The House Behind the Oaks
Well, the last month has been fairly chaotic for me, but I’m happy to report that I’m now safely settled in Portland, with only a moving van’s worth of furniture and about 500 boxes to unpack in the living room. I can’t find my silverware, any of my socks, or my hairdryer, but I’ve unpacked my writing space, and that’s what matters.
I’m also happy to report that I’ve been reunited with my writing couch. The writing couch is an old, faded blue loveseat that I inherited secondhand from my uncle and aunt in college. It may not be the most elegant piece of furniture you’ve ever seen (there was an unfortunate incident involving a rodent and one of the cushions during my senior year), but looks can be deceiving. It is the BEST imaginable couch for writing on. For the past two years, it has been moldering in my parents’ garage (although I think they probably snuck out and wrote on it when I wasn’t there to protect it). But en route from Florida to Portland, I stopped in California, crammed the couch in a van, and drove it up to my new apartment, and I expect to see an immediate improvement in my writing as a direct result. Therefore, we have many a promising Monday to look forward to.
This week, I’m posting the next installment of “The House Behind the Oaks.” To read from the beginning, click here. I’ve also started working on a new Bible story, to be posted soon, so if you want to get in the mood, click here to read, “Eden, Revisited.” Otherwise read on for this week’s installment!
Excerpt from where we left off:
I heard my parents calling my name when I reached the main floor. I ran back toward the light and the sound. I was too horrified to tell anyone what I had seen, but I walked directly in front of my parents as we went down the steps toward the street, so nothing would be able to get me.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I thought I saw a tiny face peering up at me from the leaves. I bent over, brushing aside dirt and moss with my hands, and picked up a tiny, wooden doll, no bigger than my thumb.
◊ Installment 7 ◊
We bought the house on a Wednesday. I was sitting on the tree swing in our backyard, watching the patterns the sun made, trickling over the short, mossy path leading to the garage. My sister was digging for salamanders in the freshly turned dirt by my father’s office. That office had once been a covered porch. When my brother was born, there was literally nowhere to put him, so the tiny den where my father worked was converted into a nursery, and my father moved to the porch. He built three extra walls to enclose it, leaving the floor as it was. I can still feel the cold of the scuffed, old bricks, seeping through my socks when I went in to borrow a pencil. We were spilling out of the house like an octopus confined in a goldfish bowl, with first one slippery tentacle sliding over the brim, and then another.
My mother came down the kitchen steps with my brother toddling in front of her. My brother had the reddest cheeks, and soft brown hair that curled around his forehead. My mother wore her tan dress, with a silky scarf I liked particularly: a turquoise fabric with a pattern in dark red and gold. In all the years of my life, whenever I see a scarf like that, I think of mothers.
“Mita, Lily,” my mother called, “come here.” I jumped off the tree swing. My mother was wearing her serious face, and immediately I stood up straighter, tugging at the wrinkles sagging in the knees of my tights. My mother only wore that expression when the situation was extremely somber. She wore it when she told us that my great-grandfather had died. She wore it when she warned us about kidnappers, on the day we started walking home from kindergarten. And she wore it, unintentionally I think, whenever she saw someone experiencing emotional pain. It would flicker across her face when she thought no one was watching her. It meant that we should stand up straighter, try not to giggle or squirm, and in general attempt, however fruitlessly, to be as polite as possible.
“Your father and I decided to buy the Carlemont house,” my mother told us. The Carlemont house was what my parents unromantically called the house behind the oaks, because it was located in Carlemont, a tiny suburb of the Oakland hills. “We signed the papers this morning.”
When you are six or eight, you rarely question the events that happen to you. At that age, you are too young to be exceptionally surprised by anything, because everything in the world is new and surprising. You take events as they come, and assume they are normal parts of how the world functions. So beyond my first startled reaction, it did not occur to me to think much about my parents’ decision. We were moving; that was that. I had better pack up my favorite Care Bear, and make sure my eraser collection stayed well out of chewing distance of my brother.
But I think that was the last time in my life that I accepted my fate so unquestioningly. The six month period during which we moved from the small, sunny house in the Kensington hills, to the house behind the oaks, also marks the time in my life when I first began to question, not only my circumstances, but myself.
Of course, looking back, it was inevitable that we would end up in the house behind the oaks. We were tangled together from the first day we saw it. My parents breathed in the foregone conclusion of our destiny in the air. The plum tree house had long since sold, as had the box house. The realtor had called my parents about each one, while they sat at the dining room table, ruminating over real estate documents. Their gazes had slid sideways over stacks of paper, to the spot where the brochure advertising the house behind the oaks lay, centered on the table. All the other brochures had long since slipped to the floor. You cannot escape your destiny, but you can choose how to react to it. Events roll into our lives like a mountain range, solid and implacable. There is no way to turn back or avoid them, but there are a million different ways to cross them. ♦
(To be continued…)