2022 Third Place

The Housekeeper

by Doreen Hinchliffe

Tonight, my eyes are drawn to a sliver of moon,
the curve of its blade slicing the sky. The house
is slowly wrapping itself in silence, its fire
no longer blazing in the hearth. Ice
carves intricate patterns on windows and light
flickers from countless stars, some long dead.

I recall old tales of ghosts, how in the dead
of night their spirits walk beneath the moon
in search of a lost past, their footsteps light
as air as they step inside each ancient house
they’re doomed to haunt. Shivering in the ice-
cold air, I stir the embers of the fire,

sparking a lost past. I think of a fire-
eating father, gypsy mother, (both dead
and buried long ago), remember that ice-
covered winter in Vienna, how the moon
silvered the frozen lake. For years, this house
is all I’ve known. I slept beneath the sky-light

in the tiny attic at first, made light
of the fact that it was cold without a fire.
After years in France’s slums, a house
like this was welcome. When everyone was dead,
I took control. Sometimes, at full moon,
I imagine myself a statue made of ice

and pose outside in the garden like an ice-
maiden, alone and naked. When the light
of dawn forces me back in, I moon
around for hours, allow the flickering fire
to trigger memories. Last month, a dead
rat on the floor made me think of a house

I lingered in once, a pretty bourgeois house
with staff. The butler served champagne on ice
one night and I saw a mouse by his foot, dead
as a doornail. I laughed as I glided past. Sunlight
striking a mirror conjures up that fire
in Pudding Lane, its flames lapping the moon,

or that Parisian house where I’d watch the light
fire the guillotine’s falling blade of ice
and gaze on each dead face, white as the moon.