Houses This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 20, 2011
The first had dark, hard-wood floors. We used to run around the house with the ugly fuzzy socks and slide, yowling like tom cats. The house was almost a circle inside, all the rooms connected to one another, which made it feel more like a family house. A house for families.

The hallway didn't have any windows and all the doors around it could be closed off so that everything would be as dark as night. We had two flashlights and we flicked them on and off like morse code distress signals and sang improvised songs to one another as we wandered the dark space like banshees.

It was at the square table in the kitchen where my mother told us that we were to have a new brother and where she told us that he had gone the heaven. It was a sad day. I remember saffron rice and the blue tile pattern on the table. A heat wave had wrapped a choking blanket over the neighborhood and all the doors were yawning wide. I was wearing shorts and a tank top and stretched my limbs out far to catch the kiss of wind on my sticky skin.

One day in late January the whispering rains turned into whistling ice drops and we ran outside in our bright bathing suits. It was so white and cold and stayed in your mouth longer than rain when you tilted your tongue to the sky. My sister packed the little sugar lumps into a tight bundle and heaved it at my father as he climbed up the stairs in his tie and coat.

The man down the street from us had a dog named Mike. He would walk him past our house every day and talk to us as we played in the green grass. Mike walked by one day with a square shaved in his fur and lumpy silver stitches lining his ribs. The Akita four houses down had attacked him. The Akita was huge, my mother used to make us wait one house up from it for her to walk us past. The Akita was an unknown monster, I had never seen it but Madi had and she told me horror stories about it. It lived two houses away from our boundary. It was the guard of the corner house and the frail spinster that lived in it.

The man whose house was our boundary was old and bent. He grew tiny strawberries in a little patch and gave them to us when we stopped to say hello. They were the best strawberries. Small and sweet, perfect in the their home-grown, sun-warmed skins. He was in the hospital for a while and he taught my sister how to water his strawberries and string beans. I walked with her every day to the little house and watched her pull out the green coil of hose and water the plants in a businesslike manner.

We had a wood-and-rope swing hanging on one of the rafters that stretched their arms over the back patio. It had started out on the tree in the front yard that had a wide low-hanging arm that wished a swing and it looked like a pretty picture there. The woman and her boyfriend who lived across the street shouted at each other like feral cats so we moved it to the backyard. The rope was orange and black and thick as a vine. It was frayed at bit at the bottom like greasy, knotted hair. The two-by-four had two holes in it on either ends and it was sanded down and soft as a book cover. It stayed up until we moved away.

Moving was a funny thing. Everything in the house exploded over itself and lay heaving like an ocean on the floor before being moved into a cardboard box or dragged to sit quietly on the curb. The house grew bigger and bigger until everything was gone except the TV and a battered yellow foam mattress. The Stones came over to help with the cleaning and we all sat on the yellow foam mattress and watched the little square TV as our mothers bleached the kitchen. Then we moved away to Moorcroft, Wyoming.

~ ~ ~

We lived in my mothers sisters house. It was built funny, into a hill so that a tornado would pass right over it. It had three rooms, a wide curve of living room and kitchen and a basemeant where my aunt lived. We only stayed there seven months. It was a sunny September day, the day we moved in, and my aunt took us up to the bowling ally parking lot that she lived right next to. We rode our bikes in circles like vultures waiting for prey. I fell off and skinned my knee on the grey gravel. A little roaring red oval that wrinkled up on the side of my knee cap. I was used to this, all my past falls came dancing back to me and made me laugh at the unalarming nature of this little scrape. Even then my shins were spotted with bruises like a leopards pelt.

Our first snow came a month later. Five in the morning rolled around, downy and muddled. Madi came yowling into the bedroom and dragged me out by my left arm. A one inch pile sagged against the sliding screen door. We didn't have any winter coats, we piled pants and sweaters over one another until we looked as unhuman as stuffed scarecrows. The wide mouth of winter closed over Wyoming and clamped its jaws tight.

One snowy Sunday we drove the the edge of the little lake that curled up at the bottom of a valley near our house. It was frozen and covered in a light dusting of snow like french toast with powdered sugar. My father crept out slowly on the dark ice to test its strength. It was and we went skating in our boots and our Sunday clothes under wide winter coats. The sun was falling beneath the trees and it was dark, we were wandering ghosts on the surface of frozen water. My mother drew a heart with her foot and I walked through it, I couldn't see it all but my footsteps made an arrow the drove through the center of the heart and it turned out alright.

