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The House Down the Street
That fateful day in early November sealed my future. I walked my bike down the street because riding it wasn’t necessary; why rush somewhere when you have time to walk? The streets here are wide and lined with various trees, it was fall and the colors were almost excruciating. Each tree looked upon me basking in the fact that it was perfect and I was not.
The world was dimming, and I was nearing the last hill before my home. Since I was young this last stretch has always been dreaded. I had been staring at the shape of the house watching each detail become clearer as I neared. Looking at it from afar never bothered me much, but having to pass it always pulled me into a state of nervous fear. It was a gray color with one broken window on the first floor. The pillars on the porch rose into the roof, caked with soot. Four evenly spaced windows stared into the empty street below, not noticing my presence. Everything about it was old and frail, any minute it could fall into pieces and leave a pile of my fear for me to confront. It was over-grown with layers of bushes that should be turning red this time of year, but they lay broken and black upon the soil. This place I now stood in front of, radiated feeling of the many years it stood quietly haunting this small section of human existence.
Most people believe the house to be abandoned, but there are a few who speculate. A white car is parked outside every Tuesday, some people say it’s the historical society making sure the house hasn’t been vandalized, but others think it’s a visitor. I looked at my watch; it was Tuesday, but there was no car to be found. I looked down the street, and then up the street. I suddenly felt a rush of isolation as I realized the utter emptiness of the space around me. For some reason I lingered in front of the house unsure of what I doing. Something twitched. My head snapped up to the small window in the far corner of the house. I stared for a second but was soon overcome with fear, I climbed onto my bike and quickly pedaled home. I was sure I saw something move but there was no car. Someone was living there.
I could smell my dinner waiting to be ingested as soon as I reached the top of the hill before my home. Coasting down to the front walk, I set my bike down next to the door and quietly opened it. My father was asleep on the couch with his belt was unbuckled; he had already eaten. It wasn’t even cold out, but the warmth of the kitchen came as a relief. I saw the round figure of my mother playing solitaire at the small table. She smiled at me, but was immersed in her game, so she just gestured to the general area of the stove. Dinner was a stew that I took with me to my room.
I felt embarrassed walking into my room even though I was alone. I had graduated high school two years ago. There were still pictures of me and my old friends on the walls and my swimming trophies on a shelf. Most of those friends were away at college and there aren’t swim teams for twenty-year olds at the community center, so I didn’t do much. I’m not sure why I didn’t leave for college; I just didn’t think it would be something I would do. I was supposed to just take a year off to sort things out, but even after that I wasn’t ready.
I looked out my window in the direction of the house. The hill blocked it but I could see the top of the hollow oak that stood in the front, I shied away at the sight of it. I was being such a wimp it was ridiculous. Thinking for a few minutes, I decided to confront my fear and knock on the door tomorrow.
The next morning arrived almost too hastily. Dread filled my stomach as I dressed; what do you wear to your almost certain death? I wasn’t going to die, I knew, but there was something about this place that pushed me over the edge of psychotic. My parents weren’t awake so I slipped out the door and picked up my bike.
It was cloudy and bland; the colors of the trees were dulled by the muted light. The house stood, as ghostly as ever, still oblivious to my presence. Instead of fear I felt hate for this thing; I pass it everyday, each day being horrified but it never reciprocates feeling. It’s an inanimate house, there is no reason to be afraid, it can’t do anything. Without hesitation I strode up the front walk, sticks of bushes breaking in my wake, and looked for a doorbell. Of course, there wasn’t one, so I rapped my fist upon the door three times and waited for a response. There was none, so I knocked again. Still no answer. If I’m here, I might as well go through with it completely I thought. I exhaled, grasped the small metal knob, and opened the front door.
It was silent on the other side; eerily quiet. Inside the house looked like it hadn’t been re-decorated since the 40’s and everything had a light layer of dust. A glittering above me as I stood in the foyer caught my eye, it wasn’t lit but it was glittered in a ray of light that had escaped through a small crack in the thick curtains. It was geometric, but very detailed. The area surrounding it was shrouded in a monotonous brown color; it was beautiful and it didn’t belong here.
