Okay, I’ve got a problem, and I know it. I just keep bouncing around from story to story, writing this-and-that short story whenever an idea pops into my head. This makes continuing a longer story somewhat difficult. But I’ll get back to Mostly Hidden, don’t worry. And then, eventually, the story I was planning around Christmastime.
But before then, this. And another longer short story that I haven’t mentioned. (Ugh, I hate how WordPress messes with formatting.)
Also, this story is somewhat true. Not the actual story part, but The House is real, and sits on a hill nearby my house.
And the house stands at the top of its hill,
Knowing that there will be no spring for it
And the house sits at the top of its hill,
Remembering the summers long past
And the house waits at the top of its hill,
Thinking to the bleak future
And the house crumbles at the top of its hill
Dropping pieces of itself
It knows no more.
THE HOUSE stood at the top of that hill that we called “the highlands”. A steep and mossy-from-disuse stone stairway led up to it and the never-seen people that lived there.
I passed by it everyday while coming to my house back from work, unless I took the really long back road. I debated about doing so, a few times, just to avoid the haughty stare of the house. It looked condemning, its nose turned up with the certain type of impertinence that came with being wealthy in previous centuries.
It looked tired, too. It was sick of people living in it, and sick of existing. It was as though it only looked down on me to try to relive old days, a failed attempt at bringing back those days.
All the other houses, nowadays, don’t have personalities. Mine doesn’t. They’re just living-spaces. An immobile, nonsentient material cage that holds people back from their blustery lives.
Rain slicked the road as I drove towards my house. I came up over the rise of The Highlands and averted my vision from the house. No doubt it glowered at me, judging, as I rode past.
The windshield wipers swung back and forth to the same beat as my turn signal as I slowed before pulling into my drive. I went into the house and set my bag on the counter, then collapsed into a chair that sat in a corner of the entry.
I don’t know why The House bothered me so much. It seemed like one of Plato’s Forms more than an actual building. It had existed long before it itself was created, and would exist long after it was destroyed.
I walked over to a window and looked out, watching the gardenbeds slowly get waterlogged by the rain. I hoped that the mint seeds I had planted wouldn’t get drowned, or washed away.
A few minutes later, the door opened and Kimberly walked through. He shook the rain from his dark hair, set his bag beside mine on the counter, and went over to the fridge.
I heard the fizz-pop of a beer bottle opening, and he said, “Do you want one?”.
“No,” I replied. “Bring the merlot that’s on the top of the fridge and a glass, though.”
I heard a rattle of glass-on-glass and Kim re-appeared, his beer in one hand and the bottle and glass in the other. I took them from him and thanked him.
I pulled up a chair to the window and poured myself a large glass.
We sat in silence for a while, drinking our respective beverages.
“Do you mind if I open the window?” I asked him.
He indicated that he didn’t, and I opened it. I loved the sound of rain, and the cool breeze that drifted in from the window occasionally felt wonderful.
“I guess spring has officially begun now, hasn’t it?” Kim asked.
I nodded, and finished the glass.
“How are things going with Joan?” I asked, pouring myself another glass.
He eyed the bottle as I set it down. “Fine. Good, I guess.”
I nodded with the kind of distant happiness that a friend has for another who has something that the first longs for.
I downed the glass.
“She’s coming for dinner tomorrow, actually. You’re totally welcome, of course.”
I nodded again, and stood up.
“Do you want something for dinner, Glen?”
“Maybe later,” I said, “We’ll see.”
“I’ll make enough for extra,” he said, and got up.
I nodded and headed upstairs to my office-like room. There was only one bedroom, outfitted with two twin-size beds, which Kimberly and I shared, but we each had separate workspaces. The house was Kim’s, actually, and I rented the space from him. It was a good situation, though. I had been growing increasingly worried about his relationship with Joan, though. While wanting him to be happy, and them to be together – they were a good match -, I suspected that I’d be finding new lodging if and when they got married.
I sat in my desk chair and rolled my head back over the top, my eyes closed, thinking of what the coming year would bring.