We bought second hand skates. Mine were a dirty white with worn ties. The blades were chipped and rusted at the bolts but I loved them because they meant that I could skate on the wide eye of the frozen lake. The first day we went was one of those knife-clear, cold-but-blinding-bright day. We cut quick lines on the smooth surface of the lake like cat claws. We stayed in a little inlet where the water was shallow and frozen hard as marble. Farther out, men sat near mouthlike circles waiting for winter fish to tug their lines. My dad carried me on his shoulders while he and Madi had races across the open ice. He stopped suddenly and stooped to show me a little white fish that had been frozen on it's side. It made me sad to see the little fish frozen there for the winter with its eye up the the bare bones sky.

The sunsets from the top of the hill up from our house was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was like some one had spilt every shade of warm color over the sky and hadn't bothered to clean up their mess. It was so bright and bloody, just looking at it made you feel that if you just died right there someone would be able to say that you had a good life. Every evening we went flying out to see it and it always greeted us with it's wide unfolding of layers and layers of bright bright colors like a peacocks tail. Every evening we just died inside and that was okay because in the face of so much beauty it didn't matter what was going on inside of you as long as your eyes could still see.

Sundays came and with them, money for milk and a big dinner. Madi and I were sent for milk. The little grocery store was only down the street so we could go alone and we rode our bikes back with jugs of milk banging against the handles, swerving like drunkards.

Christmas came and went, bring me a stuffed brown horse that I promptly named Benny after the thirty-two year old horse that our neighbor owned. He was never tethered and sometimes wobbled down to the bowling alley parking lot.

Madi and I joined Girl Scouts and I hated every minute of it, sitting in a cramped basemeant of a little church and wearing a sash that had and embarrassingly small amount of badges on it. Other girls had many, some even had second sashes but the instructors were stingy with mine because I had an attitude.

My aunt got evicted and my father wasn't making enough money for us to find a house and stay so we packed up and left for Albuquerque, New Mexico.

~ ~ ~

My grandparents house was brown stuccoed like the rest of Albuquerque and was ugly as sin. The living room had pristinely clean white carpet and I was always afraid to walk on it. It made me feel dirty, a muddy wild child who had no manners and had just walked into the king's palace uninvited. The year we lived there was an uneventful year. The seasons came and went. All celebrations were excessive affairs with to many relatives that I could never remember having before and being pulled apart by curling irons and dress ties in order to look presentable.All our things were in storage and nothing ever felt like home. We slept on pull out beds that were promptly folded up after we left them. My father got a job working for a construction company and we soon saved enough money to find a house of our own.

~ ~ ~

The gated community we lived in always felt like a prison. All the houses were either brick red, dusty yellow or deep brown. We lived in a little apartmeant with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It had a wide living room and for a while we didn't have a couch, just a few cushionless wicker chairs that were uncomfortable enough to keep us outside instead of watching TV.

The day we moved in was warm, I remember the evening, our things were stacked in piles across the house, my mother set the ironing board up in the kitchen and set our dinner out on it. My brothers and I sat on the floor with the lemon drop-colored sun rays streaming around, eating off the ironing board in yet another new house.

There was a pool there and in the summer all we ever wanted to do was swim. My mother made us wait ten minutes with thick lathers of sunscreen over our already much to warm bodies so that the sun wouldn't dare touch us. We dove into the water the second she let us off the green lawnchairs. Our swimsuits were the raggedy lumpy things that came second-hand from somewhere. I never tanned, hours and hours in the pool and in the sun and I was still as pale as the day I was born.

There was a lovely long curve in the parking lot that was great for skateboarding. Madi was great at it, the smooth, gentle line of her thighs curved perfectly with the skateboard and she executed her turns with well-trained, clinical perfection that was due to practice and a not exactly small amount of talent. But I couldn't catch the turn right, I ran into cars or jumped off.

