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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Word Prompt: Detective

A tall, lumbering man appeared in our open door. With a cheeky smile, he boomed, “Well, there are a few homes that I’m called to again and again, but I’ll tell ya, I didn’t think I’d ever have to step foot in this house again!”

My boyfriend and I looked at each other, alarm and confusion etching question marks across both our faces. Again?

“You’ve been here before?” we asked.

“Oh, let me tell ya, I’ve got stories about this place,” the detective taunted. “Didn’t think there’d be another reason for me to come back here, but here I am.”

“Um, what kind of stories?” I inquired, imagining the worst – gruesome murders, meth labs, and gang hideouts. Our “up-and-coming” neighborhood was still in infant stages of gentrification, and there was no telling who had lived in our home before it fell into foreclosure.

“Actually, come to think of it, the last time I was here, it was for a death investigation,” he replied, “but I can tell ya that it had nothing to do with this bone you found. Now let me take a look at that, and then I’ll give you some history on your house. They did tell your someone died here, right?”

“No, the seller didn’t mention that,” I answered. “But in the state of California, sellers don’t have to reveal that information unless it happened in the last three years.”

The detective thought for a moment.

“Yeah, this definitely happened in the last three years,” he announced, and then turned to examine the bone on our mantel.

The seven-inch bone with one end sawed off was the whole reason why two patrol officers, a sergeant, and now a detective were standing in our unfurnished living room on a Tuesday night. Paint cans replaced a stack of wood in the fireplace. An abandoned paint roller waited in the bathroom for my return.

We’d owned the house for four weeks and been living in it for two. Two days before we moved from the apartment we’d rented in a nicer area of the city, our plumber found the bone while fixing the main drain pipe. He didn’t both to look for any others – after placing the bone on our backyard patio, he filled the thirteen-foot trench as fast as he could. I probably would have done the same thing.

We thought the drain pipe would be the worst of our issues, but now I wondered if it was only a gateway to the beginning.

Perhaps that’s why I tried not to think about it while we were moving into the house. Some people would have called the police right away. We waited two weeks. I figured if the bone had other relatives in our backyard, they weren’t going anywhere while we unpacked. My boyfriend, meanwhile, had other reasons for not calling 911.

“If the police come, they’ll take it away,” he said.

“Isn’t that the whole point?” I asked.

“If it’s not a human bone, I want to keep it. That’s why we need to find a professor or student in forensics science who would be willing to test it for free.”

I personally didn’t understand why anyone would want to keep a bone of any kind. Nor did I think my boyfriend would take the initiative to find a student of forensic science who could analyze the bone for us. All the while, this bone, which eerily resembled a human’s tibia that had been sawed off at the ankle, might belong to a skeleton buried behind our house, a skeleton with a tragic story which begged to be told.

“Do you realize how bad it will look if your ‘forensics science’ student determines this is a human bone?” I argued. “If it’s human, everyone under the sun is going to want to know why we didn’t call the police in the first place?”

My boyfriend hadn’t considered this potential scenario.

“Yeah, I guess that would look bad, wouldn’t it? Maybe we better call the police.”

We never expected they’d arrive with stories about our house. Especially one which included a death investigation.

The detective stepped away from the mantel.

“Well, I’m not a hundred percent positive, but I suspect this is an animal bone, and I’ll tell you why. The people who lived here before you had two or three big dogs, and they doted on those pets like they were children. I would guess this is a bone they gave to the dogs, which one of them buried in the backyard at some point, but just to be sure, I want the coroner to come out and take a look at it.”

He clapped his hands together.

“So, you want to know some history about your house?”

Before we had a chance to answer, he stepped forward and gestured around the room.

“This whole house used to be filled from floor to ceiling with junk. Tons of junk. The people who lived here were really bad hoarders. I’m talking about the kind who had stuff everywhere except this narrow path from room to room.”

Based on what I’d seen on an episode of Hoarders, I could easily imagine what the rooms had looked like when there were crammed with furniture, magazines, newspapers, knick-knacks, and trash.

“On top of that, the wife was an alcoholic,” the detective continued. “She had been to rehab a few times, but she couldn’t kick the drink. The husband had given her ultimatums to stop drinking, so she tried to hide it, but he knew she was still doing it on the sly. Kind of hard to hide that habit. Anyway, one night, he’s sitting in this small, hollowed cave right over there – that’s where he had set up his chair and a TV among all the junk – and he’s watching his shows, like he does every night. And his wife is sitting in a chair she kept over here.”

