Third Placeby Myke Johns
Page 2 of 4
Three hundred and twelve loads of laundry passed. The Hargises cooked nearly 770 dinners there at 209 King. The kitchen swelled and exhaled with the heat of the oven and the house grew to appreciate being filled with the smell of sausage and coffee in the mornings.
When the couple made love, they went into the bedroom and shut the door. This modesty created an intense cell at the center of the house. The dark of the room hummed red and orange and the walls inhaled as if porous. Shuddering floorboards moved the air between them, like the diaphragm of a speaker playing a song too quietly. The overstuffed coat closet in the hall popped open slightly, unable to strain against the down jackets and scarves hung inside any longer. The water heater clicked on and hummed. The AC sighed into action, rustling the bed skirt and Shelly pulled the covers up over her as the chill hit her bare skin. Peter leaned to his wife and wrapped her into his chest. The warmth radiated through the sheets of the bed, into the air and onto the walls. The house felt, in these moments when the bedroom door was closed and heat pressed on it like smoke, as if it were fulfilling a role greater than structure, more than shelter. The couple huddled together there against the chill and felt secure in the soft darkness. There, the house recognized the elegance in small moves.
The Hargises' modesty created a life. Shelly had been dutifully making charts and marking a calendar and taking her own temperature as if she were about to go on a deep sea expedition of herself. The morning she realized she was pregnant, she sat in their bathroom, her husband still asleep. She held the test in her hands, elbows on her knees. Curled forward, she stared at the plus sign she'd put there, and she was at once overjoyed and panicked and serene. Alone there, a room over from Pete yet a thousand miles away, there was a current of sadness. Shelly dipped herself into it. A fountain of tears rolled away from her and her elbows shuddered into her knees. The pregnancy test clattered to the floor as she gripped her face in both hands. Peter stirred at the moans, but did not rise. Shelly hugged herself against a shiver and as quickly as it had begun, she shook herself, wiped her face, and picked the test off of the floor and called to her husband.
The Hargises invited Peter's parents over first. Shelly's lived in Connecticut and would be paid a visit soon, but now Peter was taking his father's coat and hugging his mother, Shelly offering them wine and appetizers.
At the news, Peter's father leapt from his seat on the couch and hugged Shelly, his congratulations likewise bounding around the room. Pete's mother gave a tight, short hug and sat back down.
The aroma of cedar-cooked salmon, steamed asparagus, and red potatoes seared with rosemary filled the dining room. Good-natured conversation was punctuated by the ding of silverware. The floor was pinched, though, where Pete's mother sat — her upright posture forcing the front legs of her chair into the wood. The house creaked and snapped under her as she finished her second, then third glass of wine.
"Are you sure you want to keep this one?"
She had spoken casually as she lifted a forkful of salmon to her lips. The others stared at her as she swallowed.
"Mom!" She only raised her eyebrows and went back to her potatoes in reply. Shelly stood and nearly ran to the kitchen. Both son and father glared at the woman at the table, but she was stone. Peter muttered something profane and followed his wife to the kitchen.
"Honey ..." he started.
"I don't care," she yelled, her words ringing off of cabinet doors and amplified in the wine glasses in the dining room. "Just get them out of my house!"
Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Every word uttered goes somewhere — vibrations moving air and hitting ears, walls, chopped up by ceiling fans. Blown out of windows. Years of words soaked into 209 King like cigarette smoke, living there. If the house had any capacity for memory, this was it — the tiny vibrations still trapped in brick. When everyone was asleep and everything was quiet, the house would sometimes extract them for a moment, feeling those voices and the people that said them there once again.
This memory was sharp. The floorboards, the ceiling, the oak pillar in the living room had soaked it up like red wine into a tablecloth. The anticipation and the joy followed by tension, strained conversation, explosions. The house was fascinated at the energy — at once vacuuming and hot — and felt the scene play out again and again. When the family was away, it was nice to still feel their warm hands on the walls and to hear their voices.
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