This story was first published in the seventh issue of Lotus Eater Magazine out of Rome, Italy. This story was written by Alexander Joseph and the rights to this story are his. Republishing or using this story without his permission is now allowed.
The house is two stories, has dark brown (espresso bean brown) painted siding and white (coffee creamer white) trim around each of the windows. The house has a lower deck and an upper one too, both of which look out onto slightly rolling hills that are mainly covered with houses painted the same shades of brown and white as the house in question. The house has four bedrooms (one of which has been converted into a home office for the father of the family that owns and resides in the house in question). The master bedroom (which has its own bathroom) is occupied by the mother and father, the second largest room is occupied by the eldest child (a boy) and the final bedroom (not counting the bedroom that now acts as an office) is occupied by the youngest, second, and most likely final child of the family (a little girl, who at the moment is wearing a bright blue princess dress and is sitting on her bed with a plastic crown in her hands, weeping).
Between the house in question and the houses on either side of the house in question, i.e. the neighboring houses of the house in question, there is twenty feet of space on each side. There are nine feet and eleven inches, leading up to a fence on either side of the fence that physically represents the property line of the house and belongs to the house in question and the house next to the house in question respectively (two inches are allocated, well one inch from each side, to allow space for the fence). The fence is made of wooden planks and is painted the same dark (espresso bean brown) as the siding of all of the houses in this sprawling neighborhood. In the nine feet and eleven inches of space that exists between the house in question and the fence that separates the property of the house in question from that of the neighbor’s house, there is grey gravel that (the gravel) is all uniform in shape, size and color (the grey of the gravel is a chalky, dead skin type of white-ish grey). In almost the exact middle of the space between the house and the fence on the left side of the house, and the exact middle of where the gravel starts and ends (widthwise) there is a plant that has managed to poke up from beneath weed cloth (that itself is beneath the gravel) and then through the gravel itself. The plant, the only un-manicured speck on the property, is a light green that gets even lighter when in direct sunlight. This plant, which is more than likely just a weed, has a purple, spiky looking flower on it, stands about six inches tall and has begun to attract bees.
The front and back lawns of the house in question are mowed every Monday by a company of men who mow all of the lawns of all of the houses in the neighborhood. There are enough lawns in the neighborhood that the men have enough work to fill their entire week (except Sundays, which they take off for rest) before they have to loop back around and mow all of the lawns again. Today is Sunday, and because of that there are two things happening; one is that the sound of lawnmowers buzzing (a sound that is almost always present somewhere in the neighborhood) is now nowhere to be heard (as the lawnmowers and the weedwackers [both the people and the machines related to these terms] are in their respective homes [which are most certainly not in this neighborhood] resting) and thus there is a sort of eerie silence that has fallen like a sheet over the neighborhood and in this silence it seems as if everything; the houses, the gravel, the sidewalk, the air, are all standing completely still, afraid to disturb this uncanny peace, and two; because it is Sunday and therefore (as per the schedule of the lawn mowers) it has been almost a week since the grass on the front and back lawns of the house in question have been mowed, and therefore the grass has taken on this cowlick style of sticking up every which way and looks like the hair on the head of an un-showered man who is on the verge of some type of psychotic break. And this unraveled grass, these thin patches of wild green, seem exceptionally untamed when juxtaposed against a house, a neighborhood and a world in which things are supposed to be just perfectly so (or at least look that way).
The little girl in the bright blue princess dress with the crown in her hands is not crying because of something that most other children would cry about (such as a broken toy or because of something wanted but not gotten) no, she is crying because of, in some ways, the feeling in the house.
And that feeling in the house, that whispered truth, is much like that of the street outside and of the grass on the front and back lawns, too quiet and slightly unraveling in a chaotic way.