He pointed to a space beside me.

“Her chair was in the path from the front door to the hallway. So, she’s sitting there, and all of a sudden, she slumps over and falls onto the floor. This wasn’t anything new to her husband, so he figured he’d leave her there and let her sleep it off. So he goes back to his program, and after a while, he gets hungry. He gets up, steps over her, and walks out the door. Heads down the road to a fast food place to grab a burger, then comes home, walks over her body again, and plops himself back in his chair to watch more TV. Well, a couple of hours go by, and he looks over at his wife and thinks, something’s not right. She hadn’t even moved. So he got up, went over to her, and saw she wasn’t looking too good. He called 911, but when the EMT got here, they saw she was already gone, and they called me over.”

At least it wasn’t murder, I thought.

“How long ago did this happen?” I asked.

“Well, the guy told me they were in foreclosure and losing the house, so it wasn’t too long ago. Maybe a year and a half, two years tops.”

Eying our glazed expressions, the sergeant asked, “Have we freaked you out?”

“Not at all,” my boyfriend and I admitted. After initially picturing a gruesome human slaughterhouse in our minds, an alcoholic dying from her addiction wasn’t at all horrific to imagine.

“She died of an illness,” I added. “That’s essentially natural causes. I’d be more upset if her husband beat her death.”

People dying in homes wasn’t uncommon. Anyone buying a previously owned house, especially one built over half a century ago, had to assume that at some point in the home’s history, an occupant may have passed away there. But I don’t think we ever expected to see that part of our home’s history come to light. Here it was, glaring brighter than the mustard yellow wallpaper buried under five layers of cheap latex paint in the laundry room. I wouldn’t have known that it existed, too, had I not yanked a rusted metal cabinet off the wall and pulled away decades of paint as I did so. One of the three families who lived here before us had thought the walls looked prettier with giant flowers pasted all over them. I wasn’t inclined to agree, but I appreciated the history they left behind for me to discover in 2013.

The wallpaper lent itself to mystery and guesses about what type of occupants used to inhabit our house. Death laid out its tragic secrets and exposed the home’s deepest scars. Yet there was a comfort in knowing it had experienced loss and seen hard times, much like ourselves.

“The coroner should be here in half an hour or so,” the detective announced. “He’ll take a look at the bone and decide if it should be analyzed further.”

The bone. Another remnant from our house’s past.

Which my boyfriend wanted to keep as a souvenir.

“If the coroner takes the bone to his lab and determines it’s not human, can we get it back?” he asked.

The detective chuckled and shrugged. “I have no idea what the protocol is for non-human bones. You’ll have to ask him.”

“It’d be cool to keep and show people when they come over,” my boyfriend said. “If it’s not human, of course.”

“I think our story of this experience will suffice without the bone,” I laughed. “It’s going to be hard to forget something like this.”

Our house was enough of a reminder, all on its own.

 

Word Prompt: Smoke

Wisps of ash floating to the open sky

Trails left by another

Charred logs, blackened soot

Discarded in damp cold

Fires raging heat extinguished

Not too long ago she spit and sparked,

Flailed scorching arms and slapped the air

Fighting for her chance to breathe

Eager to spread her reach

Embrace the muse tangled in twigs

Burned white and gold

Too quick to disappear

Floating far above our open hands

Above flames that wither and die

She finds her peace

 

Word Prompt: Summer

Summer likes to stay up late basking in the sun that hibernates in winter. Summer runs and plays and swims in pools and lakes. Dips its toe into the ocean and jumps headfirst into tumbling waves. It peels away the frozen skin and browns the pale.

Summer is freedom and careless whims. Adventures through woods and long, traveled roads marked by yarn balls and rest stops. Throngs in tongs snapping photos of sites and stars to post on Facebook when they return home.

Summer is love warmed by heat permeating the air and everything it reaches. Holding hands for the first time while fireworks rain glittery light overhead. Sneaking kisses under a pier or behind a tree.

Summer perks me up where winter brings me down. An energy and excitement pulsating through me…effortlessly infused in my soul with the growing hours of light and warmth. I long for summer all year round. I dream of her tempered storms blowing from the west, raging for an hour, and receding with no shame. Her boundless happiness spread far and wide, unbiased of all whom it reaches.

Summer offers us all a chance to play, to be free, to let go.

