Drama Fiction Sad

The house itself was brick, one of those post-war shotguns, blocks and blocks of which had sprung up in insatiable suburbs like mushrooms devouring a rotting log. Two bed, one bath, partially finished basement, decent plumbing and wiring, and a kitchen in need of a facelift. Remnants of an abandoned garden and clumsy, DIY paver deck. Sturdy, weather-proofed wooden fences, separating this shotgun from its fraternal twins on either side. Newer windows, one with a screen initially ripped by a storm-blown branch and then torn wide by an escaping cat. 

Inside this house, in the second-bedroom-turned-office, an ink-jet printer on the cleaned-out corner desk whirred and whirred. Pages accumulated in the collection tray.

The room also contained a realtor. She pulled a thick folder from her bag, and then a sheaf of papers from the folder. She handed the papers to a wife who was no longer a wife, also present in the room. The realtor offered the wife a pen with her real estate company’s logo printed on it. The wife quick-scribbled her name multiple times on multiple pages, then stopped. 

“I’m sorry. I got my name wrong. I mean, I’m still getting used to…”

The realtor said, “Don’t worry about it. Just cross out and initial underneath.”

“That’ll be ok?”

“That’ll be fine.”

The wife crossed out and initialed, crossed out and initialed. The printer whirred. The house settled the merest sliver of a millimeter. No one noticed. The wife handed the pen and papers back.

The realtor handed the papers and pen to a husband who was no longer a husband, who all this time had been sitting at the corner desk, futzing with files, de-jointing accounts, untangling passwords, and making copies of life data to leave behind after he packed his computer into the cardboard box labeled “Office.” He took longer to sign all the indicated spots, even though he didn’t false start.

The husband handed the papers back to the realtor. The realtor tucked the papers back into the folder, and the folder back into her bag. He offered the pen.

“Keep it,” she said.

He held it like he’d never seen a pen before.

She gave the wife a quick hug. They were friends from college days—fifteen years ago? how was that possible?—but even so, she couldn’t wait to get out of there. She did not hug the husband, and the husband did not offer his hand. Fine by her. She gave the tiniest professional nod. His chin twitched back. No eye contact. Again, fine by her.

“I’ll get all this filed today and hopefully we’ll have some showings by next week. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any other questions.”

“You’re sure about the price?” the wife asked. “I mean, I know we’re underwater—”

The husband muttered something about “timing” and “bubbles.”

The realtor had gone through all of this with the non-couple several times already. She pressed her mouth into a reassuring half-smile and said, “The market is coming back a bit, but we’re definitely priced to sell. I’d be very surprised if we didn’t have a couple cash offers right off the bat.”

“Just get us out from under our loan,” the husband said. It came out harsher than he’d intended. 

The realtor unclenched her molars and said, “Of course. I’ll do my best.”

The house waited as the three people in its second bedroom stood still. The printer whirred like a secret.

“OK then. I’ll keep you posted.” The realtor escaped. On the front stoop she took a cleansing breath, and made a note to follow up with the wife, reconnect over a glass or five of wine. 

Back in the office-reverting-to-second-bedroom, the printer coughed and spat another page of logistical life stuff, cleared its throat, and whirred some more. The husband itched to turn on some music, but what playlist would make sense? He clacked on the computer, sending more instructions to the printer. He couldn’t leave till the printer finished. It was taking for-goddamned-ever. 

The wife moved here and there, re-tidying things that were already tidy, separating overlooked items into bins or bags variously meant for moving, storage, or dumpster. The DVDs and books had taken the longest to tease apart, uncollecting their collection of stories. He was still pissed she was keeping the knife set gifted them by his mom. She was livid at his refusal to take his fair share of dishes, utensils, and furniture. It made her feel like a shedded snakeskin.

The printer whirred, taking its sweet old time.

The wife who was no longer a wife asked, “Do you want a sandwich or something?” She gulped. She had asked without thinking, out of habit, not even as a courtesy.

The husband who was no longer a husband answered, also without thinking, “Sure, a sandwich would be nice.” He was hungry, that was true, but as soon as he spoke, he realized there was no way he’d be able to eat it. 

They both considered the cost of taking it back. Her face threatened to crumble. His chin dropped to his chest. Simultaneously, they inhaled, straightened their posture, and slathered fresh mortar into the bricks of their pretended indifference. 

He focused extra hard on the computer and tried to ignore the inexorable press of the walls, like skin forcing out a splinter. She focused on breathing steady. By rote, she pulled out bread, mayo, mustard, meat. 

“We’re out of cheese,” she said.

“OK,” he said.

“Pickles?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said. 

The twisty-tie on the bag refused to cooperate for a couple seconds, and she almost threw the loaf across the kitchen. 

The house had been around long enough to know the next few minutes could play out in various ways. In one universe, the husband would accept the sandwich, and then apologize, and the long road to reconciliation would unfurl. In another, the wife would start screaming and collapse on the linoleum, and the husband would comfort her. Or he would leave without a word. In yet another, the sandwich would splatter to the floor as the husband and wife had furious sex against the desk. There were universes where the husband broke the printer—and a couple metacarpals—with a flurry of fists. Universes of tense silence, universes of decibel-laden arguments, universes with tender final kisses and whispers of “It didn’t have to be this way.”

The house didn’t care one way or the other. It was simply happy to be rid of them. It couldn’t become a home—the only wish houses have, really—while those living inside left more unsaid than said.

It settled another micromillimeter, and the only one to notice was an earthworm tunneling beneath the foundation. It felt the tiniest tremor and moved on.

December 09, 2023 20:55

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Trudy Jas
00:57 Dec 21, 2023

The house didn't care. lovely little throw-away sentences at the end of your paragraphs. Nameless people who have given up and only the earthworm - the one considered the lowest live form - hm, how about the fungus - notices the change. A sad, but accurate reflection on us and our throw-away mentality. Loved it.


Jason Cannon
18:48 Dec 21, 2023

Thank you!


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16:15 Dec 17, 2023

A lot of details about housing really made this feel real, and then the creative way you shifted to the house's POV at the end was really original. Nice writing!


Jason Cannon
12:04 Dec 18, 2023

Well geez, thank you very much! This is my first submission to Reedsy prompts, nice bonus to find a community of support from fellow story-lovers. :)


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Kristi Gott
02:51 Dec 17, 2023

This is very emotional and the vivid sensory details make it engaging. Using the house as a character is creative and I enjoy the imagination in the writer's style. The imagery is very well written. Wonderful story!


Jason Cannon
12:04 Dec 18, 2023

Thank you so much! First timer here. All gratitude for taking the time to read, much less comment!


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