The little girl’s room is on the bottom floor of the two-story house. Above her room, the master bedroom sits and within that master bedroom are her parents (her mother is seated on the bed and her father paces the space between the bed and the door to the bedroom. Her parents are speaking to one another in that hushed but forceful and sharp way that people who are fighting but don’t want their children to hear, speak. Through the floor, the words are muffled, but the tones and the quick words followed (on the part of her mother) by sobs and by sighs and angry sounding protests that are more grunt than anything else (from her father) can still be heard and, more importantly, felt. And each subsequent angry and sad sound adds to the overall already tense feeling that has at this point permeated like a gas leak through the entire house. And she (the little girl) is on the bed and she is crying, not because she has done anything wrong (at least not that she can think of) but because she doesn’t want her parents to fight anymore. She is tired of those muffled yells, those slamming doors, those looks that seem to pierce through the white painted and sparsely decorated walls. She wants everybody to get along. She wants her mother to get home earlier from work. She wants her father to not spend so much time in his office smoking cigarettes and watching a TV that blares out static heavy sports broadcasts. She wants her brother to come sit by her, to make up stories with her like he used to before he got so quiet and starting spending so much time in his room. Above her weeping, she can hear her father’s carpet softened angry footfalls (she knows his hands are clenched into fists and that his face is red) and she can her mother crying in a hysterical way that borders on hyperventilation (she knows that her mother’s mouth, when she cries this hard, is open wider than normal and that her mother’s hands are pressed hard against her thighs as she sits with her legs crossed on the bed). She knows the way her mother is sitting even though she is not in the room upstairs in part because she has seen her mother sit that way before but in part because she (the little girl) is now seated in the exact same way, mouth open wider than normal to allow more air into her lungs as she cries, while she presses her hands hard down onto her thighs.
Upstairs there is a living room with a rarely used fireplace and a daily used TV that is hung above that fireplace. There are couches that are spread out in a horseshoe shape around the TV and in between the couches there is a trunk that is filled with blankets but doubles as a table and footrest when it is closed (which it currently is). The floors in the upstairs are a light-hardwood and the floors in the downstairs are a grey carpet that may have been white at one point but which have been grey for the entirety of the little girl’s conscious life. The master bedroom is connected to the living room by a door that is currently closed but that is often open. From the living room, there is a hallway that leads to the front door of the house which opens onto a small front porch, a porch which has three steps that lead down onto a grey gravel path that perfectly slices the front lawn in two. Across the hallway from the living room there is the kitchen (the kitchen has a window that looks out onto the fence and over that fence to the neighbor’s house, which is a mirror image of the house in question and thus has the kitchen on the other side of the house and therefore when one stands in the kitchen of the house in question and looks forwardly out at the neighbor’s house, they can see directly into the kitchen of the neighbor’s house. In the kitchen (which is small in comparison with the rest of the house) there is a sort of enclave in which a table sits and at which the family will occasionally share a meal (and on which currently there is an apple with three or four bites taken out of it). At the end of the hallway that starts at the front door is the office of the father of the family that currently owns and resides in the house.
In the downstairs of the house (in which the little girl is still crying but now in lesser way, a way in which she is still shedding tears but now the tears have switched from the tear equivalent of rapid fire to more of a slow faucet drip style), there is another sort of living room directly beneath the upstairs living room. This living room is set up in more or less the same way as the one directly above it, but doesn’t have a fireplace. The downstairs TV is on the floor instead of hung on the wall (like its upstairs counterpart) and there is only one couch and no trunk on which to place one’s drink or food or feet. This living room is used predominantly by the children but is occasionally used by the father of the house to watch football games with his friends on the weekends (occasions during which the mother will take both of the children out for dinner and a movie to give both herself and the children time away from the ruckus and noise caused by the father and his friends as well as to give the father some space to watch the game).
On one side of the downstairs living room there is a door that leads to the little girl’s room, this door is open. On the other side of the living room there is another door which leads to the bedroom of the brother, this door is closed but not fully, as there is about a gap that is about an inch and a half wide between the frame of the door and the door itself. And from the inch and a half gap, yellow light pours out in a single beam onto the grey carpet of the downstairs living room.
