t ever work again.”

Steve moved closer to the lamp, then fixed his eyes on Anita, who had taken a seat on a couch on the opposite side of the room.

“Do you have a problem with your lamp?” Steve asked. “Do you want me to fix it for you?”

Anita sat up straighter and closed her eyes.

“You have to trust my understanding of the lamp,” she said. “I’ve had it for 11 years. I’ve worked with it. I’ve followed Girty’s instructions. You must take it tonight and place it in your front room, in front of the window facing west. There were some things that Girty didn’t take into account, and I’ve corrected it all. Now it has to be moved.”

Bud was restless.

“What exactly does your lamp do?” he asked.

“It changes things,” Anita said. “It makes things better. But you have to follow the book. I’ve made all of the corrections.”

“What book?” Bud asked.

Anita moved her right hand slowly and laid it on top of the table next to the couch, on an enormous book with a leather cover and gold lettering.

Two hours later, sitting on the floor of their front room, Bud inspected the lamp carefully and Steve studied a page in the book that showed the town plan for Huntersville. The hand-drawn illustration had an “X” marking the spot where Anita now lived with a lot of scribbling next to it, and a grouping of numbers that Steve thought were the longitude and latitude of the spot where the lamp had sat all of those years.

In more recent ink, there was an arrow drawn from that spot to the location of Steve and Bud’s apartment on Roosevelt Street.  Beside that was more math, and a note: “the window in front, facing west.” On a later entry in the book was a year, a day, and a time.  Steve recognized two of the three and then looked at his watch.

“We have three minutes,” he said.

Bud put the lamp down and gazed across the room at Steve.

“What happens in three minutes?” he asked.

“The instructions say to follow the log,” Steve said. “The log, according to the markings here, has been completed, without error or inter­ruption, since 1894. There’s only one entry that has not been completed. It’s the last one. In less than three minutes, we’re supposed to simply turn on the lamp.”

Bud got up from the floor and went to the window facing west. In the darkness everything seemed to be quiet. The homes across the street had sprinklings of lights on here and there.  Just below the window of their apartment, Barry Steiner was sitting in his car, smoking a cigarette as usual, while he killed time waiting on his wife who was babysitting the Tucker’s two and-a-half-year-old girl, Gilda Marie. A small dog slept in the grass between Steiner’s car and the sidewalk.

Bud stepped aside while Steve placed the lamp gently on the table and plugged it in. No more words were spoken in the room.

At the appointed time, Steve and Bud both watched from the window and Steve reached down and threw the switch.

Barry was getting impatient. His wife had been due to finish 30 minutes ago, and he had not seen the Tucker’s blue station wagon pull into the drive yet. He had sat at this inter­section every Tuesday and Saturday night for almost a year now, and Hilda hadn’t ever been more than 25 minutes late. From where he sat, he had the environment around him memorized. He knew every home, every car, and every tree. He could almost predict who would pass on foot and who would drive by.

When he crocked his head back in the seat and looked at the window, the color startled him. His right arm moved quickly forward to catch the balance he really hadn’t lost but had imagined. His hand hit the horn by mistake.

When the Tucker’s dog, Pepper, heard the horn, he jumped up from his nap, and ran out into the intersection.

Mary Stuart did not see the dog until the last second, but swerved sharply to the right on instinct, ran off of the roadway, and came to a stop halfway up Clara Colverson’s front lawn.

Gilda Marie Tucker, who was sitting in the middle of the intersection picking up a doll that she dropped, smiled.

“Pepper. You come home,” she called out.

Hilda Steiner screamed from the Tucker’s front door and did not stop running until she had Gilda Marie safely in her arms again.

Gilda Marie Tucker did not thank Steve or Bud for turning on the light that summer evening, and neither Steve nor Bud remembered the name of the little girl in the street 51 years later when Gilda Marie Tucker Coakley made her inaugural address to the nation.