Word Prompt: Opulence

Long, billowing silk curtains cascaded over the looming windows and pooled into small lakes on the floor. It was rumored all the drapes in the house were woven by silk worms in a remote corner of India, or maybe it was Burma. All I know is they came from somewhere I’d never been. Their rich scarlet and bronze weave glimmered under the thousands of crystals dangling from the ceiling as chandeliers. They radiated a golden glow, which warmed the grand ballroom and illuminated the opulence of a man I hardly knew.

Few people knew him. He was a recluse. Rumored to be eccentric and ornery. Yet once a year he opened his doors to a select number of invitees, who admired the un-scuffed honey brown wood floors and velvety rugs from exotic locales in the farthest regions of the world. Slender candlesticks, entwined in metallic ropes of silver and gold, propped up fragrant candles on the mantels in each room. Even the lethargic wax, which meandered down each candle, seemed rich. It probably derived from a rare tree in the Amazon, a tree that could probably cure blindness or cancer, if not for its precious wax being used as decor in wealthy people’s homes.

I wondered how many mouths could be fed with the riches in this house. How many diseased people could afford treatment if they had a piece of this fortune, which served no purpose other than to impress the haves and have nots.

“What do you think of this place?” asked a voice at my side.

“I think it’s a bit much,” I replied, the words flying from my tongue before I had a chance to catch them and stuff them inside my indignant brain.

How ungrateful I must have seemed to the white-haired man standing to my left, who bent to inspect the ornate carvings of a chair rail on the wall. Before I could correct my faux pas, he said, “Hmmm, you might be right about that. Fewer details would have allowed us to see more of the natural gleam in this maple.”

Grateful for his misunderstanding, I nodded and stepped away before uttering anything else which made me appear unappreciative of this opportunity to visit the state’s wealthiest man. I doubted he’d appear among us, likely preferring to hide in a room upstairs until every last one of us had exited his abode. Opulence had no reason to associate with the common folk; we offered nothing but gaping mouths and “oohs” and “aahs.” We came to imagine and dream how we’d live like kings if this magnificence was ours, but as I stood there among the masses, my thoughts were less about myself than the millions of unfortunate souls whose lives would have been transformed from the money spent to decorate this room.

Word Prompt: a Hat

A lone hat dangled from the rack by the door for thirty years. She refused to move it, and we weren’t allowed to touch it.

“That belongs to your father,” she said. “He might decide he needs it one day. I don’t want that hat missing when he walks through the door.”

Us kids knew he wasn’t coming back. He was sleeping with the fishes, for all we cared. When he stomped out the house, slamming the door hard the window panes shook and clattered, none of us shed a tear. Not even Mother. She was used to him leaving.

She was also used to him coming back, nonchalantly throwing his hat on the rack and strolling to the dining room where meat and potatoes warmed his plate at the head of the table.

“Today, I almost made us rich!” he’d exclaim. “Today, I almost made us a million dollars. But then that stupid horse had to stumble near the end. Damn thing deserved the bullet they put in its head.”

That cued Betsy, the baby sister, to cry. She hated when anything died, even the spider which Bo smashed with his shoe when he caught it creeping around his room.

“Dear, don’t talk about the races in front of the children,” Mother reprimanded our father. “You know it upsets them.”

“Dammit, woman, this is my house, and I’ll talk about whatever I damned want to!”

To emphasize his dominance, he banged his heavy fist on the table, rattling the silverware balanced on our plates.

“Damned horse deserved to die!” he yelled. “We coulda been rich today!”

But we weren’t, and we’d given up believing his dreams of striking gold with magical horses who flew through the air and boats that delivered mysterious crates to the docks on the lower side of town. When he stayed out late, my brothers and sisters huddled in a bedroom and prayed for a father who went to a normal job from 9 to 5, who came home and kissed our mother on the cheek, and who played catch with us in the yard on Sunday afternoons.

That man never set foot in our house, not even to retrieve the hat he left on the rack one night in his rush to get out the door and meet his next get-rich-quick scheme. For thirty years, Mother held out hope he’d return with his million dollars and all our problems would be solved.

And that hat had no choice but to wait for the same.

Word Prompt: Midnight

Tip toe on the wood

Hard and cold like naked steel

Silent mistress on her back

Bending to my tired step

Weary groping through the night

Half-shut, half-awake in dream

Where I find the world in peace

In strife, turmoil, love, sleep

To the drink I draw a sip

Savor the drop and find my way home

The cloud that carries me

To midnight seas

I drift in waves unseen.