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The International Writers Magazine: Fragile

The House
Claire Hopple
“I know, okay? I know,” I reply to the box, rubbing my blotchy eyes. I slump down on the hardwood and tap my sneaker against it to the beat of “Another One Bites the Dust.” Where did that even come from? Oh yeah, the radio this morning as Jack pulled away in the Volvo to go to work.


The foot tapping sounds so loud, so dramatic, almost important, because of the empty rooms. Everything echoes, even my thoughts. I don’t want any of my movements to be this concrete, this solidifying. At least that’s what the volume suggests. So different from the seventh grade, when I desperately wanted shoes that clicked when I walked down the school hallways. The clicking meant you were wearing heels. The clicking meant you were in a hurry to be at some pressing engagement, but that everyone else in the hall should stop and listen. And look.

Now, the gaze of the taupe walls is enough to unnerve me. The echo should be a hefty incentive to unpack, and yet it is also paralyzing me, gluing my body to the floor so I won’t have to hear it again. I feel for the carton in my butt pocket and run out our new front door. I notice the screen door sticks.

On the stoop, I envision myself planted here almost every morning. Because I can. Because unlike Jack, my work schedule is “non-traditional,” as they say. And I actually like how sticky it feels out here.

I thought once I was able to write for a living I would experience a level of contentment previously unreached. I thought I would enjoy, even embrace, the reclusive lifestyle. I would start to take long walks, filled with purpose, at any hour of the day. I could fill my desk drawers with colorful journals riddled with insights on the human condition. And when I felt satisfied with my level of productivity, I would take out my mind and smear it all over the TV screen, glowing with daytime sitcoms and talk shows. I would even pretend I was a stay-at-home mom or housewife, when really I would be the exact opposite. I would pretend to buy diapers online or search for breastfeeding tips. I would try it on, just to see how it feels, because of the sheer ridiculousness of it. Like when I was five, waddling around my my dad’s size eleven running shoes that smelled like grass clippings.

But it’s really nothing like that at all. I light myself a smoke and take a long draw. Directly across the street, I notice a house is getting completely rehabbed. The entire face of it is gone and its innards are completely in view, as if it is getting some kind of house autopsy. The realtor had mentioned to us something about this, that this neighborhood was historic and people loved to restore the old houses.

The floors and walls are all exposed. I can see its entire layout. Like a dollhouse or a movie set or something. Above the gutted house, a jet soars by, leaving a chalk line in its path.

I imagine people inside the house. This is a house where the front is left off intentionally. Some sort of hippies or exhibitionists live here who are very comfortable with themselves. Too comfortable. Perhaps they are even a bit histrionic or grandiose.

Upstairs, the wife is urinating in the bathroom. When she is finished, she soaps up her hands, gives them a good rinse and then dries them off on a towel labeled “His.” Then she walks into the bedroom, sauntering into the walk-in closet, selecting an outfit for the day.

Downstairs, the man finishes breakfast and dumps his plate into the sink. He goes upstairs and brushes his teeth. He takes a dump. He rinses his hands briefly--no soap--and dries them on the towel labeled “Hers.”

There is carpeting at the stairs. Perhaps so when they walk around naked, as the often do, those glancing at them will not have to see what naked bodies look like while falling down steps. I am very grateful for this.

A small room beside the bathroom is next. It must be an office. No, a boy’s room. He is lying on his bed, heels to the wall, reading a hardback book. His face morphs into various expressions of horror, intrigue, deep sadness that could only imply a grounded sense of human mortality, and finally, one of intense joy. I lean forward to find a title or author or ISBN number on the book cover. I squint. I can’t make out the title of this astounding book.

I stand up and dust myself off. I take another drag to stimulate dopamine for concentration. Still nothing.

I traverse our new yard, squint and lean forward. This still doesn’t work. The name is there, but it is clouded. Astounded that my nearsightedness would be so potent as to penetrate my imaginary sight, I cross the street. I walk right up to the house with no face. A few more large steps and I could touch the seams. I scratch my head and take a puff.

A man gets out of a black luxury vehicle parked in the street. He is wearing aviators, but they’re so sleek they barely resemble aviators. They are at the top of a long line of evolved aviators. He is tan. Very tan. He walks toward me.

“Excuse me,” he says, in a contrived, deep voice.

An attempt at authority? Before I answer, I diffuse his intimidation by looking him over. He just came from golfing. He is the type of person who, when asked at a party what he does for a living, says he dabbles in investing. No one cares to dig further. No one really ever catches him working. Not even when they come over unannounced.

“Excuse me?” he repeats.

“Hello,” I say.

“Hi. What is it exactly that you’re doing? This is um, my property here,” he gestures toward the dollhouse.

“You are very tan,” is for some reason all I can say back.

He smiles but you can tell he’s not very well practiced at it. He only smiles when he’s uncomfortable.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“I just moved in across the street. I’ve never seen a place like this before. I guess I was just checking it out or something.”

Damn postmodernism. Its bullshit has forced me to never state anything with clear certainty, always throwing in an “or something” at the end of everything. Instead of leading me to second guess facts or traces of the Enlightenment as intended, it somehow makes me question all my opinions, emotions, innate reflexes--everything that was intended to be subjective anyway. It’s like all my insides are crumbling away.

I can’t see his eyes through his sunglasses but I know he’s staring at me. He thinks that if he stares at me long enough he’ll be able to figure out if I’m telling the truth. I don’t give him the opportunity. I extend my hand.

“Great to meet you, neighbor. I’m Lorrie. Good luck on the house. Maybe I’ll see you around or something. I’m home. A lot.”

We shake hands and I grin. I bolt back across the street and into the house. I rip open a box and dump it onto the floor, letting everything spill out into one large pile.

© Claire Hopple August 2011

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