My dad came home from work on bright Friday and saw me lean and fall. My thick Levis held my knees from harm and I jumped back up with a growl, climbing up the unrelenting hill to fall or jump again. My father, who had been the one who taught me to skate in the first place, came over and asked me if I would like a spot of help, which I very obviously needed. I spent the rest of the month learning how to turn that corner. Every evening, every weekend was spent perfecting that turn, the elusive demon that haunted me as I fell asleep each night. Round raspberries layered one atop the other on my knees and I spent my evenings slathering blankets of clear medication on them, not bothering with band-aids because they were just to be ripped off the next morning. I was tiny, barely 65 pounds of skinny little girl that couldn't turn a skateboard that was made for men ten times my size. My dad taught me to crouch low in the middle of the deck and lean the entirety of my weight against in, pulling back with my hands. I finally go it and I puffed up like a songbird with pride. My knees still bear the pale white scars of that month and in the summer they are naked and I am proud of them. They are proof of my accomplishmeant. That I conquered that turn.

A woman moved into the apartmeant two down from ours with her two daughters and she was talked about in hushed tones by mothers as they stood in groups on the corner. She was a drunkard. She didn't have a husband and she worked most of the day.

Once I came home to find the new woman in my kitchen. She was crying in the slow rolling sort of way that seems to be kind of like watching a person drive a car with the axels at the tops of the wheels instead of the middle so it looked like it was waddling like a duck. The woman in the apartmeant across from us, a petite woman with dark dark hair and dark dark eyes who was sweeter than a grandmother to me, was sitting next to the new woman and rubbing her back. She hiccuped and pushed her story out in clumps between tears and that weird throat thing people do when they are crying very hard. She had parked in someones reserved spot because she had grocery bags and couldn't carry them from her own spot which was far away from her apartmeant. She said that she had meant to move it the second she was done but when she went back there was a little red note on her car windshield. The owner of the space had told the managemeant. When you use someone else's spot yours gets taken from you and given to someone else. She was sobbing that she wouldn't be able to find a free spot because they would all be taken by the time she got home from work. Her spine was wiggling upon itself in a drunken way like a hypnotized cobra snake.

Our year was up not long after and we left, leaving the nice, grandmotherly lady and the drunken one with her two daughters. I didn't know what a drunkard was at the time but I still felt bad for the woman's children because something was wrong there, that puzzle pieces didn't quite fit.

~ ~ ~

The new house had red-orange tiles in every room, closet and nook except in the kitchen and the closet in Madis and my room. The kitchen had bricks and our closet has thick, lumpy brown-grey carpet. It was the biggest house we had ever lived it, the living room was a wide behemoth that you could almost hear your echo in if you yelled loud enough. The rooms (there were three of them.) were caverns that could hold at least four people and their things. The smallest room was the kitchen which always felt old-timey and cozy. All the rooms had brown stucco fireplaces which were the staple of any normal New Mexico home. The whole house was constantly cold, despite the fireplaces, being large and completely paved with red-orange tiles. So the warmest room in the house was always the kitchen, having both a fireplace and a stove and being very small. It was my favorite room. The house was to big for me to wrap my mind around and the kitchen seemed to be something out of a Elizabethan kitchen or one from a small country house. It struck me as something that knew its worth and held itself in high esteem.

The house was on an apple farm. We shared it with five other people, who live in odd places around the farm. The apples were hard little things with a dusty sheen but they tasted just fine. We had bought a little mutt from a shelter right before we moved and he fairly flew through isles of green trees. He was rusty tan with wide watery orphan eyes and scruffy wiry fur, like a old mans beard. My mom used to tell us that he seemed almost human. And he did.

There was an old sagging warehouse at the end of the apple rows and Madi and I crept through a hole in the rusted tin sides. The inside was like a gutted beast. It had piles of crumbling tools and old apple boxes with slowly fading logos on their warped and buckled sides. Cans of oil and gasoline curled in corners with obscenely corroded caps. Gossamer spiderwebs laced anything and everything. It looked like something out of a horror movie. The place where the blond heroine would get murdered by the psychotic, swarthy schizophrenic with a torn background.

My mother found an old typewriter at a garage sale. It was big, black and clunky with a space key that stuck halfway down. It didn't have any ribbon and therefore couldn't write but we wound little post-it sized slips of paper in it and pretended to type. Madi figured to wet the paper before winding it in and little faint, letter-shaped bumps would appear like braille. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Typewriter letters. They felt like another world. One where you had to be able to spell correctly and not miss keys because if you did, your paper would come out like a child's. A world were people wore diamond-shaped glasses and round, calf-length skirts and sweaters and typed with precision and music. I loved that world. I sat for hours there with a bowl of water and all the little slips of paper I could find, typing things that didn't make sense but made me happy just the same.

