The house needed a lot of work. Hidden behind a jungle of overgrown rhododendron and ceanothus, was an eyesore of peeling paint, with a rickety front porch and never mind the inside, with its musty carpet and grease-stained kitchen walls. Frankly, it was not her first choice. She had been pushing for the split-level ranch on the other side of town and fought with her husband over the architectural value of bungalows versus ranches, the 1920s versus mid-century modern. But in the end, she reluctantly agreed. Not that she disliked the place, no indeed. She loved historic homes. She just never thought she would own one in such a state of disrepair. But the corner bungalow had curb appeal, and there was something about its craftsman windows and sprawling porch that reminded her of a romance novel. The tangle of English ivy and blackberry hid the stone walkway that led to the porch. On her first day, she found a statue of an angel hidden beneath the rhodies, its chubby features and broken wings covered in moss and lichen like some ancient relic. Davina took this mysterious find to be a good sign. A good omen. Her husband found it creepy, like something you might find at an abandoned cemetery, and suggested she put it in the trash along with the other garbage. Instead, she placed it on the steps, insisting it would protect them. From the moment they moved in, he was away. His new job was forty miles to the north in Portland and demanded long hours. He would often arrive home late in the evenings after she had gone to bed and so she became accustomed to being alone at the house. Her online job allowed her the freedom to explore the little details of her new surroundings. From the hole in the living room wall, which she patched and repainted, to the old knob and tube electrical work with its exposed wiring and old switches, she savored each blemish; each groove and indentation along the wood paneling and molding. She fought daily with the cabinet door in the kitchen, the one that refused to stay shut and sprang open any time she got close to the sink. When she used the toaster, the kitchen lights would flicker, and the refrigerator would hum. She came to understand the details of the house like one might know their partner’s skin and curves of their hips and shoulders. One day, to her great joy, she found hardwood under the carpet in the living room and ripped it out without telling her husband. Hopeful that he would help her finish the floors on the weekend, she was confused when he declared he was going rafting with friends. It had been a long week, he said. He needed time to relax. Since she was deathly afraid of water, there was no way she was going along. The sander and buffer kept her company, and it was in these moments that she remembered how much she missed his touch, missed his presence. And so she worked through the day and part of the night, pushing the idea of him out of her mind until her back ached and her hands cramped, and she had just enough energy to make a bowl of spaghetti for supper. Eating alone at the kitchen table with her novel and Miles Davis playing in the background, she lit two taper candles and sipped red wine, admiring the warm color she had chosen for the kitchen, which she had finished painting the week before. The sunset glow it had in the evenings comforted her and even though she wanted to be around him, sit near him, see him smile, she was content. She did not feel lonely. She finished the floors the next day, repainted the bedroom the next week, and fixed the leaky faucet in the bathroom, gently touching the old fixtures as if they were sacred. On most days, she would open the sash windows so the curtains would billow in the breeze and she would turn on her Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Her Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. She would dance around the kitchen dusting shelves and mopping the floor and she could almost swear the house felt lighter. Happier. As if the house sighed with relief. She would tell her husband this on the phone when he remembered to call; his calls now tapering off when once he checked on her regularly. What nonsense, he would say. You should get out of the house more. But there was too much to get done, and she felt safe there. Comfortable. Outside, she pulled ivy and blackberry vines free from the earth, amassing a great pile, which she loaded into the back of her truck. She pulled weeds with fervor and spread mulch around the bushes and dogwood. Second-hand flower pots were filled with pansy, petunias, and snapdragons in a kaleidoscope of colors, which she set on the front steps to greet house guests. And on the porch, she hung a porch swing, where she would take her morning tea or evening cocktail. Standing on the sidewalk, looking at her home from the curb, she couldn’t believe that she fought him over this house. What a mistake it would have been to have chosen another, and her heart felt full as she crossed the threshold and closed the door.
On a rare Friday night, her husband had come home at a decent hour, with enough time to walk to dinner and share a bottle of wine. They stumbled home like two young lovers and once they hit the living room; they removed their clothes in a hurry of kisses and gentle touches and fled to the bedroom. They had not made love in some time. In fact, she had forgotten the last time altogether, but as he grabbed her hips and kissed her lips, a crackle and pop from the kitchen caught her attention, and just as quickly, the lights flickered. The same happened in the bedroom. Her husband went to flick the light switch, but as soon as his hand touched it, a jolt of electricity gripped his arm, and he cried out, waving his fingers in the air. What the hell? He said in frustration. Naked, she walked to the kitchen and shut the lights off there. No power surge. No shock. She returned to the bedroom and turned the lights on and off herself. Nothing. They worked perfectly fine. That’s funny, she said and moved to kiss him, but he pulled away, nursing his wounded arm. He gathered his clothes from the living room floor and went to the bathroom without a word. She sighed, pushing the idea of sex from her mind. It wouldn’t be that hard. They rarely did it anymore anyway, but those feelings were not easily dismissed and her body still pulsed with desire as she crawled into bed and fell asleep, her head cloudy from wine. The following week, her husband claimed he had to work later than usual. For Davina, this was not out of the ordinary and she thought nothing of it, working on her computer for a few hours that day, and then taking on her new project of painting the back hallway a new shade of smokey blue. Working into the wee hours of the night, with her jazz music on shuffle, she sipped white wine, occasionally admiring her paint splattered coveralls, thinking she