[You may already know about this. I didn't, but fortunately I have
friends who are infinitely more cultured and well-informed than I to
clue me in. NPR is working up their fifth round of what they call
Three-Minute Fiction — the idea being that they provide you with one or
two core elements, and then you write and submit a short story of up to
600 words (which, theoretically, can be read on-air in three-ish
This round is guided by writing superstar Michael Cunningham, who's provided a first line - "Some people swore that the house was haunted." - and a last line: "Nothing was ever the same again after that." Beyond
the fact that you can't go past 600 words for the whole thing, the rest
is up to you. In a lot of ways, it's very reminiscent of what we're
doing over at PoliteFictions.
You can find out more and submit your own entry to NPR here. The deadline is September 26th. My entry is below.]
• • •
Some people swore that the house was haunted. It was a rationalization of sorts, but in the end no worse than any other. Blind luck, or the lack thereof, was also named a candidate, as were karma, happenstance, and the somewhat less than benign indifference of the universe.
It certainly was no condemnation of the house itself. Three bedrooms, bath and a half. Yard and a garage. Flowering trees, and muscular coils of rhododendron like arms rising in victory along each front corner. In late spring, they erupted into a soft riot of violent and lavender, drawing clouds of small bees first ecstatic with purpose, then lulled to slow flight by the calming weight of pollen. I remember, that first April after we moved, taking a picture from the end of the driveway — the lens saturating with warm sunlight; cornflower blues and thick bladed greens and those long limbs of trunk, leaf and flower, embracing this miracle of shingle and glass. The clean white paint on clapboard. That gentle curve of brick, winding its way from asphalt to entrance. I remembering thinking, "This is ours. This is ours."
Maybe that was it. The sin of pride.
Funny, really, when I considered our first blush. "It has good bones," the realtor had said. Not an inappropriate observation, perhaps, but one we'd taken a leap of faith in adopting as our own: transforming this handsome skeleton in ragged clothes into the rest of our lives. We imagined those days ahead - peeling long strips of wallpaper like skin, razor stroke by razor stroke, cleansing the dark stains and quiet memories of other times, other families, to unveil it as something fresh and pure: a new bride - and together, looking, we leapt.
I drove to the house on the day before we closed. A child circling his presents on Christmas Eve, fingers dancing in anticipation. I wanted to see it, to know it, on this last day before it was ours. To catalogue this mercury-slick sliver of time, coming one day a stranger... and the next, coming home.
He was mowing the lawn. His hair long, half-shadowing his eyes, gray-black stubble lining the sharp angles of his jaw and cheeks. The owner's son, acting at his father's behest. We'd met the owner before, once: near 80, pale blue eyes wrapped in the thin sulci of his paraffin skin, his smile growing warm as he filled with memory. Of this house. Of his wife. Their daughter and son, riding tricycles across the floor. Growing tall. Growing old.
"This house," he said. "It... embraces you."
I sat in my car and watched, and imagined his father gently making the request. A final, kind gesture — a parent, smoothing the unruly hair of a child. I imagined him seeking out his son's eyes, making sure he understood. Ensuring the message navigated whatever twisting roads or thorned crowns that might block the way.
He moved slowly, his feet a deliberate shuffle. Carving neat, even lines across the grass. His lips moving with each step, engaged in quiet conversation with unheard voices.
I wondered how it had been, to watch him grow from a child into a shell of a man.
The next day pen met paper, checks exchanged hands, and at last: keys. I drove us home, and carried my wife over the threshold. I remember her smiling at me: the slender lines in her face not yet betraying the gentler curves of the coming months. Our own son, only a tiny nestling of cells. Growing restlessly.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.