When we had two children, we bought a white house with blue shutters.
When we had been in the house for nine years, the cicadas came. They grew underground for seventeen years before crawling to the surface, hatching from their shells, swarming, and dying.
The cicadas left thousands of empty shells clinging to the trees, the shrubs, the grass. Sometimes I think of the house as a cicada shell, something we will eventually molt out of. Something the forces of nature will wash down the hill toward the low point at the creek.
When we had lived in our house for seven years, a neighbor told me that someone had died in the house. “A son, suicide,” she said. “In the garage.”
The first thing I thought was that someone ought to have disclosed this information when we bought the house, but it’s not a deal breaker. I have slept where people have died before. I settle on hoping that if he haunts the house he’s comfortable enough. That he will ask if he needs anything.
Two months ago a contractor told me the electrical wiring in our house was strung together in one long loop running from room to room to room. I imagine a long train of paperclips behind my walls with a tiny ball of light tripping from clip to clip to clip. When my contractor talks about the house’s electricity he has a parental look, like someone’s going to be in trouble. Nevertheless, he says, “It probably won’t burn the place down.”
Fourteen years ago when we moved into the house they gave us the first owner’s original Certificate of Occupancy. The paper looks antique, yellowed and torn at the edges. The handwriting is a quaint, secretarial cursive, but it is explicit in its terms. The owner is Mr. P. Windner. The building’s use is One Family Dwelling.
Eleven years ago I met the man who had put the white siding on our house. At the time, I was slightly drunk at a neighbor’s holiday party. “The original stuff is still underneath,” the man said, sitting down at a large communal hookah. I look across the street at the dark shape of our house and feel the sudden urge to tear it all off and strip the house down to its wood-sided origins, but he waves off the idea. “It’s terrible under there,” he says. The smoke from the hookah winds like tentacles around his face.
Sixty-seven years ago, Mr. P. Windner cheaped out on the construction of his house, choosing erodible wood siding, paper clip chain electricity, and shorter nails because they were less expensive than long ones. He only needed the house to last as long as he and his family dwelled here. It wouldn’t need to last forever.
At some point an unknowable number of years ago someone painted all the baseboards around the house blue. You can still tell. Despite having painted them white several times, wherever there is even the tiniest chip in the paint, the blue shows through. I try to imagine blue baseboards all over the house, like a moat keeping us in, but I can’t.
Now, I still don’t know anything about the woman who lived with the original Occupant and the suicide victim. She leaves no story with the neighbors, no name on the Certificate, no evidence of her construction budget. But she would have married a man named P. Windner. She would have plugged things into the paper clip electrical chain. She would have borne a son who grew into a man who committed suicide in the garage. She would have seen the cicadas swarm and brushed their abandoned exoskeletons off the house with a broom. She might have chosen the new white siding, and she might even have died here. It’s something no one seems to know. But when I think of the woman who lived here for close to a half a century, I don’t see her in any of these ways. I see a woman on her hands and knees with a paintbrush dipped in blue paint, thinking a little color would brighten up the place, even if only until the next change came along.
About the Author: Christina Kapp's short fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous publications including Passages North, Necessary Fiction, The Forge Literary Magazine, Gargoyle, Storyscape Journal, PANK, and Pithead Chapel. She teaches at The Writers Circle Workshops in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaKapp and visit her website: www.christinakapp.com