“You only dreamed you wrote it,” said my ever pragmatic oldest daughter in response to my frustrated sigh. I’d spent a good part of the morning rifling through stacks of papers, flipping through the spiral notebook that I’ve been slowly filling with essay drafts and fiction snippets. But there was no sign of the story I could have sworn was right there among the other ink-filled pages – other than an initial, mind-mapped rush of images that had led me into a world, a scene, a brief moment of my characters’ lives. The story itself, that I clearly remembered having written, was gone.
“Write it again,” said my academic husband who could probably re-sculpt a lost paper out of his notes and citations. “That’s not the way it works,” I said, feeling the few remaining shreds of the story float through my mind, cloud-like and a little wispy. It had been one of those things that just appeared. In the basement, actually, on my way up from putting the laundry in the washer. I’d floundered about a little that morning (not an unusual state for me) and had finally remembered to just up and ask my Muse-mind what he was interested in.
“Lonely houses,” he returned. Lonely houses? Hmmm, interesting, I’d thought. And then he gave me the rest in a flash, literally in images and sensations. The unrepeatability lies in the perception – an all-senses go! moment, barely contained in instances like this, until I write the “thing” down. I promise, I wrote it down. I have no idea if it was any good because though I think I re-read it once, it went the way of everything I’ve written lately, which is to just sit and wait for me to do something with it. In the notebook.
I wish remembering it here would bring it back but all it’ll do is sound second-hand, like a half-heard joke minus the punchline. The point was the experience of the flash, the writing it in that sometimes-entered “I’m in the thick of it” almost-trance, and then, the written thing itself. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be in the notebook and I feel a little lost without it.
Maybe that’s the essence of lonely houses, too. Once alive, full of life even, situated in a particular place. When they lose their people and their purpose all that’s left is a feeling of what was. Accessible only to the one or few who knew them and recognize the rest of what’s left behind as remnants.
Here, as memorial to this lost, lonely house, is the remaining foundation of its story, found only on the mind-map on which is sketched some plumbing work under gutted cabinets, the walls and all the broken windows (beware of nails and fragments, loose wires and run-on sentences):
- “my lonely house,” he says…it is, in its own way, beautiful though dying and doing so without grace, just dilapidation
- not the ones in towns but the ones forgotten by most, off in the hills in the summer
- the whine of cicadas – scream, buzz, shrill, drilling summer through your ears. Then they stop.
- still, late afternoon air, hours before an evening breeze can remind you that at least it makes its way toward the coast
- the live oaks do not move, do not whisper. Their shade, lined with prickled leaf-litter, does not comfort, it crackles.
- little girl comes out from the side, stays in the shade. Does not sigh, merely squats near a stone, picks it up idly, rolls it from palm to palm, puts it down and looks off into the distance. Mama is sick again.
- nothing, of course, is watered in the yard. The faucet does not work. Anyway, there is no garden so what would be the point of water? It would only benefit the star-thistles which scratch the calves of girls who venture past the house shadow in their sundresses. Better not to wear a sundress in the sun anyway: sunburned shoulders and a little poison oak blister where she carelessly let the daughter of the mother-of-all-poison-oak bushes touch her where it reaches across the foot-path edge on the way round the west ridge – away from the dirt road – out where the view of the valley unfolds.
- behind their old car a silver sedan from town clicks and pings and its engine fan shuts off with a finality not heard in the conversation in the house until her father says, “we can’t pay for that, and anyway, she’ll be fine in a day or two – always is and she doesn’t need to go to the hospital.”
- an airplane bores its way through the pale blue sky and is gone
- she goes up the cement steps to the unshaded hollow-core front door, opens it and slips in before the murmured voices can rise above the stillness outside. She closes the door so nothing can escape.
- far off in the distance, unseen by the girl or her mother, clouds gather themselves and somewhere – somewhere else, it rains, out of season.
image source: Michael W. Murphy on flickr (creative commons license)