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Fiction

I grew up calling her, Sizzle, at least, that’s what the neighborhood kids called her. All I knew about Sizzle was that she had an open mailbox stuffed with soggy newspapers and somehow survived in a crumbly house above a garbage heap claimed by vultures and feral cats. It was clear to me how her name rendered from Cecile to Sizzle. She was baking in filth—a gingerbread woman with two mouse turd eyes and three hairball buttons.

We had just finished bagging leaves at Sizzle’s neighbor’s house and were on our way to the next. Volunteering our time to the elderly in the fall was a tradition my sisters and I started when I was in seventh grade after my grandmother passed. We were able to relive all the leaf pile memories—jumping into them and riding through them with our bikes.

April and Jody were ahead of me, pulling their rakes and shovels in a wagon, passing Sizzle’s yard without a thought.

I stopped at the end of her driveway. “Hey guys, hold up.”

April, with her hair pulled back in a tight French braid, parked the wagon and whipped her head around. 

“Think we should see if Sizzle needs help raking?” I said.

Jody rolled her eyes. “You’re kidding, right? That would take us weeks.” 

“No, not really. We can just make a path so she can get to the road without slipping.”

Jody’s face was scrunched together like a pug. “There’s no point. She never leaves that house anyways.” She motioned to April to keep pulling. 

April walked a few feet but stopped once more and looked back at me. “You coming?”

I looked up at the sun-bleached house with only one shutter left, the rest decomposing in the dirt below, and saw a slit in the curtain close shut. A sign of life. “Nah. Go ahead without me. I’ll catch up.”

“Suit yourself,” April said as she pulled away for the final time. “We’ll be at the Tanner’s. And they tip well.” 

Passing up money stung, but quenching my curiosity was way more satisfying. How could somebody live like this for so long? Wasn’t she lonely? And how did she feed herself and her animals?

Between me and Sizzle’s front porch was a stack of television sets, Fischer Price kid toys, worn sofas and outdated kitchen appliances, all sprinkled with cinnamon-colored leaves. She probably ordered replacements of each on QVC every twenty years or so and pushed the old ones out the door. They landed where they landed. And rotted where they rotted.

 I wanted Sizzle to know that the world hadn’t given up on her. So, from the mailbox, I started raking a trail. I weaved between a washer machine and a boat, ominous black luggage bags and a golf cart, dolls with shattered faces and too many ceiling fans. I would give her a way out. I somehow made a safe path through a disintegrated greenhouse by kicking away shards of plastic panes and headed towards the wood arbor held together by fake rose vines. 

I was only two cars and a bathtub away from her front porch. I took a quick break to catch my breath and I saw the curtains open again. Sizzle stood there in a flower housecoat sipping tea. She was younger and more with it than I had imagined, her complexion the perfect shade of toast. I waved, but she didn’t wave back. She just looked down at me with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. Was I the crazy one?

I only had one small hill to get over and then I could leave. When I put my rake down on the mound it made a shuffling metal sound as I pulled it towards me, and a gnome with a red hat emerged. What in the world? When I looked more closely, I realized that I had raked over a fairy garden, except this was no ordinary fairy garden. Yes, there were gnomes, mushrooms, little homes, and fairies, but it was built atop hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in coins.

I looked back up into the window and saw that Sizzle was smiling. She shook her head and waved me to come inside. As I was only a few feet away from the door, I drug my rake forward and finished the path, leaving Sizzle’s small fortune exposed.

“You’re peculiar,” she said as she opened the door, a waft of lavender hitting me at full force. Her hair was wrapped in a blue silk cloth.

“Ditto.” 

“Would you like to come in?” Behind her I could see beautiful wood floors, artistic vases arranged perfectly in cubbyholes. She caught me staring at a mangled dirt bike hanging from the ceiling by chains. “Oh, don’t mind that. My son crashed it years ago into a neighbor’s car.”

I covered my mouth with my hands and gasped. “Oh my. I’m so sorry.”

 She laughed. “Oh, he didn’t die. He lives in the city and has three beautiful children now. I just hung it there as a reminder to what could happen when you’re not careful.” Her head tilted and she smiled. “And I think it looks cool.”

Her eyes were big and bright. One had a brown spot in the white. “Come in. Sit down and have some tea.” 

I should have taken that dirt bike as a sign to politely decline, but instead, I ignored my instincts and followed her in. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling in dark-spined books.  They were vintage. I could tell she was well read and possibly well educated, maybe a little insane.

She guided me over to a sitting area with three dusty pink armchairs around a wood oak coffee table. On the table was a rendition of the statue of David as a cat. 

She handed me a vintage teacup with long fingers. “I see you found my purse.”

I held the cup tight in my hand as she filled it with a spicy tea. “Purse?”

“My pile of coin.”

“Oh yes. Sorry. I didn’t see it there.”

“As you shouldn’t. I keep my front messy so they don’t raise my taxes. That was my late husband’s idea.” She placed the tea kettle on the table. “And when he croaked, the bastard, he only left me thirteen thousand dollars.” She shook her head. “It would have costed me more to buy rocks for my landscaping, so I just cashed out all his money in coin and made my garden beds.”

“Soooo, all your gardens are made of money?”

“Yea. And you’re the only one who’s noticed.” She put her hand on my knee and glanced at the dirt bike hanging from the ceiling. “And sweetheart, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone.”

And I never did. Not even my sisters. I wasn’t going to be the next thing hanging from her ceiling. 

December 07, 2022 20:29

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2 comments

Ross Dyter
09:00 Dec 15, 2022

I really enjoyed reading this because it was different, everyone knows of the house in the neighborhood with piles of junk in the yard. But the idea that underneath it might be landscaped with piles of coins is great. I got the feeling reading it that there could be many more stories hiding in that yard somewhere. I really liked the phrase "I was only two cars and a bathtub away from her front porch" it really puts you in the mind of the character and how they see the world. Critique circle, I liked opening sentence, it caught my attention a...

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Jennifer Taylor
09:16 Dec 15, 2022

Thank you for your critique. I’m happy about your mouse turd comment. I laughed when I wrote that, and knew it wasn’t a good fit, but kept it anyways. The story kind of took a different turn as I kept writing. Now I know not to ignore that little Voice in my head.

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