To The People Who Will Buy Our House
By Al Keefe
I apologize beforehand for the haunting that this may cause. It is a big, expensive, and relatively new house, so expensive, my mother tells me, that everything is done through brokers, as with yachts or racehorses. We are not to meet. Many times, my mother will call on a weeknight—late but not too late, eight o’clock—and tell me that she’s left dinner hot on the table because you or someone like you is showing up to have a look.
I want you to know that we understand the impulse: When we were looking to buy, I spent whole Saturdays with my mother and stepfather in the backseat of a car, driving to places with big lawns. At one house—new, with lots of windows, a view of a small stand of old trees out the back—the woman was still there. She showed us the bedrooms and pointed to framed pictures of her son that hung on the walls in the hallway. She walked us through the kitchen, where she’d made coffee, which we drank. She showed us her bedroom. In the end, she asked how we liked everything and we liked everything okay. She was getting divorced and didn’t want to leave, and she said this. My mother remembers her as bitter, and we didn’t go back to the house. This, I suppose, is the disadvantage of not working through a realtor.
And so I understand that you don’t want to buy our house, you want to buy your house. But there are some things you should know, lest you feel them when you’re doing dishes in the kitchen, or looking for pliers in the garage, or making love on the carpet in front of one of the downstairs fireplaces—there are two, both are gas.
My bedroom was on the second floor, the only room up there with a fireplace. It was supposed to be an upstairs living room, sort of a family room, the realtor told us. It is a big room with too many windows, and it doesn’t get dark enough at night. What I tell most people is that the day we moved in my parents were at work, and I told the movers to put all of my things in that room. I am talking about heavy things—my bed, my dresser. I knew my folks wouldn’t want to go through the trouble of moving them somewhere else, into one of the smaller rooms. That it was a trick I pulled. Really, my parents had dragged me kicking and screaming into that house, and the bedroom with a fireplace—the teen-dream bedroom, as my stepfather had tried to pitch it to me—was for bargaining.
The only other thing to know about the room is that once, backed into its southwest corner on a school night with all the lights on, I very seriously considered hitting my stepfather in the face. He was yelling about something, inches from my nose, and my mother had made the whole thing worse by trying to get him to get away from me. “We’re men, Christine,” he’d said, as an aside from the yelling. “This is what men do.” And it was this that terrified me to tears, through which I told him you’re right, I am afraid of you, and that I would kill him if I had a gun. I broke that bedroom door off its hinges and pounded downstairs into the garage, where I got into my mother’s car, which I was not old enough to drive, and waited for her. She drove me around the block to cool off, and all I kept saying is that I’d kill him, that if I had a gun I’d shoot him, and she said she didn’t blame me.
Walking out of my bedroom now, there is a long, long hallway that leads to the other end of the house. Early in high school, I played war here, always by myself. I was really into it as a kid; I’d drag my father around to army surplus stores and marvel at real Navy pea coats and disarmed M-16s. I’d run around outside in bad weather—it was monsoon season in Vietnam—and hide in storm drains until my mother would find me. But one day in ninth grade, I went down into the basement and put it all on again and went upstairs to this hallway. I was crawling on my belly like a snake on the white carpet, all the way down to the master bedroom, wearing the fatigues and the belts and a backpack filled with pillows and an actual real helmet that my father had bought me for my birthday one year, when I got shot—once, in the neck. I rolled over and closed my eyes. I was fifteen years old. When I was done, I put everything away in the basement.
In the shower in the master bathroom I lost my virginity to a high school cheerleader in the dark. Neither of us came and then we dated for two years. We broke up soon after we went away to college when I found out that she was an atrocious speller. This isn’t why we broke up, but it’s why we broke up. Once or twice a year, we’ll eat Thai food together and laugh about what a jerk I was then, and she’ll remind me that somewhere down that shower drain is a simple, silver earring that fell out when we were having sex. It is something I always forget to remember. It was the second thing she lost that day, she’ll joke, and always asks me if I’ve brought it to her yet, and I tell her that I’m not about to go digging for her earring. She insists it’s still down there somewhere.
The main floor of the house is broken into separate rooms, but when you walk into the front door, the foyer launches up into a twenty-foot ceiling, and sounds play easily in this open space. Down here is the family room, where my stepfather used to watch television by himself, until the noise of screeching tires and gunshots and twenty-four-hour news drove my mother to demand that he take his business to the basement. She bought him a big-screen TV for his birthday with money she’d been left by an aunt, a woman who was like a mother to her. And so in the living room, where my mother sleeps on a white couch in the afternoons, you can’t hear any televisions, but you can hear someone pouring dry cereal into a bowl in the kitchen.
In the study, where my stepfather wears reading glasses and sighs over the bills, you can hear a whispered argument that takes place in one of the guest bedrooms. In the one first-floor bathroom, you can hear everything that happens in the other first-floor bathroom. In the dining room, where nothing happens, where the antique mahogany table generates dust and appreciates, it is quiet. It is quiet enough that sometimes you can hear the shrubs blow in the wind outside. Sometimes it is so quiet that you can sense when there are deer in the backyard, looking in at you through the windows.
This happened to my mother once. It was during the first true storm of winter, just after circumstances had finally dictated that we sell, and she was sitting at the head of the long, antique table. No one was home. The wind outside was gusting so that our thin, landscaped trees were bent nearly double, except for a small stand of pines just outside of the family room. And there she saw them, like they’d been there all along: Three deer. The doe and her fawn were hunkered down into the pines, out of the wind; the buck stood broadside, staring into the house, snow gathering on his hide.
My mother called me after an hour to tell me what was happening and to say that they were still there. She asked me if I thought the buck would try to get in the house, and I said I didn’t know. And then she said that the buck had eaten her rosebushes. He seemed to really like them, she said, and told me that she’d gotten her camera out and taken a picture of this. It made her want to cry to know that deer like rosebushes so much, and she did cry, and then said that if she’d known, she would have planted more. And then she was done crying, but told me that she’d get the film developed and send me a print.
Al Keefe studies creative writing at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Laszlo Bacsi, Budapest, Hungary.
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