Sunday, November 27, 2016
A couple weeks after we moved from our apartment, the neighbor lady came to my house and sat on the porch with me. I set aside the book that I had been reading and looked at her. It was a nice Sunday afternoon with kids playing in the alleys and lawn mowers in the distance. The lady welcomed me to the neighborhood. Then, she told me the histories of the houses on the block. There had been several divorces and one foreclosure. She pointed to a couple homes and said that children had died in them. Although the neighbor lady was middle-aged, she wore her hair like a teenager, a long greying pony tail that fell to her hips.
One of the homes where a child had died was at the end of the block, five lots away, a big white Dutch Colonial. "It’s a sad place," the neighbor lady said. She didn’t say anything about my house and, so, I thought that, at least, no children had died there. But, later, I wondered if the woman was simply sparing me.
While the weather was still nice, my wife and I invited people to come to a house-warming party. Two days before the shindig, I hurt my back moving a couch and we had to cancel. We rescheduled for six weeks later, but, then, my wife miscarried and we canceled again. On this occasion, we couldn’t give any reasons for withdrawing our invitations and, I think, some people took offense. After another six weeks, we tried again to invite people over and, this time, there was no emergency. But only about a third of our friends invited actually came.
The Dutch Colonial house at the end of the block was vacant for more than a year. Every two weeks a crew of three swarthy men wearing baseball caps drove up to the place in an old pick-up truck full of rakes and shovels and lawnmowers. The men mowed the lawn and trimmed the trees and pulled thistles out of the flower beds. Once, I tried to talk to them while I was walking my dog. None of them could understand a word that I said.
The men came in the Winter as well and used snowblowers to keep the sidewalks and driveway clear. On thaw days, the snow piled up along the sidewalk melted a little and, in the evening, when I walked my dog, the water froze. Once I almost fell on the ice. The house’s big hipped roof reminded me a barn and its windows were always dark. The siding was fresh and new and I could see that the roof had also been recently re-shingled. I wondered if insurance money had been paid when the child died.
Night comes early in the winter in this part of the world and the house was a big, inert shadow, hulking over its lawn and the snow banks and the sidewalk that was sometimes treacherous. One evening, I thought I saw a light in one of the upstairs windows, but, when I looked more closely, it was just a reflection of a streetlamp down the block.
Houses need care. If you don’t take care of your house, it will topple down around you. I found out that there was no mixing valve in my plumbing. Sometimes, water flowed into my bath or shower that was scalding hot. My wife burned the sole of her foot and, so, I had a plumber install the valve. A few days later, I saw the neighbor lady. She had noticed the plumber’s van pulled up next to my home. I told her about the mixing valve. She seemed surprised and said: "You mean that was never fixed?" I replied: "It’s fixed now." She winked at me: "That’s good," she said.
When it was Spring, someone moved into the Dutch Colonial House. The first thing that happened was that a big truck marked with the name of an out-of-town landscaper arrived. The truck had a long flatbed used mostly, I think, for hauling sod. On the flatbed, a big boulder was sitting. I don’t know how the men moved the boulder from the truck onto the front lawn of the house, but, somehow, this was accomplished. The boulder was pinkish granite with a pale quartz ledge running around its mid-section like a belt. The boulder sat at the corner of the lawn, where the sidewalk made a right angle and it looked vaguely defensive, like a lion placed there to defend the home.
Next, the people in the house tore down its shabby little garage behind the hedges in the alleyway. A crew of workers came and erected a three-car garage and put electric lights in brass sconces between each of the garage-doors. The garage was the same color as the house with trim that also matched. It was a very nice garage and people speculated about what it had cost.
I never saw anyone at the house except for the lawn-crew or the men who built the garage. At night, the home’s windows were lit, but I couldn’t see into them. Earlier, I had noticed work-men installing new windows on the first floor. The windows were glazed with a white-finish on the glass so that you could not look into the house. This seemed odd and unneighborly. I had drapes – if I wanted to look out onto the street and sidewalk, I would open my drapes; if I wanted privacy, I would pull them shut. When I walked by the house with my dog at night, I could see into the upper rooms if the lights were turned on. But this was uninformative, a patch of white wall and a pale plaster ceiling.
Someone pointed out an article in the paper about an arrest for drug possession. The criminal suspect’s name and address appeared in the newspaper. I was surprised that the address was on my street and, so, I went down the block to verify that it was the Dutch Colonial house where the alleged drug dealer lived.
I don’t know how the criminal case was resolved. But, later, there was a "For Sale" sign posted next to the granite boulder on the lawn. I didn’t see any lights in the house after that.
The house was on the market for a long time. The owner must have been demanding an unreasonably high price. Then, the economy tanked. The crew of men who didn’t speak English continued to maintain the place and the property looked impeccable. A different realtor’s sign was posted and, then, another. After two years, the sign was taken down but we didn’t see anyone move into the house.
Three days after Thanksgiving, I walked my dog in the twilight. To my surprise, I saw that all of the downstairs windows on the Dutch Colonial house were brightly lit. Because the glass was opaque, I couldn’t see anything but the bright white squares casting light out upon the November-brown lawn and flower-beds. Very loud music came from the house. The bass was throbbing like a heart beat. It sounded like a dance party was underway. But, there were no cars parked anywhere near the house and, although a couple of upper windows were also lit, I couldn’t see anything but that patch of white wall and the plaster ceiling.
I stood for a while and listened to the house. When I walked away, I could hear the throbbing beat booming across the silent neighborhood, a sound almost loud enough to reach my own front porch.
My wife had left for the weekend and my home was dark and empty. I walked through the lonely rooms. Sometimes, I wonder what our life would have been like if my wife had not miscarried. When I turned on the faucet, the hot water steamed. Perhaps, the mixing valve at the center of the house had failed again. I had to be careful not to scald myself.