by Sean Hower
part 1 of 2
Clive and Janine stood at their front door mesmerized by the structure walking down the street. Under the moonlight, its colonial-blue stucco undulated like the taut skin of a body builder. Its slate-gray shingles quivered like snake scales. When the thing stopped in their driveway, the senescent couple realized that it was the spare room from their old house.
Janine was immediately suspicious. “What do you suppose it wants?”
“How should I know,” Clive said, a bit annoyed. “It’s a room for Christ’s sake.”
Janine gave him the you’re-just-being-lazy look, a condemnation that rankled him to no end.
“What do you want me to do, then?”
Clive regarded his wife. He had made it to eighty with his mental and physical health mostly intact. Talking to a room, however, seemed to him to be the first step towards senility.
Janine prodded him with her bony finger as though he were a dog who had been caught digging in the trash.
“Just wait,” Clive barked. He was as curious as she, but he dare not let on. He waited a moment, to make it clear that he wasn’t going because she told him to, then went out to the driveway.
Three sides of the room were walled while the fourth, the one that had been attached to the house, was open. Exposed wiring dangled from a pine frame sandwiched between sheet rock and insulation. The bay window in the middle wall was still intact. Clive had spent many days looking out that window into the backyard.
“Good evening,” he said warmly. “Lovely night, isn’t it?” The weather seemed just as likely a topic as any to break the ice.
The room didn’t respond.
Clive shook his head, a bit disappointed that the room wasn’t speaking. “Can I help you with anything?”
Still no response.
Clive looked back at his wife and shrugged.
“Tell it to scat,” she whispered. The conspiratorial slant in her brow made her look like a spy in those Know Your Enemy films from the War.
He didn’t like being bossed around. With a surge of spite, and nostalgia for the room, he decided to stand up to her. “I’m not going to do that. It deserves more respect.”
“What are the neighbors going to say?”
“To hell with the neighbors. It’s our room.”
“No, Clive,” she scolded. “We sold that place.”
“I don’t care. I didn’t want to sell it. That was your idea.” He patted the wall nearest him. “It can stay if it wants.”
Janine scowled. “Fine. I’m going back to my bedroom.”
Clive was gleeful about his triumph. “Everything will work out,” he reassured the room.
* * *
The next morning, Clive made himself a cup of coffee and went out front with a tattered photo album under his arm.
“Morning,” he said. “Don’t suppose you want any coffee.”
The room didn’t respond.
“Didn’t think so.” He laughed at the ridiculousness of the question. What would a room want with decaf coffee? “Brought some pictures to show you from when you were going to be the kids’ room. I’m afraid there aren’t that many left. Janine got rid of most of them after — well you know. I had to hide these.”
Clive stepped up into the room. The inside was wallpapered with baseball, football, basketball, and soccer players. Signed posters of all-star players were pinned up in a distinctive hierarchy. A bed, nightstand, and dresser were piled against one wall, jostled by the room’s adventure. The closet door hung open and sports equipment was vomited across the floor.
Clive felt a bit betrayed that the couple who had bought the house had changed the room so much. He tried to put the invasion out of his mind but as he thumbed through the pictures he grew more agitated. The room was just not the way it should be.
Finally he put down the photo album and fetched a few boxes and a handful of trash bags from the garage. By midday, the room was empty, its contents heaped on the curb ready for the trash man.
Clive still was not satisfied and targeted the wallpaper as the next to go. He finished stripping the walls by early evening and was feeling quite satisfied with himself. The room was starting to feel right again. The old sage paint was showing but it could do with a fresh coat so he went to the hardware store to pick up supplies.
When he returned, Janine was waiting for him in the drive. He’d had a wonderful day and so it was only natural that she would want to ruin it.
“What are you up to?” It was her angry school-teacher voice perfected in the trenches of substitute teaching. She wielded it against him whenever he stepped out of line.
“Nothing,” Clive mumbled.
“That stuff isn’t yours. It belongs to that young couple that bought the place.”
“They better get here before Wednesday if they want it back, then.”
“You can’t just throw someone else’s stuff away.”
“They shouldn’t have put it in my room then, huh.”
“It’s not your room.”
Clive went hot with anger. “Now look here, I’ve spent most of my life in this room. If anyone has a claim to it, it’s me, not a couple of kids who think they’re grown-ups because they have the money to steal someone’s memories.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Come on, Janine, you know what all went on in that room just as much as I do. Some of it I’m not too proud of. Some of it hurts like hell to think about. But by God it’s all a part of me, it’s all I have left, and I’m not going to give it up again.”
“You pick a fine time to care about things.”
“I’ve always cared. You just never let me show it.” She had always been too busy with herself to understand him, to care about how things affected him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You figure it out. I’ve got work to do.”
A smoldering venom darkened Janine’s face. “Fine. I wash my hands of you.” She turned and went back into the house, slamming the door.
