The House Behind the Oaks
I hope your Monday is off to an excellent start! Today I’m posting the 10th and (for now) final installment of “The House Behind the Oaks.” Whether we return to it again is up to you! As those of you who have been following this blog for a while know, I’ve been using a different writing method on this story. Usually, I finish (or nearly finish) a story before posting it. But with “House,” I’ve been writing from week to week, with no idea of where it’s going next. Next Monday, we’ll be moving away from “House” to my latest comedy. After that wraps up, if you want/do not want/strongly & vehemently oppose returning to “House,” let me know in the comments! Thanks for your input!
Excerpt from where we left off:
At any rate, we were going to move to a new house now, one with more kitchen space and a second bathroom, where my parents could each have an office without intruding on the porch, one with closets for everyone and a basement and an attic, and perhaps –I wondered- one where my father’s memories did not crowd upon him at the sight of every mark on the walls, every tile in the floor. We would find an empty, shiny, new-smelling house where we could start with a blank slate, where the echoes of a family’s history did not whisper to us from every corner, resounding in the stairwells, and hovering in the very air we breathed.
We could not have chosen a more unsuitable house.
On the day we moved, we woke up early. All of the boxes and crates that held our furniture had been packed. They lurked in doorways and inconvenient places, as if someone had turned our house into an enormous pinball machine, and we were the tiny silver balls that had to find our way around impediments. My father and uncles would be moving the boxes later, but first my parents, brother and sister and I were going to drive to our new house all by ourselves.
We drove crouching on the floor of our new minivan. It was a splendid purchase, made shortly before we moved, when we traded in my mom’s faded, blue Honda that had been around for as long as I could remember. This minivan had come straight from the manufacturer, and everything in it smelled intoxicating and shiny, like a freshly opened can of tennis balls, mixed with carpet fibers. We had never owned a whole van before, and it was our great pride. My sister and I took it upon ourselves to explore every nook and cranny, and we were now knowledgeable enough to conduct a full tour, reeling off the number of drink holders and hidden compartments, and displaying with especial pride the triangular plastic handles that made the back seats flatten out. Today, the seats had been removed to make way for the future carrying of boxes and furniture. We had to sit on the floor with our heads down between our knees, so as not to be spotted without seatbelts by the police, in the event of which, we were given to understand, we would almost certainly be arrested. My mother told us to say goodbye to the old house in Kensington forever. This seemed sad, and we cried. But behind the tears, we were not really upset. We did not understand what forever meant then -I still vaguely expected, somehow, to see my grandfather one of these days- and there was an undercurrent of thrilling excitement, and adventure in the air.
When we pulled into the driveway of our new house, something was wrong. There were no ruts in the muddy parking area, made by the heavy tires of moving trucks. No skid marks, from furniture dragged over brick, stood out red against the faded white dust of the porch. At our old house, one could breathe in the evidence of our move in the very air, which was full of cardboard filaments and bits of tape. But here, everything was still and serene. The safe, green tangle of oak leaves surrounded the house like a protective shield, as if nothing had changed here in a hundred years. When we looked up at the second floor windows, they were still full of fluttering curtains, waving in the breeze.
My father’s eyebrows drew together. The moving truck with all our furniture was scheduled to arrive in an hour. Keys to our old house had already been handed off to its new owners, and we had packed duffel bags with sheets, to sleep on our beds in the new house tonight. A change of address form had been turned in at the post office, directing our mail to our new mailbox, which, now that I looked, was hanging lopsided off its hinges, crammed full of faded envelopes and rotting newspapers. A gardener was coming to exterminate the poison oak in the yard, but how could he? The grass was still piled with mounds of rusting furniture, over which red leaves crawled like fire ants, intricately twined into every brittle hinge, and ancient rivet.
My father turned off the ignition.
“Stay here,” he said, presumably to me and my siblings, but I was too curious to remain where I was. I waited until my parents reached the front door, and then I slipped from the van, and ran around to the side porch.
The screen door was hanging askew. I pushed it open. My eyes widened in shock. The hallway was still blocked with the same mounds of decaying furniture and mildewed table linens that had been there the first day we visited. Nothing had moved one inch. I pushed past a dusty grandfather clock and peered into the kitchen. The same dishes bulged in the same creaking cabinets, and the sink was still piled high with plates and soap bubbles- could they be the same soap bubbles? Stale food overflowed from the top of the refrigerator, and a tiny mound of spilled rice had trickled down from one of the countertops, forming a miniature mountain on the kitchen floor. There were no boxes anywhere; no one had made any pretense of moving. I pushed through the kitchen to the dining room, and then the living room. Everything was just as it always had been. The same, curling green vine from the plant by the fireplace still curved lovingly around the worn, velvet sofa, perhaps an inch longer now. I turned, taking in the piles of books lining the walls, the abundance of lamps, lined up one on front of another on every surface. Surely it would take months to cart all this away. I heard my parents’ voices on the stairs. I ran through the door into the front hall, up the stairs, where shadowy portraits of ancestors still peered scornfully from the walls, down the hallway, where open doors gave me glimpses into bedrooms still overflowing with the forgotten leftovers of other people’s lives, to the room at the end of the hall, in front of whose open door my parents were standing. And there was the old woman with the faraway eyes lying, drunk, on the bed. ♦
(To be continued…)