The House

This first appeared in The Moon Magazine.

I am old, maybe even ancient in house years. I slump in many places, and endless seasons of idleness have drained my once-lively spirit. My work was completed long ago, and since then, I have stood idly without a goal or task, uselessly watching the sun and the moon move across the sky.  The daylight no longer shines in my eyes because it has been eons since the trees were pruned, epochs since my faded curtains were drawn shut against the heat of the day. When I served as a protector, I bore the brunt of the weather, fiercely held close those that I kept warm and dry, or cool and shaded, and consistently safe inside my walls. I was a steadfast and vigilant dwelling with a job I took pride in, a cause I believed in. Today, I am merely the safe and dimly lit residence of gentle and reticent occupants. I share my rooms with mosses, prey animals with soft feet and nests for their young secreted into myriad dark corners, spiders and their intricate filigree of interchangeable homes and feeding grounds, and an agreeably encroaching cadre of green leaves and vines desirous of nothing more than to cloak me from head to toe in their tangles.

I was not acquainted with this land before I arrived, but I’ve heard many urgent tales murmured through the branches of the trees as they’ve danced and swayed in the wind. Their leaves and loose twigs have pelted my crumbling roof for decades. Today, the treetop’s castoffs tumble past my gutters that are filled with infant trees new to the world as shoots, and other delicate newborn shoots of ground-loving plants whose seeds have been carried far, far into the air by birds in this forgotten area of the forest. The aging trees have crooned their sentiments gently in the breeze, or roared and hurled ferocious words in the gusts; long before me, their brothers and sisters stood tall, healthy, and fiercely verdant in the very spot where my false taproot, known to some as Foundation, was cleared, neatly scrubbed of natural life, and pounded flat.

Shortly before the part called Foundation came to be, the wooden clan of sap & spore relations was forcibly removed, trunk by trunk. As each robustly leafy canopy was felled, dragged away, and did not return, patches of brown earth discovered they had never seen the full and gleaming light of the sun. In the beginning, the spots were blinded, piece by piece, in the grand way of the sun coming out from behind the clouds. Their eyes adjusted to the dazzling light and the radiant warmth, simultaneously guided in this luminous new arrangement by creatures of the day who hop, crawl, and trot through wide open spaces, and also by trifling bits of seed that nestled into the earth, took root, and conceived of an entirely new terrestrial carpet.

The trees have shared their most profoundly hopeful musings with me. They believe that even as I softly decay, I sit atop a magnificent and vibrant network of roots, a wooden wellspring if you will. I know, but I do not share, that their wellspring was ravaged and ground to sawdust to make way for Foundation. The trees sigh to me in their futile, sanguine prophecy that when I have given up, caved in upon myself, and settled into the earth, their stately tribe will return. I do not engage in their lively conversations because I am only a harbinger of bad news. I am certain that nary a stump lies below my taproot impostor, but I believe a similarly glorious network can rise like a wooden phoenix from the dusty soil after Foundation has cracked to splinters, and birds have seen fit to deposit seeds into the fissures.

I am so weary of the elements. I can no longer protect my few impromptu occupants from winter’s harshest inclinations, and any deluge now seems an affront hell bent on drowning me. If not for Foundation, surely I’d have succumbed to the torrents many seasons ago, and washed away like a dried leaf upon a roiling stream. I am too weak to speculate on whether my demise will arrive through accidental drowning, crumbling wall by softly mildewed wall, or merely collapsing in upon myself like a deflated party balloon. When time and the elements conspire against me to complete their final transformations, I will gladly offer to the trees in supplication their infant shoots who were born in my narrow rooftop drains. They’ve ceaselessly sent out fragile and suckling roots in search of loamy, deep soil, but found only the confines of my cramped and clogged gutters. I will readily deliver them like a gift to the wooden phoenix.

