Took the afternoon off. Went for massage. Had a sit down lunch. Found some prezzies for Wendy. Got back to the house around two and plopped on the couch. Just sat there listening to the silence of the house and blankly staring out the big front window.
After awhile I noticed the snow on the Korean fir. The white look of cold. How, from where I was sitting, it blended in with the snow on the roof of the house across the street.
Hang on a minute.…
I sat up. Looked at the house. Its rust red trim and subdued beige siding were entirely new to me. Even the shape of it was unfamiliar. Like I’d never seen it before.
This couldn’t be.
I went to the window for a better look. No denying it. I didn’t know this house.
I put on boots. Tromped to the head of the walk. Looked up and down the street. Most of the houses I recognized. But there was a handful I didn’t.
I grabbed my coat and went wandering the streets of my old neighborhood. It wasn’t clear to me what I was looking for. All I knew was it had something to do with houses.
So I walked. Block after block. Looking at houses.
Aside from the o-bomb obvious (the newer houses are larger, the older houses look dated), I slowly came to realize that I didn’t know the neighborhood quite so well as once upon a time. There were only a few houses (or lots), relative to the whole, I could associate names to. The number of houses still standing from when I was a boy that I had actually stepped feet inside (let alone played in/watched tv in/ate in/went to the bathroom in/slept in) was small. It occurred to me that I couldn’t think of anyone from back in the day that still lived in the neighborhood. That Liz and I might well be the sole beings around here who currently live in the house we grew up in
On I wandered, absorbed in a more nebulous enterprise of pondering people. Their coming and going. How families don’t stay as long in one place as maybe they did when I was growing up. The idea of home having less to do with the house you grew up in than the city you’re from. How culture transitions over time and the short-term history of a given neighborhood is splintered, stored in the rarely accessed memories of former residents spread now far and wide, distracted by making their contemporary lives happen.
Such thoughts as make the head spin.
There came a surge of cars. I had arrived at the school. The bustle of parents picking up kids. Behind them a wide backdrop of forest climbing into low clouds. Knowing there was a hill up there but not seeing it.
To avoid the traffic I ducked up the next street. A street I hadn’t been on in many years. Almost immediately I was hit by the memory of walking with Jimmy Salter to his house one day after school. The house was on the corner at the end of the block. This one day something unusual had happened. There were police cars and ambulances, parked helter skelter. A carousel of red and blue lights. We could see, as we got closer, that the hubbub was at Jimmy’s house. He began to run. I ran behind him. He dashed under the police tape. An officer caught him up. Jimmy screamed for his younger sister. The officer put Jimmy down and kneeled to talk to him. Jimmy looked very afraid. The officer stood up, held his hand, walked him between police cars to where a group of officers huddled. I stood huffing at the police tape. Not knowing I would never see Jimmy again.
It came out later that Mrs. Salter stabbed her husband to death, then tried to kill herself in the garage with carbon monoxide. She was an alcoholic. I remember her always having a glass of something with ice and smoking in their dark living room. Speculation had it that Mr. Salter was having an affair. But who knew for sure.
The wholeness of time.
We called the house Murder House after that. It sat empty for years. Now it is gone. This afternoon I watched a concrete truck drive away from the site, leaving behind a fresh foundation. It looked like the new house will be quite large.
When I got back to the house again it was after 4. It had started to rain and was already turning dark.
I turned on some lights. Sat at my desk in the den. Absently read the notes on the current page of foolscap:
Omenclature. A Wendyism for the language of signs.
Salamanders. How their numbers may be staggering.
Bridgmanite — name for one of most abundant minerals ‘in’ Earth, only recently seen by human eyes and felt by human hands.
Ferguson, Misery. Again.
Lima, Peru. Another try at going forward together? Or another go at striking bargains with the mother irony of lost causes?
I had a pen in hand. Was searching for a word to describe either the endeavoring constancy of change in human affairs or that thing that happens to people when they perpetrate acts they’d never think themselves capable…when I heard my phone ringing.
Knocking me from my lofty perch. Pulling me from the gauze of personally manufactured clouds.
I found the phone on the table by the couch. Work. I answered.
Laura calling to inform me that the truck was at the yard.
I was looking at the house across the street. (With bright Christmas lights on its eaves it didn’t look so unfamiliar.)
Laura asked if I was still there.
I said yes.
She asked if I’d heard her.
I said yes and asked if there was anything wrong with the truck.
She said no.
I asked why Daz hadn’t taken it.
I noticed that the snow on the Korean fir, lit by streetlamp light, appeared to be gone. Jimmy Salter ran across my mind. I thought about the hill behind the school. Where we used to muck around in the trees with all our friends. I wondered if anything happened to Jimmy’s sister that day. It struck me she’d be about Liz’s age now. And Jimmy would still be mine. I thought about how old we were when Mrs. Salter turned their house into Murder House. What it was that pushed her over the ledge. Where Jimmy is these days. What he remembers of that day. Of the better days before. All the while a word gaining purchase in the valley of my tongue.
Laura saying my name.
“Did you hear me?”
“No. Sorry. Something on my mind. Say that again?”
And then it was born. The word.
Morphanthropy. Morphanthropy? Morphanthropy.