The air conditioner roared and the radio screamed as I drove past The House. Wind from the open window whipped my hair around. The House seemed in a good mood, today, but what couldn’t be. It still looked down at me, but it felt as though it looked down in an almost… compassionate way. Compassionately condescending, if that was a thing.
I drove past my house, towards the small, half-sand, half-rock lakeside spot we called “the beach”.
I was meeting someone – yes, a girl – there. We had met by chance at a small cafe, as we happened to be reading the same book. That small connection had spiraled into a spontaneous, summertime-fueled romance. Her name was Teresa.
It wasn’t the first time I had been in a “relationship”, but all others had ended with me regretting having started.
The last one had left me with a lingering paranoia that lasted – and still pervaded, to some extent – for a full year. This was refreshing, and gave me something to look forward to, for the first time in a long time.
I pulled up into the makeshift parking lot, and saw her sitting on a towel in a black and white striped short-dress, next to an old-fashioned picnic basket. I smiled and sat in the car for a moment, watching her. Seeing her react to the sun starting to take away her sun-hat, react to a small boy accidentally flinging sand at her, react to the towel blowing up off the sand, was almost as wonderful as being with her. Eventually, of course, she turned and saw me, smiled, and waved, giving me a small confused look as to why I wasn’t already down there. I snapped out of my reverie and got out of the car, stepped gingerly down the rough rocks to the sand where she was, and joined her.
We sat side by side, eating quietly, occasionally speaking about some triviality. We didn’t need words to communicate.
As the afternoon progressed and clouds came to cover the sun slightly and everyone else left the beach, she laid her head on my shoulder, then leaned into me more as a cool breeze blew up over us from the lake. I leaned into her, and we kept each other warm.
This was nice, and I hoped it would last.
She spontaneously stood up and brushed some sand off of her dress. “I’ve got to go.”
The sky appropriately darkened, and I asked “Why?”.
“I’ve got a meeting at the library.”
“Oh,” I said, and stood up as well. I began folding up the towel and packing up the picnic basket. When I had finished, I picked them both up and looked at her.
“I’ll drive you there, if you want,” I said.
She gave me one of those smiles that seemed to be a gift in and of itself, and headed up the rocks towards my parked car. I followed her, carrying the basket. When we got to the top, I put the basket in the trunk of the car, then got in the driver’s seat.
She had already sat down and buckled up, and looked at me expectantly. I started the car and drove back the way I had come.
When we passed The House, she looked up at it. “It’s happy today,” she said.
She kept looking at it as we drove past.
“Happy in a sad way,” she said.
I dropped her off at the library, gave her a final hug and kiss, and drove back to my house.
I glanced at The House as I passed by again. She was right, it was happy in a sad way. But it wasn’t looking at me, and it wasn’t thinking about me. It was remembering times gone by.
The House on the hill looked sad as I slowly walked up the mossy, leaf-covered, damp stone stairs that led up the hill to the large double doors set between columns.
I wanted to go inside. I had wanted to go inside for a long time, probably since I saw it.first.
It looked down at me through its glasses -windows-, turning up its nose at my approach. But it couldn’t stop me, I knew. And I knew that it knew. For the first time, I felt some degree of control that it didn’t have.
I paused, with my hand on the doorknob. Something compelled me to not open the door, just as my instincts told me I should.
I struggled internally there for a while, my hand still on the knob.
I slowly backed away from the door and shook my head slightly, then went back down the stairs, got into my car that was parked at the bottom of the hill.
I looked up at The House as I drove away. It was sad, still, but had regained a note of pride, and it sneered at me as I scurried away in cowardice.
I pulled into the drive, behind Kim’s parked car. He must have gotten home early. I stayed outside, though, standing next to the car for a while and looking at the three trees in our lawn. I clambered up onto the lawn and laid down on the damp ground between two of the trees.
A leaf fell off the tree in front of me, slowly revolving as it took its pre-appointed path to the ground.
She had flown away, like the beautiful bird she was. Flowing white dress fluttering behind her just as the white feathers fluttered behind an uprising dove, she left.