The family, at one time, owned a dog and that dog was something pure and red-nosed and sweet and the whole family was sort of brought together over their love of that dog. But one day while the mother was at work and the children were at school and the father was in his office smoking cigarettes and doing whatever he does in that office, the dog somehow got out of the house and (according to what the veterinarian would say later that day) the ecstasy of the escape from the house and the overall wonder of being out in the world excited the dog so much that its heart exploded and it (the beloved family dog) slumped over, mid run, on the left side of the front lawn of the house just inches away from the road and because of the velocity of the dog running and suddenly stopping, the body of the then dead dog had skidded with some force to the very edge of the lawn. And the dog had been found by the older brother and the little girl as they came home from school, and at that point the dog had been laying outside for the hottest part of the day and looked like a stuffed animal that had had about a quarter of its stuffing taken out, i.e. the dog did not look good when they (the children) found it (the dead dog) and the image of this deflated looking animal corpse is something that both of them (the children) will be able to see crystal-clearly for the rest of their lives. And but anyways although the dog has been dead for at least a year, there is still a decent amount of dog related toys and knick-knacks around the house including but not limited to; a dog bed in both of the living rooms, a box of unopened dog food in the pantry, and at least (but most likely more than) a handful of grey-white dog hair on every piece of furniture.
The upstairs and downstairs decks of the house both look out onto the same suburban monotonous sprawl and on the lower of the decks, the son (the brother, the eldest sibling) sits with his legs splayed to either side of him on the grainy and slightly splintery boards of the deck and with his back leaning against the espresso bean brown siding of the house, smoking a joint that is burnt down to the point that it is getting difficult to hold it without burning his fingers. The joint (which is now singeing the fingertips of the eldest sibling of the house), was stolen from his father’s office by this eldest son for (as the son and the father only know), the father is not smoking just cigarettes in there.
The son was able to become aware of the fact of what his father was or was not smoking in his (the father’s) office, one day after school when he saw his father speaking with an upper classman in the parking lot of the high school. The son had been surprised to see his father at school because he (the son) usually took the bus back to his house after school, but he had been happily surprised and had (incorrectly) assumed that his father was there at his high school to pick him (the son) up from school and so the son had strolled over to his father’s car with a kind of half smile and had been about ten feet away from his father’s car when he realized that his father was handing money over to the upperclassman and that the upperclassman was handing a plastic baggie filled with what looked like moss over to his father. And the way that both his father and the upperclassman had nervously looked around and anxiously moved to grab the thing that one was handing the other, had alerted the son to the fact that what has father was doing at the school was (while still a surprising) had nothing to do with him (the son). And but anyway he (the son) had continued to stroll up to his father’s car (as the upperclassmen had sulked, like a retreating fox, away) and he (the son) had asked him (the father) what he was doing at his (the son’s) school and if he (the father) was there to pick him (the son) up and the father has responded affirmatively but in a guilty and sort of sheepish way and in a tone that seemed unsure if he (the father) had been found out. And so, the son and the father had driven back to their house, and on that drive, back to the house there was not much said and at a couple points the son had glanced over at his father and had been able to see the corner of the plastic bag poking out from the father’s pocket and inside of the car during that drive there was a certain earthy and pungent smell and also during that drive the father was visibly sweating.
And back then (about two years ago, when the dog was still alive, on the day that the son saw his father at school) he (the son) felt young and hopeful and sort of fresh. He had not truly been aware of what was going on outside of his existential bubble and even within that bubble he had sort of just moved around aimlessly and in a care-free way that only young, half cognizant people can do. But after that day, seeing his dad and that upperclassman, he has grown and aged (to him) what feels like a decade, i.e. he feels older, more adult, less hopeful. Since that day he has felt more and more numb and kind of far away from everything. The enormity (a word he doesn’t know) of everything and the complexity and intricacy of things just overwhelm him and make him feel small (and although the above is exactly what he feels, if asked to and if he were in the mood to describe his feelings he wouldn’t exactly be able to put it [his feelings] in such a concise way).
So, but now he is on the deck and his feet are bare and the wind is lightly blowing the bottoms of his feet and passing through the spaces between his toes and the joint is almost out and the sun is low in the sky but is still quite far from setting. He feels that emptiness and a kind of detached awe as he looks out at the neighborhood in which his family lives. The same house, over and over again, like this whole place was puked out of some house making machine and plopped down onto all the hills, onto all the valleys, onto all the empty spaces, until everything was filled with front and back yards and espresso bean brown siding and grey gravel paths leading to front doors and white trim and kitchens that look out into more of the same kitchens and muffled whispers and dead dogs and a sky that is never fully dark.
