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Subdivision- Exit 137


The house had served four generations, nestled between the hills of the blue ridge that held it as a child holds a fallen robin’s egg; with awe and concern, attempting to shelter it from life’s struggle. There was much laughter as the house was built in 1799. The laughter of the community had imbued the timbers with extra strength and its frame with the flexibility to endure the elements. The house was proud to stand for its family. A light was kept on in the kitchen at all times, and the door unlocked. The big iron stove in the kitchen warmed numerous litters of puppies and kittens and the occasional calf born in inclement weather. The kitchen, a wide open room with a large pine table, viscerally welcomed all with scents of anise, Sunday dinners, talcum and sweat.

Now, however, two hundred years later, the lovely cut lace kitchen curtains, once a detail of graceful domesticity, had calcified into the gradually decaying demeanor of the house. Having lost their white virginal elasticity, he curtains no longer billowed when the air caught them with each human entrance and exit. Once  lovely and proud portals; gentle veils that opened into the stealth and ample home, now stood rigid, wary, and heavy with human travail; starched sculpted threads that braced the window glass protectively; sharing a symbiotic  relationship of survival, as both face an unkind future. The faithful curtains, hung by careful hands as final touching to the soul of the house,  now cling as static shrouds, a home to past seasons of wooly spider nests and trapped.

The day the bulldozers came, the three-hundred year old oak went first. Several old cow patties lay interspersed with river stone in the field, remnants of his farm. Orange tape had already been posted around the small cemetery: five slouched, hand carved stones. What was left of the cow barn would come down this morning. .

“’Bout time this land was put to good use. Never been anything here but cows,” The fore man’s yellow helmet was marked with dents and scratches and sat askew on his bald head.

“Did the Hellman’s always own the place?” a younger version of the foreman asked.

“From way back; no other records anyway.”

“The guy must not have any clue about the value of this place.”

“Most of ‘em never know. Don’t care. Just wanna be left alone. They got what they needed from the place. Hey, Joe! Make sure that oak tree is loaded separately- thing’s worth a small fortune….”

“Right.”  The man inside the bulldozer gave the thumbs up and continued to push at the fallen tree. An old bird nest crumpled and fell inside the gigantic greenery. In the meadow a half-mile away the barn creaked and sighed. Through its broken door the vision of the heavy equipment lay in the distance, their motors idling. The stalls stood empty and ready for the never-coming spring foals. Hay still filled the stanchions and sweetness of new spring grass in the pasture pervaded the barn. With roof slats torn and scattered, the morning sun sent beams as  through stained glass windows. A sense of timeless holiness, rest and healing permeated the rough dry plank walls.  A mouse rested peacefully with its babies in an empty grain bin. The copula, beautifully built by the family’s first generation, had long since been removed and sold on Ebay for an exorbitant sum.

Eventually the drone of engines approached the barn and mouse sprang up, whiskers sensing a change. “Knock it to the right-shouldn’t take much.”

“How much barn wood are we supposed to salvage?”

“None- termites.”

“Ok. Let’s go.”

Painfully the old barn bent and twisted stealthily to the sudden onslaught of machines. An old pitchfork tipped over in one of the stall and for fifteen minutes, the agonizing sound of splintering, bursting wood, thudding down upon straw and stone was muffled by a bassline of engines and their poisonous ethers. Finally, after more than a few shoves, the barn collapsed into a silent heap. A flock of crows took flight from a nearby pine tree, their caws impossible to hear through the smoky air. The remnants of the barn were loaded unceremoniously into an enormous waiting dump truck.

“That’s a wrap-  good job. Take an hour for lunch.”

From inside the house, the curtains parted ever so slightly- the barn was gone. Perhaps it would be next. The bricks and mortar held tight, and the house seemed to hold its breath against the inevitable. A small ghost child played marbles on the kitchen floor, oblivious to what the house new. Her pinafore had pink flowers and the knees of her stockings were brown with dirt.

In the living room, the faded wallpaper recalled with stains and shadows, each piece of furniture and art that had once lovingly been arranged or hung. The wide oak floor plants boasted a genealogy of dents and bangs, and chronicled the crawling, walking, shuffling, and falling of five generations. The wavy glass windows wouldn’t be of use to anyone- they were custom to their frames and casings. Nor would the carved mantel, too nicked to be of value to antique dealers. Where the iron stove had set and provided thousands of meals and remedies in only a small variety of pots and pans, only rust stains remained on the linoleum. It had been bought by an energetic couple from New Hampshire and the pots had gone to Goodwill.

Outside the windows in the flower bed, Gramma’s yellow tulips were just coming up alongside the herbs. The two remaining birdhouses, nailed to crooked apple trees, were well-worn, but well-built, and had the ability to brood another generation of chicks. The little boy who built them had grown old and died. No one remembered his initials were carved in them.

At 12:30, the drone of invaders returned just as a daffodil unfurled its first petal. The house inhaled and braced itself, looking across the horizon toward Little Brushy Mountain.

One response

  1. geoffrey

    Beautiful and moving, as always, Amelia. What you say and how you say it are very evocative and effective. I wil always look forward to your next story.

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