It hadn’t been my fault, either of our faults, really. And she hoped our paths would cross again.
I knew they wouldn’t. And if they, somehow, ever did, it wouldn’t be in the same way. That all was dead and gone, now.
It was one of the rainy, dreary, miserable autumns. The House and I were both miserable, and the weather merely added to it.
I didn’t know if anyone lived in The House. I doubt any did. That was both good and bad for it, I think. Having people living in you can help get your mind off things, but being depressed at a party can make you even more alone than you would be on your own.
I laid on the ground for a little longer, then got up and went into the house.
Kimberly smiled at me as I came in.
“I’ve got news, Glen, big news. Here, here, sit down.”
He pushed me into a chair, then sat in one across from me and leaned forward, his elbows on my knees.
“I proposed to Joan. She said yes.” He got up and walked in a little circle. “We’re going to get married November sixteenth.”
He beamed at me. “I’m so happy.”
I smiled in the way I always do, and said, “I can see.”
He ran his hands through his hair and looked at me. “Do you think it’s good? Should I have done it?”
“You two are a perfect match,” I said.
“Are you happy for me?”
I paused for a moment. “Yes. Definitely. It’s finally happening, now, isn’t it.”
“Yeah,” he said, excitement in his eyes.
Silence followed, and I broke it a moment later by saying, “I’m gonna go work upstairs for a bit.”
He nodded, lost in his thoughts, and I went upstairs to my office room.
It’s finally happening now, isn’t it, I thought. He’ll get married, and I’m moving out, and this one social connection will be gone. Oh, sure, we’ll still get together sometimes, but I’ll really be even more alone.
Snow covered the ground lightly, and The House hung its head in defeat. The defeat wasn’t entirely a loss for it, of course. It was, partially, what it really wanted. But the reality of it was harder than it had predicted.
It had been bought by some company that was going to tear it down and build some apartments on the location. It was ironic, in a way, that I was looking for a place to live.
Their wedding had been perfect. White dresses, black suits, and a gorgeous day. They were on their honeymoon, now, and I was living in the house until they returned, when I would be graciously let out the door.
I had found a place that I would probably move to, then, on the opposite side of town.
I climbed the slippery stairs to The House and laid a hand on the wall. Paint was peeling that I hadn’t noticed before, and several boards jutted out of their proper place.
It was going to be destroyed tomorrow. This meeting was a goodbye of sorts, though I knew that it wouldn’t really stop existing, just as it existed even before it was built.
I suppose that The House had become my friend in a way. Or enemy, more accurately. We looked down on each other, but knew what the other was going through, as similar things had happened or were happening to us.
This meeting was also a peace treaty, in a way. We still wouldn’t agree on anything, and still shun the other’s presence, but we… respected each other.
I turned and walked down the stairs to my car, as I had done just a few months earlier.
As I pulled away, I took a final look at The House. It still looked down at me, condemning, but understanding. It had gone through what I was going through, but thought it was past such things.
I found it interesting how much we had learned about each other in the past year, but also how much we really just hadn’t. We sensed the existence of deeper things in the other, but that was all we had.
I drove home to the empty house. I only still had out what I needed to live here for the short time I had left, and had packed all of the rest into boxes for the move next week.
I poured a small glass of bourbon, then thought about it a moment, dropped an ice cube in the glass, then added more of the liquor.
Damn that house. Why did it sit there always, looking at me. Knowing me.
It wouldn’t be there any longer. I laughed hollowly, and finished the glass.
I poured another.
I had moved into a crummy little apartment to start with, as soon as Kim and Joan returned from their honeymoon. I don’t remember my time there, since there was nothing to remember.
The apartment building on the location of The House was finished surprisingly quickly, and I moved in.
It was there. It was there, in the walls, in the halls, in the windows and ceilings and the characterless people that lived there. The House was immortal, and it lived on in this new building. It was of a completely different class, time, and use than The House had been. But it fit into the new class, time, and use. It had been reborn into what it now was and would be until this building was destroyed and another was built in its place.
It filled my being. I kept living there, though. It changed me, and I changed it.