Letter from Denise P.
I’m really scared and not sure what to do. I’ve been helping an old woman – Mrs. Candle – who lives at the end of our street. I think she’s more than 85 and she’s very bent and walks really slow.
Anyhow, Mrs. Candle gave me five dollars every week for coming over once a day and feeding Jessie (her dog), washing a few dishes, and sweeping the kitchen floor.
Last week, about three days before my thirteenth birthday, Mrs. Candle asked me to go upstairs and make up a bed in her guest bedroom because she expected a visit from her son, Harold.
Mrs. Candle’s house is really huge and looks almost exactly like the gingerbread house in the Hansel and Gretel book. I’d never been upstairs before or even in the front part of her house because Mrs. Candle spent all of her time in the four rooms at the back of the house, near the kitchen.
I found clean sheets at the top of the stairs in a closet where Mrs. Candle said they’d be. She sat on the stairs with a worried look on her face . . . It’s the same look I’ve seen on my grandmother’s face when I get too close to her glass bird collection. Mrs. Candle rasped instructions at me from her perch on the stairs. “Don’t forget to fold back the coverlet, dear.” Mrs. Candle calls everyone dear.
I got the bed made up in record time, and then took a moment to snoop around a little -- what a big mistake.
Mrs. Candle chattered away at the foot of the stairs and I answered her from time to time so she wouldn’t know I was snooping. I remember she was in the middle of a sentence when I opened the little door.
“It’ll be so nice to see Harold. He hasn’t been here to visit since . . .” Her words broke off and I heard nothing but silence from the stairs while my mind dealt with what it was seeing in that tiny room.
First I thought it was seaweed or cobwebs, and then I saw that it was hair -- gobs of dusty hair hanks in different colors. Hanging cloth pouches with strange symbols etched on them, and jars of worms, or slugs, maybe. The smell was cloying, like rotting meat.
“I think it’s time for you to come downstairs, dear.” The words, louder and clearer than her usual rasp, made me jump guiltily and I quietly closed the tiny door and backed away from it.
Mrs. Candle watched me walk down the stairs. Her usually pleasant old crumpled features twisted into a weird scary frown and she gripped my wrist in one of her wrinkled talons. “Are you a Nosey Parker?” She queried, her voice unusually steady. I couldn’t take my eyes off her mean expression. This was not the Mrs. Candle I was used to. “Should I tell you what happens to Nosey Parkers?”
I pictured the room full of hair, yanked my arm from her grasp and ran all the way home.
It’s been a week since that day and I was beginning to think it was all my imagination, but Harold Candle stopped by today to tell my parents what a nice job I did helping his mother out. He gave me a ten-dollar bill and asked me to continue helping his mother. The bill, faded and limp, had that same cloying rotten meat smell from that upstairs little room. I didn’t even want to touch it, but my parents were watching. What’s even worse is, now my parents expect me to go back there and earn those ten dollars.
What should I do?
Dear Nosey Parker Denise,
I suppose Mrs. Candle could have been a wig maker, but the smell that you mention from that room bothers me. I also think that Mrs. Candle’s attitude change that you described was a tad alarming. My advise is to put on some rubber gloves and tuck that ten dollar bill in an envelop, seal it and mail it back to Harold with a polite note resigning from that position. I’d also try to avoid that end of the street for the next few years. Good luck and don’t forget what curiosity does to Nosey Parkers. You didn’t take home any souvenirs from that little room I hope!
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