Naomi C.

A Solitary House

The light breaks over the sprawling lawn, resting gently on the dew-covered grass and the robins perched on the wooden swing. The swing stands alone, to the side of the field, but is noticeable for its solitary coldness. A large house rises beyond the yard, with high pillars and grand front doors. The windows gleam icily in the sweet morning light. Trees line the street and the lawn, creating an impenetrable mask.

The green side door opens slowly and quietly, not breaking the sound of twittering from the birds on the swinging chair far from the door. A man steps out. He is short with a wide, open face, soft hands, a thick neck, and complete with a slight expression of purpose and determination. He turns slowly and shuts the door behind him, keeping his hand there for a moment before letting go and turning again to make his way down the driveway to the shed by the trees. He is wearing soft gray pants and his old puffy red coat, zipped all the way to his chin. He has a plodding walk, but there is a slight spring to his step this morning.

The man struggles with the lock of the shed, but finally the door creaks open. Dust particles rise in a stream of light coming from the window. The man gathers logs and brush into his arms from a woodpile, haphazardly, but also with the utmost care. He puts down the firewood outside of the shed to shut the door, and puts it down again when he reaches to open the side door leading to the house.

A cat appears as the man enters. She is a calico beauty, her patchy fur rippling in the early morning chill. Meowing plaintively, she extends her claws and digs into his pants. He shoos her away with a careful hand. The animal yowls, more desperate than a normal cat, and the man puts a finger to his lips. He places the firewood carefully down and takes out a crumpled piece of paper from his jacket pocket. It is written on with large, shaky, round letters, and on it is a list. He squints at it carefully.

After he has tried to sweep but just stirred up dust, he sits in a hard wooden chair by the tall doors and waits. He stares at his watch as he sits - his watch with the stretchy wristband and the big numbers.

A clamor comes from the driveway. The sparrows, scolding and chittering, are rising up from the tree by the entrance to the driveway.

A van pulls off from the road, jerking from side to side as it makes the turn. The man looks up from his watch and a smile breaks out on his face. Opening the grand front entrance, he purposefully walks down the steps, smiling so hard that his eyes nearly disappear.

The van has come up right to the door, parking just as a smaller car comes up behind it. Out of the cars come his sister and brothers, complete with their families. The children range from ages two to thirteen, but they are all arguing or talking loudly.

The man stops his eager stride and stands there, his smile fading by just a fraction as he watches his siblings and their husbands and wives approach him, waving. His sister hugs him briefly, still talking to her brother, and his brothers slap him on the back. Some of the kids are shy and run after their parents, hiding behind them, but the two-year-old hugs his leg and the thirteen-year-old shakes his hand, looking him in the eye, as the man smiles hesitantly. The man trails after everybody as they enter the house.

During supper, they all twitter like birds, so fast and rapid it seems to the man that he keeps his head low and doesn't say a word. He doesn't understand many things they say, not that he could have, for they are going so fast. They address him once, and it is to ask how they had been doing, him and the house. The man stays silent.

“Why isn't he speaking?” Scream-whispers the two-year-old.

“Shh, he's thinking,” says the thirteen-year-old.

Silence reigns until -

“The house is good,” says the man, speaking in a slow and slightly slurred voice. He looks up to see reactions and all he gets is blank stares. The innocence of the two-year-old causes her to smile, and the 13-year-old has begun to understand. Another child giggles and the conversation resumes, until it is so fast-paced that the man drops his head again, disappearing into his thoughts like his cat that had vanished the moment his family came. A fire made from the brush the man had brought in burns low in the fireplace.

Later, when the youngest children are being sent off to bed, the man looks for his cat. When asked what he is doing, he responds truthfully.

“A cat? You don't have a cat,” they say.

“I thought he didn't like cats.”

“Come on, help me put Jamie to bed.”

They left him calling into the night.

The next morning, as they are all leaving, the man sits in the hall, looking angrily at his watch. They try to say goodbye to him, but he just crosses his arms and looks away. They shrug to themselves and pile into their vans again. They are gone.

The cat creeps out of some bushes to the side of the house, meowing piteously. The man shuffle-walks out of the house and around to the back, where there is a path going down the hill. He starts to walk down the dirt way, dragging his feet. The cat curls her tail around her front paws and watches him. After reaching the bottom of the hill, the man starts to walk up again to reunite with his cat, the sun behind him.





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