The famous hot-air balloons of New Mexico flew right over our house and we all stood in awe, heads tilted to the sky, in the cold chill of the morning like we were watching the angels descend. One of them landed at the neighboring lands, a vast land of dirt and exotic animals, two of whom were camels. One of them spit at me. You could almost see it in his eyes, a gathering of camel rage. I saw it much to late but memorized the look for further reference.

The balloon landed. It was a beautiful shade of fuschia, like a bright flower. All the people in the basket were dressed in fuschia. They climbed out and began to deflate the balloon and fold it up. Their truck arrives and they leave. I wave wildly goodbye. The last I saw of them.

We moved after the landlord, a tall, thin Mr. Kits raised the rent to prices that we couldn't handle. They day we moved was a busy one for me. I was trying to prove to my dads friends, who were helping us move, that I, with my tiny little under-75-pound body, was just as strong as they were and could carry the same sized boxes. They kept giving me little boxes, boxes of stamps or crayons. Boxes with pillows or blankets. I took them but ran to the truck and shoved them into the arms of the man in the truck, only to race back inside and demand something heavier. By the time we had moved into the new house it was dark and I was dog-tired. I sat in the little ledge at the back of the truck and watched my father struggle with the refrigerator.

~ ~ ~

The new house had a barn. Eight stalls and a hay loft. We didn't have any animals except for Jack, our dog, but with the open space came an idea from my mother. Dwarf goats. Little goats that have wide, cantaloupe shaped belly's and little lovable faces. We found a lady to supply them and bought two, a smallish black one with a plaintive white star on his forehead and a largish white one with a wide, flat face. Hulk and Arnold. The first for his size and the second after the governor of California. We didn't name them, they were supposed to Frank and Bob. The lady we bought them from had named them before us and the names just stuck. They followed us everywhere. The land was divided into five parts, each gated off by posts stuck in the ground and grid-like wire.The second they lost sight of us that would run around bleating like tortured, lost children.

We were surrounded by people with horses. I gave them all names (I hated their given ones, the owners had small children and let them name them. Blackie, Spotty. Unimaginative little beasts.) A few came to my puff of a whistle. My favorite was a fat black and white spotted pony whom I dubbed Boyfriend. He pressed his nose hard against my stomach when I brought him carrots or apples. He was my size, small enough for me to ride. He had never been ridden though. His owners hadn't bothered with his training. The wire fence that separated me and Boyfriend had a broken post and could be pushed down low enough for him to walk over. I had to coax him at first. I kept him over until the little girls came home from school and then I would lead him back over. I brushed him with the brush we had bought for the dog because his owners never brushed him and his coat was muddied and knotted.

We adopted kittens from they old lady who lived down the street from us. She lived with her husband and her eight-year-old adopted son. He was a real beast. Quel nightmare. He shoved me against a wooden gate and punched my collarbone after I won a race against him and my brothers. I couldn't understand that. My siblings either howled for a re-match or shrugged and moved to something else. No one had ever gotten really angry before. His mother was very nice though, we the boy was over at our house I would go over to his and bake with her. She liked me, she told me that I reminded her of her first son, who was twenty at the time. She said he liked to cook and help her in the kitchen.

The kittens she gave us were almost dead, their mother had left them and the woman had tried to transplant them to another litter but they didn't fit. Two tiny grey and black patchy kittens. Madi named hers Baby and I named the other one Skippy. Baby was blind and tiny with malnourishmeant but Skippy was a hardy little guy. He was strong and large, he was the one to vote for. But he died in two weeks. Baby lived. We had a series of barn cats after that, Dusty, Blackie, Yoda, and finally a kitten we found in the barn that wasn't ours. A little female. We couldn't let her stay outside, we had to many cats anyway and new kittens just wouldn't do. So they gave it to me. I named it Stellaluna after my favorite book. She was a mean cat, she slept under my bed and hissed and clawed anyone who came near. It was hard not to love her.

