Winchester Mystery House: A Monologue

Phyllis Zimmerman

I was born so many years before you were, you wouldn’t understand me, but you are here, walking through my corridors, my little doors, my inch-high steps five at a time, that I built not because I was capricious or rich, but because the joints of my bones burned with arthritis—when you are old you will know—you are here. You have paid your $1.45 to walk through my soul. I will address you.

These tall pier glass panels standing there, standing nowhere, unplaced, I had a place for them. Ah, you thought it was a mirror. And you wondered how the ruby glass design appeared in it. You look up and down for that piercing image. Where did it come from? Is it someone’s jewelry? But it isn’t a reflection. It is behind the glass. Understand that a window needn’t be thin as you know it; it can be thick as a mirror and beveled, if you are willing to pay for your heart’s beat worth of beauty. I was.

I lost a husband and a child, six months old. All I ever had. And kept twenty million dollars with which to while away the time. The time. The time. Fifty years of it. Time.

You say my house doesn’t look fifty years’ worth or five million dollars’ worth. Well, I was a small woman, only four feet tall. And I did not build for the likes of you. Indeed, it is infuriating that so many of you trample me at a time. Every room of me is stuffed with your bodies, gutted with your laughter, rattled by your restless children, handed and footed. What a fate!

What an incomprehensible fate. I was such a private woman, more so than most. No one came to my house while I lived, except those I hired to build me. I have seventy-five bedrooms and no one ever slept in them but myself, and the spirits I wooed, I fled from, I walled up treacherously. The spirits—they took their revenge in earthquake, cracking plaster and tearing walls, shattering what they could not destroy.

Now, hundreds at a time, oh, it is cruel. I did not invite you. I cannot expel you. All my millions, my will—I speak and you do not lift your eyes. I, who terrified forty servants at a time, and spied upon them through skylights above the kitchen. I speak.

You listen to the guide. He tells you that the walls are pressed cork, every bathroom has thirteen windows (naturally), the tile of those fireplaces was brought specially from Sweden. It has not been polished for thirty-six years, but it shines. What can he tell you? Can he tell you how many kinds of tile I looked at, how long it took me to decide, how many times I chose and unchose and chose again? How frantic the salesman grew? Beauty is not easy or sure. Was this house built in a day—to decay forever? It took time to plan, to construct. Time and care and choosing.

He tells you, oh, covertly—he is only a college boy earning his keep with that suave, well-trained voice—and some things aren’t nice to say, he tells you I am mad. See that window. It cost $1500. It faces north so that it never gets the sun, and that other one, walled up within me, lightless. It sings, its rosy bells and delicately descending wires. Does it need the sun? It sings.

He tells you I was mad to build and build and build, but he makes his living on what I built, my broken bones, my scraped paper, my worn floors. Even after earthquake there is enough for all of you to stand on.

Listen, was it mad to come here, west, to the new, mountain-shielded land with nothing but trees to stare at me, no one to see what I had built for fifty years? To have it all my own way?

The medium was wise. She told me I would never die. If I built and never finished building, life would never finish with me. So I built a ballroom no foot ever danced in. I built stairways that went up only to come down again, to trap the spirits. Rooms too small, rooms too many. Doors never to open, window upon window upon window, seldom looking out. I closed off kitchens, and planned new kitchens with clever built-in washboards, the latest thing.

And you see, she was right. I never finished building, and here I am. And here you are. If you feel compressed in my small space, room upon room upon room, and you haven’t seen them all, if your neck aches to bend into my modest door, if you cannot squeeze yourself through my hallways, or make your steps mince enough to slide upon my stairs, that it because it is myself, not yourself. My self. You trample me. It is a terrible fate, but I am here still, year upon year. You will not be. I am.

Phyllis Zimmerman grew up in Brooklyn and attended Erasmus Hall High School where she was poetry editor of the school magazine, The Erasmian, in her senior year. She received a B.A. at the University of Wisconsin and an M.A. at Radcliffe. A term paper on Faulkner’s Light in August was published in Perspective. Later on, poems appeared in Accent and Discourse and short stories in Discourse and The Laurel Review.