A family of squirrels has made my attic their home, and I am grateful for the company. It has been so long since small pink feet on two legs have dashed about under my roof and I am thankful for the vibrant mammalian energy. I choose not to remember the metal box traps placed long ago in the same spots that now host scruffy, warm nests cradling litters of bald, pinkish newborn who slowly grow fur, and teeth, and bushy tails. The squirrels have redecorated, excavated a private trap door from my sagging roof to their snug garret, and left it open to the sky. In the time of the metal box traps, new shingles would have swiftly covered the trap door, but today I am glad for the impromptu skylight.

I’ve seen the ivy and the trees commiserating while gazing at the squirrel’s trap door. Through the gusts, they deliberate on how to revive the forest that I stole and how they will rejoice when I lie at their feet. Who in this softly sun-dappled realm, they wonder, will be the first to ask me directly to make way for the saplings. It is no secret in this thicket that I have been abandoned, and there will be no future occupants to repaint my musty walls or straighten the stained and mildewed red, white, and blue Home Sweet Home sampler hanging askew in my softly moldering kitchen.  

I have aged many years in fast forward since my rooms emptied of two-legged occupants. Fatigue and insects which bore and dine on wood and plaster have penetrated my bones in equal amounts, and my roof bows further toward the fallen leaves and roots as each season passes. I silently welcome the vines which are slowly blanketing my roof and inching toward the squirrel’s trap door. They have murmured kindly in their softly green and clutching way that the hole is too small, and they have gently promised to split wide open my drooping and spent roof, pledged to flourish and invite the entire kingdom of vegetation inside. They have promised to share with the trees that I am ready to call it a day, the longest day, and I am now well prepared for nightfall. “You are tired,” they say, “Let us help you rest. The saplings in your gutters are becoming too heavy for you to hold up day by day. We will invite the raccoons in the fall, and if you listen closely, you will hear the termites marching two by two.”

I spend many hours luxuriating in the thought of degeneration, of giving in to the demands of my acquaintances. The trees have been whispering spitefully about me for so long, always bitter of my presence in their private woodland domain, and acrimonious from my inception when they learned of the substance from which my finely shaped planks were hewn. They have sent the vines as two-faced emissaries, and I must trust that the creeping tendrils will keep their promises. Thus, without true allies, I am left to wait patiently for my beams to crumble.

I have acquiesced willingly to the wishes of my neighboring flora because I am taxed and ready to return to the earth, yet I have never spoken a word in agreement because I have too much pride. I sit atop Foundation amid towering trees, powerful vines, and timid creatures who raise their young where metal box traps once stood. I remind myself smugly that I am the only one among us to have held the fabricated and invented wonders of man; small boxes containing even smaller troupes of humans in far-flung lands, and plastic containers that carried voices both joyful and somber and brought forth similar emotions from those who listened. In addition to these curiosities, I once held a sizzling, invisible, and white-hot entity that could effortlessly bring forth noise from the quiet and hot and cold air when the seasons had other plans. Best of all, I held empty glass globes that could be coaxed into illumination, and they would shine with nocturnal luminance as though they were the effortless, miniature twins of the sun.

I’ve outlived the men who cleared the land, the toiling teams who stripped the soil bare and brought forth Foundation, and the happy families who lived long, breathed deeply, and passed quietly inside my sheltering walls. No creatures bearing thumbs, or plastics, or the cacophony of language walk among us today, and the vines and trees reign superior over our part of this vast and lonely acreage. In Foundation’s formerly proud domain, man created an artificial fairytale ecosystem of wires, currents, and pipes, with no need for the sun or the rains to sustain his life. Today, I am vacant, unpurposed, and expendable upon the same foundation, bearing only the dormant and antique remnants of man’s counterfeit enterprise to shelter himself and harness the elements.

I am biding my time, bending softly to the will of each creeping and fibrous tentacle while I wait for them to complete their final task. I pray that my approaching communion with the earth will be as brilliant and proud as the days when the synthetic innovations of man sprang forth from the switches on my walls. In the interim, I linger on Foundation, hoping to pass quietly, with the languorous ease of the vines who even now creep over my shingles, intent on making me one with the earth.

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