Every night, at precisely twelve minutes past ten, the rhythmic tapping begins.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
It starts at the back of the house, at the kitchen door. Three taps, then a pause. Sometimes the doorknob rattles slightly, but most nights it’s only the tapping we hear. The quiet lasts for the space of four deep breaths, and then it continues down the hall to the French doors in the living room.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
These doors don’t have the kind of locks that rattle, but if we’re sitting in the living room, just reading by the fire or maybe watching television (I admit, we watch far too much television) we sometimes feel a faint breeze, as if the seal between the two doors has been tested and found to be slightly lacking.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Five times we hear the sound, until it reaches the laundry room door – the mud room, really, that leads to the garage. That pause is longer. We used to think it was because it was a double door, but one night when I was changing laundry loads so we’d have clean underwear the next morning, I thought I heard the tapping continuing across the garage floor. I even opened the door to look, but all I saw was our cars and piles of boxes that haven’t been opened since we moved into this house, five years ago.
Tap. Tap. Tap… Tap.
There’s always a pause when the noises approach the front door. I’m not sure why. My husband says it’s because the foyer of our house was remodeled about a decade before we bought it, and clearly Charles – that’s the name we’ve given to our tapping ghost – is a bit confused.
I see no reason to argue the point.
Tap, tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap Tap. Tap… Tap… Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
The sound recedes, as if someone’s ascending the stairs… and if we strain to listen we can hear it continue beyond the second floor, up the final five steps that lead to the attic.
And then they stop.
We’ve explored the attic, of course. There’s nothing up there except our Christmas decorations, the box that holds our plastic tree, and a few odds and ends we unpacked, but never found places for.
In any case, the tapping always ends at ten-thirty exactly.
We live with it for a year, then two, then ten.
At some point, it morphs from being a curiosity into an annoyance, and finally, it becomes one of those ‘house noises’ that you learn to ignore, like the refrigerator hum you only really notice when it’s absent because of a power outage or something.
Years later, we’re participating in the neighborhood garage sale, when a young man comes up to me carrying a black cane with an eagle for a handle. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he asks, “how much do you want for this?”
“Oh… I don’t know,” I begin.
My husband interrupts. “That’s not actually for sale,” he says gently. “It’s a family heirloom.”
We don’t tell him neither of us has ever seen the thing before.
The potential buyer is polite. He even ends up buying an antique metal milk can we bought at a flea market and never found a use for.
Later that night, at twelve past ten precisely, we hear it begin in the kitchen. Tap. Tap. Tap. And we look at each other and smile, because somehow we know it’s just Charles, checking the locks.