the cigarette purse

the little house on ridgewood was old and oddly laid out. probably because someone converted it to a duplex at one point and then back to a single-family home. it had two front entrances and one of the “bedrooms” was clearly a second living area. but the oddest thing was the drop ceiling in the hallway. it was made of removable ceiling tiles the likes of which you’d find in an office.

i lived there for a year.

one september, we got curious and removed those ceiling tiles to reveal an attic door. of course, we pulled the dusty string and unfolded the ladder staircase.

the roof of the house was peaked and the ceiling in the attic matched; i stood my full height only along the center of the room. the floor was tiled and there was a small closet full of old clothes. the attic obviously doubled as a room of sorts at one time.

when you entered the attic, you were directly in its center facing one of the long walls that ran the width of the house. to the right was the area where the closet was and to the left was a single small window that overlooked howard st.

in front of the window was an old wheelchair.

the hairs on my arm stood in unison at the sight of it and i paused along with the breath that got momentarily stuck in my throat. i felt like i had interrupted something.

we continued into the attic and examined the numerous boxes that filled the room. they contained books mostly and an abundance of old newspaper clippings: the moon landing, the monorail crash in hemisfair park, the challenger explosion.

we moved into the closet next.

the clothes were vintage, practically antique. women’s clothes mostly. my companion found a sequined cigarette purse among some accessories and she hung onto it.

we finished our investigation and left the attic, replacing the ceiling tiles after folding up the staircase. it was then i discovered my companion still had the purse.

“why’d you bring that down?”

“i like it!”

“but you don’t even smoke.”

“i know, but it’s cool.”

that was the last i saw of the purse. we went on about our lives, forgetting about the attic for several weeks.

in october, we had a halloween party and invited friends and family. toward the end of the party when the number of guests dwindled, we told them about the attic and invited them up for a look.

it was less creepy then. i think the number of us made it more bearable. the more brave among us even took turns sitting in the wheelchair. we had some laughs and closed up the attic once again.

a few more weeks went by. our lives rolled out uneventfully before us yet again like a calm sea.

one afternoon, i was getting ready for work. i was alone in the house except for my furry sidekick leroy, an alley cat who’d earned a reputation in the neighborhood as a bruiser. i stepped out of the shower to find him in his usual place as i got ready: the bath mat. i dried my body and prepped my toothbrush.

as i brushed, i turned from the bathroom mirror to admire leroy lounging on the mat. he was in what i referred to as “boat formation”, resting his entire body on his curled up front and rear limbs, head raised and looking straight ahead.

as i watched him, he craned his neck forward as if he’d suddenly become interested in something and began to inspect the air. i saw his nostrils flaring quickly as he sniffed at nothing. after a moment, he rose quickly to his feet and hissed. he left the bathroom immediately and paced back and forth in front of the door, staring back into the room toward me with his tail engorged and his pupils dilated.

the hairs on my arms stood once again and i suspected i may no longer be alone in the bathroom. i finished getting ready quickly and left the house.

the next day, i told her to return the cigarette purse to the attic.

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