The man who owned the town of Edgewood (Where we lived.) was named Mccall. His daddy and his daddys daddy and further down the line had a large plantation and their main export was corn and cows. Every year around halloween they held a corn maze and other rubbish festival. The corn maze was huge and pretty close to impossible to maneuver. Madi and I flew down the rows, yanking of browning husks of corn and throwing them into the air, while screaming like banshees. The idea cam from a friend, a boy with wild, red hair like my own, who took some form of chinese kicking with a name I could never pronounce. He came with us one year and we were in line for a 'spooky hayride.' I knew I would end up cringing under the seats but I couldn't help putting up a macho show about it anyway.

We were all on a tire swing, four of us, Madi, Jake, his brother Luke and me. The chains of the swing were cold in my hands. The links pinched my palms and made me want to pull my hands away but I didn't. I was holding only one chain, everybody else had two. Mine broke. I fell backwards and, still spinning, banged my head on the brown gravel. I got a goose-egg round lump and was shuffled in earlier so that we wouldn't sue them.

Winter came and with it a motherly armful of snow. We tumbled in the snow until it became brown with mud and juniper needles. We made snow forts and tunneled low to the ground, our tunnels falling in on themselves a few feet in. It became a battlefield. And the next day there was more, more, more, more.

But we were move anxious again. My daddy was a surfer, New Mexico was land-locked. Plans were made, he got a job out in California, he was gone for months. He called every night. My mother packed the house. It was routine now, get rid of this, fold that, keep that out till the end. My mother snapped one day and decided to go out to see my dad. She told us to pack, to pack quick. The drive was cold.I curled in my seat with a square green blanket and thought of warm things. There was no heater in the car. We said we were just going for a visit but we never went back to New Mexico.

~ ~ ~

We stayed with friends, places with open arms. People I remember from the old days, before we left. Home, before we left home. It was and is the land of the perpetual yuppies but it holds the respect of the place of birth. No matter what, you are loyal, it is where you were born. At first, it was just a visit, we're just staying for a week, no more. But we stayed for two. Then two more, bouncing, bouncing. We found a place. A place, a place, it sung inself over and over in my head, just enjoying its own sound.

~ ~ ~

A salmon pink apartmeant with two bedrooms, temporary. It was next to the sea and the room I shared with my brothers and my sister had a wide balcony and the room forever smelled like salt and sea. I remember the time we lived there, our boxes stacked as if we were going to move again. People came and went.

I remember one visit though, Mrs. Stone and her eldest, AJ. We were in our parents room, lying on my parents bed which was a matress on the floor, all four of us, Madi, Mrs. Stone, AJ, and myself. We were talking and my mother was folding towels on a chair. Mrs. Stone put her hand on her sons chest,

"Look at this, one side normal and the other side sunken in. What am I going to do with him?" We laughed.

There was a really long hill up from our apartmeant, a swooping wing that begged a rider. Me, I couldn't help it. It was perfect, secluded and long, a good ride. The boys upstairs from us came down to skate and we swooped like Yo-yos in the summer sun.

~ ~ ~

I always tell people, I live in the spainish style house with the turquoise door. I hate assigning my house a number and a street, it makes it something that its not.

The summer we moved in was a good one, we were back where we belonged, we lived in a house. I spent my days wandering around El Segundo, playing croquet with my brothers in the backyard. We didn't know the rules, we just wacked the balls around, laughing manicly.

The sprawling little tree in our yard grew peaches. Big, round mottled peaches with dripping orange flesh. There were so many, we gave them out and put them in every luch or snack but they still kept coming.The air around the tree was always thick and sticky sweet with rotting peaches.

We woke up every morning and went to El Porto. To a concrete bench next to the showers and the bathrooms, that overlooks the streach of beach that is the biggest part of my childhood. Most people would say it's the house they grew up in or even the neighborhood but for me, its that bench. I remember it, when I was to small to see past the sand, to the ocean. We had races. who could touch the water first. There and back. Cole fell on purpose everytime. We laughed and stopped for him. No matter where I am, I always come back to that place. That streach of beach, it hasn't changed in fifteen years. I hope it never does.

This is the longest I've ever stayed in a house. Three years goes by fast. I wake up in the morning to the same shower sound, the same morning sounds, my things in the same place, no boxes. Sometimes I still get the urge to move, to try something new, to see somewhere new. But I only have two years left and the idea of moving before then seems almost comical. This is home now. Thats how I want it to stay. My family and the spainish style house with the turquoise door.

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