might not wash them and just leave them that way. When she finished, she locked the doors. Not that she didn’t feel safe, because she absolutely did. Safer in that house more than any other. But she locked it out of habit and some primal need to stay apart from the rest of the world. In her home. With her things. Alone in her queen-sized bed again, she had taken to sprawling out, letting her long legs find his empty side of the bed and relax until he arrived home. And she felt for a moment as if the house sighed and settled too. As if a great calming filled the room, rippling through the floors and the walls. She realized then that she had forgotten to shut off the lights, but as she moved to get up, the lights shut off by themselves. Perhaps she had nodded off for a moment and the lights had been off all along. Fuzzy from exhaustion, she hit the pillow, cast deep into dreams. The next morning, she had Ella and Louis on the radio, teakettle on the stove, and the fresh morning breeze come through her windows. She swayed to the music as she cooked French toast, drenching the bread in her egg and cinnamon mixture, and sliding it onto the griddle. She felt refreshed and whole. It was then that she realized her husband had not come home. Her heart beat fast as worry filled her and she pulled out her phone to call him. It went right to voicemail. “Call me back. I hope everything is okay,” she said before hanging up. Unsure what to do, she contemplated calling the police. Perhaps his office? One of his rafting friends? She paced the floor, wringing her hands with each step, until the click of the deadbolt and the opening of the door caught her attention. “I was worried. Where were you?” “I’m sorry,” he said, dropping his bag by the door and kicking off his shoes. “We had a long night at the office, and I slept on the sofa in the waiting room.” She wrinkled her brow. It sounded so odd. “Can I make you something to eat?” “No, no thanks.” He walked past her, throwing his tie and jacket on the chair, and walked to the sink. It was such a faint detail. Almost unnoticeable. The bit of fine, iridescent powder on the jacket shoulder. Davina got up to inspect and, pulling the jacket closer, she caught the unmistakable smell of perfume, which made her gasp and her stomach lurch. She turned to him and leveled him with a stern stare. “What?” he asked, as he turned on the faucet only to have it spray water all of him. “What the hell?” “Who were you with last night?” She stared at him, her hands clenching the jacket. “What do you mean?” He looked down at his wet shirt as he tried to dab it dry with a towel, unsuccessfully. “Who were you with, at the office?” “Nobody. Everybody left.” He reached to loosen his tie, which he’d already removed, and dropped his hand, flustered at his mistake. She threw the jacket at him. “Does nobody wear make-up and perfume?” “Davina, I think you need more caffeine. You’re not thinking right.” He quickly glanced down at the jacket and crumpled it up. A low crackle spread through the walls and carried throughout the kitchen. “You go right to playing the crazy-woman card, huh? I’m not right in the head? Not thinking clearly?” She approached him in two strides and stood so close she wondered if he could feel the anger coming off her in waves. “Who is she?” “There’s no one.” But he couldn’t meet her eyes, instead glancing around the kitchen in search of the mysterious sound. “Bullshit.” Davina felt like flames twisted inside her gut and that’s when the lights flickered. “God dammit, not again,” he cried, walking over to the light switch and flicking it up and down violently. “Piece of shit house.” A strong current, almost like lightning, moved through the wiring, knocking him to the ground. “Ouch! What the...?” “Serves you right.” She stood over him. She hated the way he talked to the house. Hated the way he touched it, as if out of obligation and anger. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m hurt.” He crawled up off the floor, but as he did so the house began to shake, rattling the pictures on the walls and growing more intense, as if it might take off. “Is it an earthquake?” “No,...it’s not. It’s angry.” She looked around, finally realizing that the house was indeed acting up. She knew it was true; almost like she always knew. “It’s the house.” “You’re insane. You know what...” he said, shaking out his jacket and waving it at her. “Yes, okay, I was with someone last night. There, you happy now?” She sat down at the kitchen table, weak in her knees. The truth finally registering. “It loves me,” she mumbled to herself. “Loves me like you can’t. Maybe...maybe you never loved me at all.” The house stopped shaking. The lights stopped flickering, and the air felt heavy, electric. She looked around now, at the delicate features she so painstakingly cared for all these long months—the wood paneling, the hardwood floors, the new light fixtures. “I think you should go, before you upset it again.” No sooner than the words left her mouth did the front door swing open, letting in the fall wind and dried leaves. His eyes were wide with fear. “Listen to me, this isn’t making any sense. I don’t understand what’s going on here, so let’s just take a moment…I…I can explain...” “You can come back for your things another day. But for now, just go.” He lingered there, staring at her, and then looked around at the house. “This was a mistake. It was all just a mistake.” He walked to the door, shaking his head. She would not look at him. What was the point? A little piece of her regretted not having seen this coming. Maybe she just didn’t want to see. Maybe it just didn’t matter. His love was long gone anyway. After he grabbed his bag and keys and stepped outside, the door slammed shut and locked behind him. She sat back in her chair and exhaled hard, but to her surprise, no tears came. The feeling in her gut now was new. Regret, relief, resolve. She wasn’t sure. She reached over and touched the wall, running her hand gently along the molding and the windowsill, admiring the smooth texture and firm feel of the wood. The radio kicked back on, and Ella and Louis continued to sing about foggy London-town, and the lights dimmed to a warm glow, and she let the cool morning breeze from the cracked window caress her skin and comfort her.
About the Author Lena Hari lives and writes fiction among the ancient oaks and towering fir trees in Oregon. Her fiction has appeared in The Plentitudes-Quarterly International Literary Journal and she is an MFA candidate in fiction in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. About the Artist From Troy, Michigan and currently in Chicago, Sammy Loree is a visual artist and creative writer with focuses in surreal portraits and fiction. Updates and more art can be found on her Instagram @artsamloree.
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