Contest #217 shortlist ⭐️

8 comments

Fiction

Am I a Jonah or a James Bartley, I wonder? It’s my own fault. Too much wine, some pot, an allergy tablet. I fell my way into this old Victorian–my friend Emily’s house–during our lady’s book club sleepover. I thought I was headed for the bathroom at 3 a.m., but I stepped off the widow’s walk. Emily and her family moved out.

I don’t belong to anyone in this house. I shouldn’t belong to this house. But when you die in a house, it has a way of holding onto you, or rather, you let it hold onto you. You get complacent, you find your niche, you settle, you resign. Again, my own fault. Which brings me back to Jonah and James Bartley. Will I be better for the experience of being swallowed by the whale, like Jonah? Or in my case, swallowed by a house. Or am I a James Bartley, Jonah’s modern-day counterpart, swallowed whole, discovered alive in a butchered sperm whale, and left permanently blinded by the experience of having lived thirty-six hours in its belly. Has my time spent in the belly of this old Victorian robbed me of my own vision? By that I mean, my creativity, my inventiveness, my resourcefulness, my hope, my future. It’s been years. I’ve lost track.

Maybe the analogy isn’t quite fair now that I hear myself. After all, the house didn’t do anything. As I’ve said, it was my own fault. The portrayal of being swallowed embraces my contemporary contempt for the house, a contempt that I didn’t feel at the time. Quite the opposite. During my fall, I felt complete liberation. No up or down. No sense of time or space. I floated in seconds of pure joy. I co-mingled with the house in a union of ecstasy. A spirituality.

Honestly, I was never the gingerbread type. Too pompous for my taste. You are probably saying to yourself what right do I have to call anything pompous, given the grandiose way I described my own fall, but there are no other words to describe the feeling of my fall. I did my best.  Anyway, back to the Victorian. A Victorian is Fussy. A narcissistic house, in all aspects. I prefer intelligent design over showy, function over form, but you don’t choose where you accidentally fall, and now that I was in it, I made the best of it, found pleasure in its eccentricities.

For instance, I followed the eyes in the portraits that followed me. Portraits that Emily purchased when she purchased the house to give the Victorian authenticity. Emily didn’t know the people in the portraits, but she gave them names.  (See what I mean about the pomposity of the house? The smoke and mirrors? The illusion? More on this later.) Cousin Rosey was her favorite, a painting of a young woman who looks a little like Emily, wearing a brown dress and brown hat with very pink cheeks. There’s The Terrier, a pointy-featured woman who mirrors the dog on her lap. Brood is a photograph. Five children side by side in their Victorian best, right shoulders toward the camera, faces toward the camera, arranged from shortest to tallest, tiny girl, boy, boy, girl, boy. Anyway, as I said, I followed the eyes that followed me. It was a game. It was fun. They were friends. For years, though, I haven’t followed the eyes. Instead, I began wondering. Where did the people in the portraits come from?  Where had they been? How did they live? How did life turn out for them?

I celebrated anniversaries. I lit the candles Emily put around the house to keep with Victorian décor. I lit the old fireplace. I basked in the memory of my fall, those original seconds of joy, while I sat on the red velvet cushion of the carved mahogany chair until the last ember in the fireplace died. That was when I had the energy. I don’t mark time anymore.

I loved the Victorian’s mansard roof, the abundance of light it drew in through the large dormers in its attic where I used to walk for hours looking over the lawn. Now, I see only the empty space in its attic.

The whole house is empty. I am here, but I am talking about the house specifically. I’m talking about the illusion I spoke of, the décor, the fakery that costumes its interior void. I filled that void. I see that now. But in the process, I’ve been feeling more empty myself.

I want to ride horses. I want to sit on a cane chair at a small outdoor table in a Paris café, smelling coffee and fresh baked croissants. I want to feel the speed and cold as I sled down a hill. I want to swim in the ocean.

I’ve slid through cracks in the windows to stand on the porch, with every intention of leaving. How many times? Too many to count. As I’ve said, I’m not good with time. But the point is that I felt unjustified. What did the Victorian do, I found myself asking. I looked for something big and awful to relieve my guilt. A betrayal. But the house did nothing, except be a Victorian.

Back inside, the tall narrowness of the Victorian’s windows mimicked prison bars. No matter that I sat in its chairs carved like thrones, I was behind prison bars. I felt the oppression of its turrets and steep roofs. It mocked me with its hand painted wallpaper depicting ancient wonders, which added to my depression.

My prison became a maze. Out the house. Guilt. Back inside the house. Out the house. Guilt. Back inside the house.

Out the house. An occasional rat runs across the wooden boards as I walk the porch. Its boards don’t creak. Not yet. A hundred and fifty years old and still a fixer upper. Maybe someone will move in. That’s guilt talking, offering me blamelessness. The house will be fine without me it says, giving me permission to go.

I don’t know how long I’ve been walking this wrap-around porch. I’ve resisted every urge to slip back through a window. Comfort, the urge whispers. Complacency, I say, and resist. I feel less like a shadow. I feel bright.

I take a step off the porch. I walk the garden path to the gate. I smell Earth in the sunflowers.

I open the gate.

September 29, 2023 20:04

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8 comments

Amanda Lieser
20:29 Nov 14, 2023

Hi Lisa! Congratulations on the great shortlist! I loved the amazing imagery you created in the piece. I was impressed with how much I cared for this character. You gave us the perfect amount of details on the house which then let us connect to your narrator. Nice work!!

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Jack Nierling
16:56 Oct 12, 2023

Wonderfully written. There aren't a lot of stories written from the ghost's point of view, and I feel like this one had a very unique premise.

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Ken Cartisano
03:43 Oct 12, 2023

Ghosts can't open gates... they have to slip between the vertical bars. (Ask any ghost.) Good story. Great writing. Congrats on the shortlisting.

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Story Time
16:17 Oct 10, 2023

"I’ve slid through cracks in the windows to stand on the porch, with every intention of leaving." I thought this had a really strong point of view. Well done.

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Philip Ebuluofor
19:53 Oct 07, 2023

Congrats.

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Kathryn Kahn
19:27 Oct 07, 2023

I love the voice of the narrator.

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Matt Zang
17:23 Oct 06, 2023

Congrats! Well written!! Vivid descriptions, and a first person ghost who reflects on themself was very original Beautiful understated ending

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Mary Bendickson
16:09 Oct 06, 2023

Great shortlisted story. Congrats.🎉

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