by Dan Sanders
I found this in my google drive. I have no memory of writing it. It may not even be mine. I hope it is, It’s great.
The house is falling apart. The wind runs right through it. The siding is off in chunks and it’s freezing. He’d put up a tent in the master bedroom, pulled the old sleeping bags out of the flooded basement storage. He was able to get most of the mold out of the bags and the tent, but everything else down there was ruined. They were nice too, “Who would just leave these behind?”
The basement went first. He didn’t know whose house it was, if they left before it started falling apart, or they just let it fall apart. Either way, they didn’t do a good job of sealing the foundation. The fall rain came through cracks in the floor and would freeze over in December, make the cracks bigger. He figured he had another five years here before it completely collapsed. Maybe less. Maybe it would fall apart tonight and crush him in his tent, shatter the kerosene lamp and let the earth take it back. Nobody would notice. Maybe if a truck went by at that exact moment, but those were few and far between. Sometimes he would sit on the porch and wave to them as they went by. He’d always wanted a porch.
He saw it passing through, boarded up and on a nice big chunk of land. He parked, and pulled the boards down and moved in what was left of what he had. Just a few bags of clothes and keepsakes, books. Lots of little obsolete things. Most of it was dragged across the country from a failed experiment only to go into the fire almost as soon as he got the boards down. He was sentimental until he got cold, then everything went to kindling. In the morning he’d regretted burning so much. His headache, a mix of whiskey and plastic fumes produced from an old laptop he should have known not to burn, and the regret mingled just until he got cold again. Then he got the fire going again with his high school yearbook.
After his things were gone, he’d turned on the house. Took up the floorboards in the kitchen, where the old appliances rusted and useless, would eventually be dragged to a scrap yard for extra whiskey money. In the floorboards was insulation, in the insulation, bugs, in the bugs, insulation.
There are only so many places to be, and so, he thought, why be anywhere whatsoever. Best to keep moving. He’d be fifty this year, fat and unhealthy and fifty. Fat, unhealthy, bearded, dirty and fifty. He owned, now, after the fire, a pickup truck and two pairs of reasonable clothes. Twenty five dollars from the appliances. And a house. And god knows how many acres of land. And potatoes. They left a potato plant alive for him to cook in a pot he found over his roaring memories.
He’s been driving roughly in a spiral for ten years. Starting in Kansas, he’s now in Oklahoma. He’ll continue north through Nevada, back through the Dakotas and land somewhere just west of Kansas. He’s hoping he finds someplace he likes. He likes this place ok, but it’s rotting from the inside out. He’d worked as a day laborer on construction sites before. This was just a big rectangular mistake. The floors were wrong, the walls were wobbly, and the foundation we’ve discussed. It was probably two hundred years old, left here by someone who either inherited the place, or bought it sight unseen. Some panicky forty something decided to Ebay some land in the middle of nowhere. Keep it for when the rains come, when the coasts flood, or when jesus comes back. The possibility of escape and the promise of new things. He’d escaped. He was an escape artist by now. A true craftsman. Little micro lives all over the midwest. He knew fifty different people in Idaho and they all knew him by three or four different names. Mort. Tex. Mike. Rich. He found a suit once and went to California just to sit and pretend to be on the phone. He talked to a group of twenty year olds at a bar, said he was a venture capitalist. Told them he couldn’t wait to invest in their ‘app’. Then he went and slept in the back of his truck.
In Chicago he told people his name was Louis, an advisor to the US Navy. He’d found a coffee table book of naval history, mostly just pictures of boats and had a few things memorized by the time he got there. It wasn’t intentional, he liked boats. Better to talk about boats than say he was a drifter.
In New York he was just a Plumber. The richer the area, the poorer the job can be. People in New York can’t believe people still do things with their hands. If you go to a bar and just say that you’re a billionaire investment banker, who cares people see ten of those a day. But say you’re a shoe maker, or you make mustard or some other dumb thing, you’re a hero. People buy you drinks if you’re interesting enough to be poor.
Life was mostly about lying, he figured, and he made the best of it. There wasn’t any shame in his mind, to lying to get what you need, as long as you leave after. So long as nobody ever knows that you’re not an investment banker, and that your name isn’t Gary, you can leave there having been Gary, and those people got to know Gary, and got to enjoy Gary, and you get to have a night off, meet new people, before excusing yourself to move on to some other place. Everybody wins. If he was just himself, and told people who he really was, who would care. Better to say that he’s a commercial deep sea diver than “I sleep in abandoned houses. In a tent. A tent in an abandoned house. Then I burn the house in the fireplace to keep warm. Like a bug in the insulation in the wall in the bug.” Better to lie and leave, then be and stay.
He took a walk in the fields every morning. Just to see if he could find the edge of the land. He couldn’t. There was a stream on the other side of the barn at the north end that might be a natural boundary, but it was small, and on the other side it just seemed like it stretched on forever. To the east and west were worn down roads, other dying and empty houses. He would walk until he wasn’t quite sure if he knew where he was. There were woods by the creek. He searched it over for treasures. Anything that he could bring into town and sell for whiskey or food or whatever else. Maybe some seeds. See if the potatoes would welcome company. Maybe some peppers. Some nice hot peppers. Something to spice up the potatoes. Something that would put some color in the back yard. Something to pull some life through the ground.
