At first he’d assumed everyone could hear the past. He’d learned quickly that his parents couldn’t. When he’d mentioned the voices to them he’d been frightened of the looks they’d given him. They’d chalked his experiences up to a vivid imagination and a desire for playmates, imaginary or otherwise. He’d wondered why anyone would want a man screaming in pain or a woman gasping for air as hands tightened around her neck as playmates, but he’d kept quiet. From then on, he’d never mentioned the things he heard again. He’d merely listened.
But now he realized that just listening was no longer going to be an option. Soon after he and his parents had moved into the loft apartment in Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood for the summer for his father’s work, Pierre knew that something was different in this place.
The apartment was old and spacious, and his mother had declared her love for it the day they had moved in. She’d visited a woman who ran a flower stall on the corner and purchased white rose bushes for the front window box. His mother told him a white rose symbolized innocence. She loved flowers and their meanings. Pierre remembered that at one point she had told him that dried white roses symbolized sorrow.
That would be more appropriate, as the apartment was a place of sorrow. Of grief and fear and death. Pierre heard a woman crying for her lover, a World War I soldier lost forever to the trenches. He heard a Jewish family frantically trying to plan an escape from Paris now that the Nazis had taken over. He heard a man sobbing at his wife’s bed as she lay dead following the birth of a stillborn child.
Pierre was used to these sorts of voices. Tragedies from the past. But this apartment held something new for him. Voices of those whose stories had not yet ended.
He’d first heard the women’s cries when he’d gone to bed on their third night in the apartment. His room was small, with a strange extra closet built into one wall. The landlady had explained that the previous tenant, an architect, had built the closet himself and added a padlock to its door. When he moved out, he didn’t leave her the key to the lock. She was defensive when questioned about the locked door, saying she’d meant to get a locksmith to unlock the closet but we all know how busy life is, don’t we? Not wanting a fight, Pierre’s mother had dropped the issue.
Pierre wasn’t totally sure why the padlock had been left on the door, but he knew it wasn’t for anything good. He’d known that as soon as he’d heard the women’s voices that third night. So many different voices. Pierre couldn’t keep track of them all.
“Help find us, please.”
“Our families don’t know what happened to us. Won’t you help?”
“He killed us. But no one knows. Please, please help.”
Pierre heard the pleas, and he was unable to shake these voices off like he had all the others. Because their stories weren’t over. They needed him to help. But what could he do?
He was determined to find out. Unfortunately, he knew he couldn’t pressure his mother to make the landlady hire a locksmith. If he told her why he needed it to be done, she’d fly off the handle. His parents both thought Pierre's "imaginary" voices were a thing of the past.
He ventured to the library and checked out books on how to pick locks. He’d open the closet door himself. How hard could it be? Pierre had always been a smart boy, and good with his hands. He was sure he’d have no trouble.
He stopped at the hardware store to buy a small lock picking kit. Now he was ready to solve the mystery. As he returned home, he noticed that in spite of his mother’s best care, the white roses were drying out and dying.
Pierre shut his bedroom door and got to work at once on his new project. He tried every suggestion in his books and used all of the tools in his kit, yet nothing opened the padlock. Night after night Pierre heard the voices begging for help. And day after day he tried to pick the look. Nothing worked.
Before he knew it, the summer was drawing to a close and it was time for Pierre and his family to leave the apartment. The voices weighed heavily on his mind. He still heard them, and he knew that there was something they wanted him to see in the closet. Something that would tell their stories
On his last day in the apartment, Pierre sat at the closet door. Frantic, he tried one last time to open the lock.
“Pierre!” his mother called. “We’re leaving. Get down here!”
Pierre sighed and stood up from the floor, staring at the locked door.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I tried.”
He dropped his tools on the floor and let them roll away. There was nothing more he could do now. The mystery of the closet would be someone else’s to solve.
“Pierre!” His mother’s voice had turned shrill.
He ran down the stairs of the loft and went outside with his parents to their waiting cab. As the cab driver pulled away from the curb, Pierre looked up at the empty apartment.
The voices were silent. The window box roses had turned black.
This story is a companion to my WIP called A Windowbox in Paris. It's not part of the book but the adult Pierre is one of the WIP's main characters, as is the apartment. I never intended to write anything about Pierre's childhood though until I started thinking about a story for the October hop.
Big thanks as always to Denise and Yolanda for hosting this great hop. 😊