It was a two-story house, unpainted and weather-beaten, the roof covered with yellow moss. The yard was overrun with bushes and weeds. Thorny trellises and ivy ascended from the foundation. There was no path to the door, just caked earth and more weeds, and a couple of rickety steps that my grandmother illuminated with a small flashlight. A firm knock, once, twice, three times, “Mr. Know? It’s Gertrude Midge.” No response from inside.
The interior was lit by small candles, visible through the gauzed curtain in the upper window. Some years there was evidence of a wood stove as gray smoke crept out of the chimney into the night’s sky. Tap, tap tap, “Mr. Know? Merry Christmas! I’ve brought you a dinner basket.” My grandmother called out.
Everything about the house seemed to defy gravity. It appeared to lift itself from its foundation, from the very earth, and tip itself heavenward. It thirsted, that house. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. When its occupant is invisible, the house itself takes on their form. But beyond mere mortal form. It becomes an imaginary, a magic from a child’s waking dream.
Every holiday, Thanksgiving and Christmas, of every year, my grandmother bundled up our dinner leftovers replete with an extra helping of pie, pumpkin, or mincemeat, and we walked the few short blocks through the neighborhood, past all the other houses full of families, much like ours, enjoying their dinners and celebrating the holiday, to Mr. Know’s dilapidated house on the corner lot of Chestnut Street. The contrast between Mr. Know’s house and all the other houses on the street was startling. On Dec. 25, the other houses vibrated with life, Christmas lights blinking and bright, illuminated with yuletide spirit. And then there was the dark, empty looking dwelling. A haunting on that corner lot amid all the treacle, all the glow.
The porch was a dark mouth upon which we offered the holiday food. In all those years Mr. Know never once came to the door. My grandmother would call out to the man, the specter, behind the shutters, “Mr. Know, it’s Gertrude Midge, I’ve left you a basket.” My grandmother, infinitely optimistic, always waited, expectant each time, that this was the year he might emerge. But he never did.
Some years I entertained the possibility that Mr. Know didn’t exist, that my grandmother had perhaps invented him in order to demonstrate acts of charity to those less fortunate. Other years, I was convinced that Mr. Know was an all-knowing, all-wise oracle and our annual offerings were payments for the auspicious fortunes he granted, like tithing, or offering a sacrifice. Had I been intended as a sacrifice? Surely not, what a preposterous idea. Save it for one of my stories, I told myself.
I never once met or glimpsed Mr. Know. Even during the times I visited my grandparents outside of the holidays. I would be riding my bike or walking through the neighborhood and suddenly realize that I was passing by Mr. Know’s house, but in the bright of day. I’d circle back or slow down so I could study the house, the property, scanning for any sign of life from inside. Searching for Mr. Know. Of course, I never saw him. But in later years, my grandmother would remark that she’d seen him. She relayed that he’d been getting out from under his hermitage, that she saw him at the senior center or browsing the aisles at the market. “It’s so good to see him out and about after so many years shut in.” She said. Although, she never knew the cause for this change in him. I don’t have any memory of delivering holiday meals to him beyond the years during my childhood. By the time Mr. Know joined society, I must have been grown.
It seems just a few years ago, but really more like two decades ago, or longer, after my grandparents had passed, that my aunt discovered Mr. Know had died and that he had donated his life savings — more than three hundred thousand dollars, to the town’s youth services organization, in Auburn, Wash.
Midge is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and was raised by wolves in the Pacific Northwest. Her book of essays Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s was a finalist for a Washington State Book Award. She enjoys composting and frisky walks through dewy meadows. Midge lives in Moscow.