When we had no money we would get in our car and if it started and had gas enough would drive until we came to streets unlike the one we lived on and there would creep along looking at what passed, the splendid order of affluence, wiping our sooty breath from the windows or else rolling them down to lean like dogs into the air, so fresh there, waving at anyone who passed, and though the wealthy are naturally suspicious and seldom waved back, we did not grudge them so long as we were gazing ourselves full on their bounty. I would call out the houses that suited me and he would sometimes agree and sometimes not, often finding my choice too provincial, too old fashioned, and if my mood was raw I would take offense, quarreling with whatever else he said, or else sinking into a silent sulk, and in this way I believe the experience closely resembled house-shopping in earnest, though of course I can’t say for certain, having never had more than the rent that came due so often, so quickly did a month pass, it never failed to startle, the end of one and beginning of another.
But sometimes we agreed, and on that rare occasion would pull to the curb to admire our decision, a sound investment with a great deal of potential, the landscaping, for instance, leaving something to be desired, but that we could work on together, digging holes and filling them, that was something we could do, and no doubt the interior would need updating as well, for the wealthy more often than not have terrible taste, just the worst, that much we knew to expect.
As we’d sit looking from the curb, the interior of the house we’d chosen would take shape in our minds. Mine would be empty, stripped to its subflooring, sunlight falling unimpeded there, warm underfoot. What I craved was an echo. Before him or anybody else there was a house down the road, long vacant, and while I slept I entered it, the rooms opening in detail I still recall, and when I woke I woke with longing, but after a time a young family took up residence there, and when I passed the house it seemed remote, indifferent, another color, steadily obscured by a hedge swiftly planted, quickly grown, and I doubt it can be seen at all, now.
What was in his mind, the length of his halls, the width of his rooms, the feel of his banister beneath a sliding hand—who can say?
If the weather was right, our moods expansive, we would come by cautious conversation to conclude that two houses might be best, so that if we tired of one we might leave it a while, and the thought of that, the space of it, would fill our small car, glaze our eyes, slacken our mouths. If we tired of one. Another.
Oh but the work—it could drag on for years! One project after another, finishing none, fixing coffee and toast amid showers of flaking paint, shadeless lamps upon the floor, a fine white powder of walls over all, huddling our television like tramps at a barrel fire, vagrants as ever, would ever we not be?
Peasants in our one-room apartment, that’s how we lived, stepping over one another to get to the toilet, carrying our tub of wash to the line, left days in the sun it never got white, such was the stubbornness of our grime. In the refrigerator some turnips, in the cupboard a handful of rice, you can think of it as a game if you like, the sort enjoyed by hobbyists assembling to reenact great battles in which many lives were lost and limbs too, sawn from their owners awake, in the air a merriment, the cleanest troupe of soldiers yet seen, well-fed collectors of antique weaponry.
A temporary thing but we’ve been there for years, a small windfall once but we spent it on whiskey and purple-skinned nectarines and steaks in soft sacks of blue blood and some plates for eating on that since have broken, all, their tips I buried in the dirt, made an uneven halfmoon ridge in our bare patch of land, for what purpose, none but to remember how we ate once, no longer.
Returning to the sun-dappled street, the tidy curb, our car would feel smaller, the lawns beyond suddenly remote and too green besides, the burden of upkeep a veil drawing down—there would be so many things to buy, two houses’ worth, the weight of that—our apartment waiting grimly all the while, smelling of the oily food we cooked, the blinds rigged and crooked, the windows swollen in their frames, unwilling to admit a thing.
He was most often the one to drive and I could tell by how he shifted the car into gear again that we were done for the day, his unhurried turn of the wheel, steering us through light and shade, away, his tolerance for looking at the unattainable so much lower than mine, which felt boundless, untested, for in truth it was all I wanted to see.
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