I felt ashamed and a little embarrassed that I just broke into someone’s home, but whoever was living here didn’t seem to notice. The stairs were facing me; the haunting memories of passing this pace were trying to overcome me, but I held them back.
I managed to sputter out a weak, “Hello?”
There was no response.
I started up the stairs. There was no creaking, just silence enclosed by brown walls and dusty furniture. At the top the hallway was narrow and dim, there were wall lights with little shades for each of their bulbs, but I doubted they had any life left. I had three doors to choose from, and I picked the only one that was open. It was five steps away. I strode forward toward the door covered in peeling paint and slowly leaned my head inside. What I saw in that room was pure relief at the time.
A smiling old woman looked back at me, “I never get visitors!”
I blinked; she was hooked up to all sorts of machines and lying in a bed. I was speechless and I felt so dumb standing awkwardly in her doorway.
“Please come in, I haven’t talked to someone of the opposite gender for a good three years now.”
I nodded and took a few steps forward.
“I used to have a male nurse, but now I have this horrible woman who is just a plain tart.”
I stared back at her, realizing I had yet to say a word I said, “I’m must…I was here to…er; I’m not sure why I’m here.
“Well that’s okay you know, we can’t always explain everything in life. What’s your name, dear?”
“I’m Catherine and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Wallace.”
One side of my mouth twitched into a smile, but it fell when I asked, “Why are you attached to all these machines?”
“Well that’s just one of those things that can’t be completely explained. Most of â€˜em are just monitors for all my different organs and what not, but this one here is the only one that really matters...” she motioned to a small box on her left. It had a tube connected to her back. “…it gives me a steady stream of some sort of drug that keeps me from going into the light.”
“Oh. How long have you been like this?”
“Many, many years now. I don’t mind it so much, I read sometimes.”
“It doesn’t bother you that you are stuck here?”
“No, not at all actually. What else could I be doing? I’m just about ready to give out soon.”
“How can you say that?” I was suddenly uncomfortable, “No one should want to die.”
“Oh dear me! I don’t want to die, but is seems that it’s inevitable. You know that don’t you?”
“Yes, I am aware, but I should probably go. Technically I just broke into your house.”
“Please stay, will you?” Her mouth was pursed but her eyes held a smile.
That night I returned home at my usual time, though I never went to work. I had stayed with the strange old woman for the day. We talked about books and her past. She asked me why a boy my age was living here and I honestly couldn’t answer. Something was different when I lay in bed that night, I felt incomplete.
Waking a little later than usual, I dressed quickly and had full intention to spend the day with my new acquaintance. When I biked up to the house the white car was out front. This was odd; it was Thursday. I didn’t bother knocking even though I knew someone other than Catherine was home, they wouldn’t mind. I walked directly upstairs, but when I reached the bedroom door I found an empty bed and a woman taking apart the machines. I started to shake.
“Where is the woman that lives here?”
She was startled but responded, “She passed last night…I’m sorry were you a friend of hers?”
“No…no, not yet”
“Yes, she didn’t know many people; she was a sweet old bird though.”
I did not reply, just merely left. There was no point in talking to that woman that Catherine disliked. I shouldn’t be sad, but I was overwhelmed with guilt. I was her only visitor other than her nurse for five years and she is gone the next day. My mind was plagued by the memory of the look in her eyes, but she asked me to stay, and I wanted to; I felt like I knew her. The house was supposed to be abandoned, she wasn’t supposed to be there, but I now know that she is very real. The burden of that knowledge will always haunt me.
I was sunny out. My heart sunk to the floor seeing that children in the neighborhood enjoying their lives, while Catherine was dead and my life was going nowhere. I couldn’t understand what this was supposed to mean and I didn’t understand it for weeks.
I saw the announcement in the obituaries and realization fell upon me. There was nothing after her name; no statement of any sort. I didn’t want there to be nothing after my name, and I want people to know I exist. I was already disappearing though. I didn’t talk to any of my high school friends and I was miserable with my life. I liked Catherine, but I saw too much of myself in her. No one should be able to see themselves in a lonely old woman and be happy with their lives.
I set down the paper and looked at my mother, she looked back, “I’m moving out.”