He shook off the exchange as best he could and then set about painting the room. He was determined not to let her ruin the feeling of redemption that was building inside him.
He just finished the first wall when an SUV skidded to a stop in front of Clive’s house. A woman, young, thin, and done up as though she were headed off to a trial, bounded out of the vehicle.
“This is it,” she said. She ran up to the room and hugged it. “We were so worried.”
Clive put down his brush, annoyed that someone else was touching his room. “Can I help you?”
The woman startled. “Oh. I’m Lisa Lander. My husband — Michael — and I bought your house a few months ago.”
Clive knew this already. He had done a background check on the Landers when they had put in their bid. The real estate agent had advised against it, against any contact in fact, but Clive had needed to know what sort of people were going to take over. The check had returned nothing unusual, which had disappointed him. It had been Janine that finally bullied him into accepting the offer.
“What can I do for you?”
Lisa was confused. Hesitantly, she pointed at the room with a friendly isn’t-it-obvious look on her face.
“What’s all of Jim’s stuff doing on the sidewalk?” It was Michael. “Lisa? All of Jim’s stuff is over here.”
Lisa looked towards her husband then back at Clive even more puzzled. She then noticed the paint and brush.
“What are you doing?”
“Painting.” Wasn’t it obvious?
Michael pushed past his wife. “What’s going on here?”
Clive immediately disliked him. Clearly, the background check had been too kind. “I asked first.”
“We came for the room,” Michael said. “What are you doing?”
“Ain’t you never seen a paintbrush before? I’m painting my room.”
“Your room?” the Landers said.
“Now wait a second,” Michael said. “This is part of the house that we bought. We bought it from you. I mean, we bought it. It’s ours.”
“The room doesn’t seem to think so.” He was proud that it loved him enough to return and he wasn’t going to give up on it.
The Landers looked at each other.
“We’d like our room back,” Lisa said.
“It doesn’t want to go back.”
Michael frowned. “It’s a room. It doesn’t have feelings.” He looked at his wife, as annoyed with her and he was with Clive.
Clive flinched. They were insulting him and his room. He steadied his anger and sat down on the edge of the floor, his feet dangling. He wanted to make sure that they understood just what was going on. “Now look here. I know my wife sold that house to you folks, but she didn’t consult the house and she certainly didn’t consult my room. My room has decided that it doesn’t want to be with you. I think it would be best for everyone if we respected that. Don’t you?”
“Oh, this is ridiculous,” Michael snapped. He snatched up a cell phone from a belt clip and began dialing.
“Why do you think the room wants to stay here?” Lisa said. Her voice was soft, entreating.
“It walked here, didn’t it?”
Lisa nodded and Clive couldn’t tell if she was agreeing with him or if she was trying to figure out a way to trick him into giving up the room. He suspected the latter.
“Yes,” Michael said into the phone. “This is Michael Lander. We found it but the previous owner doesn’t want to give it back.”
“You lived in that house a long time, didn’t you?” Lisa asked.
“You feel connected to it?”
“Of course. Can’t live in a place for so long without feeling connected to it or it connecting with you.”
“You know, when we saw your house I immediately fell in love with it. I felt that it was the kind of place where we could live, start a family, build our own memories. I connected with it.”
“I know what you mean.”
“It’s at 4554 Highland Drive,” Michael said into his cell.
“The house has connected with me,” Lisa continued. “The hot water is always there even after everyone has their baths. The windows let in fresh air just when I need it to settle my nerves. The doors stay shut when I want to be alone and open when I only think I want to be alone. Its been taking care of me, Mr. Dutton. It’s happy that we live within its walls.”
“I’m sure it is. Your family must be a nice change from what it’s used to.” Fighting. Bickering. Sniping. The life that unfolded in that house was not the one that had been planned. The thought of the old home seeing some happiness warmed him.
“But the room, Mr. Dutton. The room has never accepted us.”
“Yes, can you please,” Michael said. “Thank you.”
“I didn’t want to put Jimmy in it. I could tell even then that it just wouldn’t look after him and I was right. The windows never shut right. It lets the wind pass right through its walls. It’s blown out the lights I don’t know how many times.”
Clive smiled and Lisa smiled back. She understood the power that a place could have on someone, could even imagine the bond that he and the room shared. It was amazing that in such a short time a complete stranger could understand better than his own wife. “The things you describe about that house, I felt them, too, but only in this room. It does care, Mrs. Lander, a bit too much, I suspect. It doesn’t have anything left for your family, because I used up all of its caring. We need each other now.”
“I can understand that. Michael doesn’t listen when I tell him these things. He thinks I’m just making it up. Honestly, Mr. Dutton, he only sees our home as an investment. He’s been obsessing about the market value and plans to sell in a couple of years to avoid the capital gains tax.”
“He’s just using the place? That ain’t right. That house deserves more respect.”
Copyright © 2006 by Sean Hower