It’s all blur of sameness and the bland taste of stale air.
He started smoking stolen joints about a year ago, on a boring Sunday like today when he had been just sitting in his room staring at the wall and had somehow been reminded of that day when he saw his father at school and had decided to see what else his father was hiding and he knew that his father was not going to catch him in the office because he (the father) was busy upstairs, talking in harsh and sharp whispers to his (the son’s) mother. And so, he had gone into his father’s office and had found some things including a dark-wooden box with a carving of a frog on the top of it and inside of that box he had found tens of joints and he had pocketed a few of them. And then he had put the box where he had found it, which was in the top drawer of his father’s desk, under a bunch of papers. Then he had gone upstairs (walking as quietly as possible as to not disturb or interact with at all his parents, and had taken from the cabinet above the stove a box of matches and had skulked back down to the bottom deck, where his parents never go even when they are not fighting, and he had lit up the joint with a match (after trying a couple times to light a match he had finally succeeded) and he had inhaled rather sharply and ha coughed and coughed. He had coughed so loud that he was surprised his parents hadn’t come downstairs to check on him (but they had not) and eventually had went back upstairs (again as quietly as possible) to get some water for his then sore and scorched throat and after getting water he had gone back to the deck and had proceeded to try and smoke the joint again and had slowly figured out how to smoke it without coughing.
And but that was like a year ago now and he has been smoking joints every Sunday, and really as much as possible, since that first day. And each month he sneaks into his father’s office to steal about a handful of joints and he is not sure if his father is aware of the missing joints and is just letting him smoke them with the assumption that he doesn’t tell his mother about what he saw his father doing at high school, or if his father just has no idea that the joints are missing. And but it doesn’t really matter anyway because he hasn’t got in trouble yet and he is pretty good about hiding the evidence of his newfound habit; he always has gum in his pocket and he flushes the butts (or as kids at school call them, roaches) down the downstairs toilet and where he smokes on the bottom deck is a place that is mainly used for storage and a place that can be accessed by his window (from which he has removed the screen) and so he can pretend to be in his room and then climb through the window and onto the deck and be mainly obscured by bikes and extra lawn chairs and whatnot that are kept down on the bottom deck, so basically he is pretty sure that he is not going to be found out and even if he is it doesn’t really matter because he is not sure if his parents would care if he was found out.
And the reason that he has continued to smoke the stolen joints is because they make him feel a little bit lighter and the emptiness that has begun to make him feel like he is sort of sinking into the ground most of the time dissipates a bit when he is high and sitting on the deck.
And below the bottom most section of the deck, well not directly below but diagonally below and in the line of sight of the top deck, there is a rectangular patch of grass that is colored differently than the rest of the grass in the back lawn and below that rectangular patch of grass the dog is buried and was buried there by the father on the night after the dog was found by the children on the front lawn. The father used a shovel to cut a rectangle out of the grass and then set that rectangle of grass on top of the grass beside where that rectangle of grass had been and then he dug a hole that seemed deep enough to him in which to place the dog’s body, and then he set the dead dog (which at that point was wrapped in a white towel and starting to smell) down into the hole and then he put the dirt that he had dug out of the hole back in the hole and put the rectangle of grass back on top of where it had one been and patted down the grass with the shovel that he had used to dig the whole. And that grass had grown back into the ground but ever since that night that grass has been a yellow-green, instead of a deep green like the rest of the grass in the backyard of the house.
Well so now the little girl has now stopped crying but is still breathing in that way that one must breathe after crying hard and she has placed that plastic crown back on her head and is looking in a mirror that is hung on her wall and is trying to use her hands to flatten out creases in her dress as she tries to return to a normal breathing pattern and her brother is on the deck and his head is swimming but not like a swimmer, more like someone seated in an inner tube on one of those lazy rivers at a water park, and the parents are upstairs and their fight is still ongoing (as it always is) but they have stopped speaking for now, it seems there is nothing more to say, for now.
And outside the sun is hot and the grass is growing out of control.