At the garden center, the woman who helped him pick seeds was friendly. She baptised him: “Hi, welcome to Little Garden, I’m Lisa, can I help you?” “Hi, I am Glen.” “Hi Glen.” They found pepper seeds, tomato seeds and she told him where he could find free corn. A farm up the road had failed, the family moved on, “go there and just grab some stalks to move over to your place. It’d be a shame if it went to waste.” That evening, he filled his truck with corn, squash and herbs from the garden, and a stove, table and chairs from the house. He took the wiring, some of the flooring, And a space heater from the basement. It took three trips but was home before dark. He made corn and potatoes in the same pot over some wood he’d brought back from the creek and dried. He was able to get it started with some of his old work files. Still two boxes left. He was careful and used the paper only for kindling, never for warmth, even if it meant a colder night. It would be better to burn it slowly, over time, so that each night he could look at it in the fire and watch it curl, blacken and burn. Glen. Glen. Glen until they find me. Glen until they catch me.
In the spring he brought up enough vegetables to keep himself going through a few months. Lisa helped him pick out some canning supplies. It’s pretty easy it turns out. She loaned him some books, and he brought her back some canned string beans. She made him dinner and they pretended very much that this was a good idea.
There were foundation problems, electrical problems and plumbing problems. The farm needed some work on his irrigation system. There were starting to be some problems with home stealership. He couldn’t leave now, because he had put a lot of time into his farm, but at the same time, Lisa wants to know what his last name is, and he hasn’t been able to think of one that sounds quite right. She thought it would be nice to have dinner here once in awhile, but there was simply no what that could happen, the floorboards are mostly gone and the walls are all but open. If he could sell some of these vegetables maybe he could buy some tools. He could maybe make this a decent place, or he could leave. He could just burn Glen to the fucking ground and move on. Maine. He hadn’t been to Maine yet. Probably nice. Foliage. He knew about the nice foliage in the fall, but that was months from now, and the corn is just about ready.
He set up a stand at the road. He split his vegetables into two piles, kept half and sold the other half. It didn’t pay much, but it was something, something to buy a hammer and whiskey.
In dozens of trips over weeks of time he’d began pulling the floorboards from the corn house to bring over to his place. He started reinstalling them into the floor with the hammer. Two different woods, but he’d been pulling up every other board to maximize the walkability, while not sacrificing any burnability, so the floor got a nice striped effect to it. Oak and cherry maybe. He didn’t know about wood, but one was reddish. Maybe red wood. He would tell people it was Cherry Red Wood if it ever came up.
As practice, and you can try this at home, instead of looking something up that you don’t know, you can just invent it in your mind, because nobody is going to check. So you can just say things like Cherry Red Wood and then, just like that, you’ll have invented a wood. Into your head, out of your head, into someone else’s head from your head. Like god. A whole tree created from nothing. He did it all the time, birds, trees, constellations. Why should he live in someone else’s world? He found the idea of learning these things offensive. Every morning in the tree outside were Robins, and what a tyranny he thought, that he should know that word, that he should know that they are Robins. An invasion into his own mind, bugs in the insulation, he thought and decided that he would call them Roasted Pipers. A better name and all his own and he’d try his best to think Roasted Pipers whenever he saw a robin. An invasive species in his mind. Rid the world of Robins, let the Roasted pipers chase them from a copse of Cherry Red Wood and out of his existence. What a crime, he thought, what a terrible crime.
There were only a few weeks left of the long sun, and his fields were waving with everything he’d think of. Bonanza Beans and Glen Corn’s Glen Corn. He decided his last name would be corn. It was a good way to bring people to the stand. Glen Corn’s Glen Corn. He separated all of his corn into two piles, one he said was just regular corn, the other was Glen Corn. It was all the same, but he charged double for the Glen Corn. It sold better, people said it tasted sweeter. He painted a Roasted Piper onto his sign, and told everyone he used to catch them as a kid and bake them into a pie, like that nursery rhyme, but it was better the way he told it. He used a sling shot, but after a few seasons, the Pipers banded together to stop him, only to be lured away by the scent of a baking Piper Pie. When they tasted the pie, they would line up and offer themselves to the butcher, so delicious was the pie.
He started selling Piper Pies after that. He tried to knock the nest from the tree with a broom, but it was late summer and they’d already abandoned the nest. So he just made little bean pies, and put the story on the tag. They sold as well as the Glen Corn. The parents would buy the pies for their kids, knowingly nod at Glen about the lack of pipers, happy to be in on the secret ingredients.
The years pushed on, he’d entirely refurbished the house with things he’d find in other abandoned houses and wormed his way into the community. When an older gentleman mentioned that he’d known the previous owners, that they had left in the middle of the night after something shameful happened with the father, a drunk, Glen felt an immediate kinship and told the old man that they were his family, that he was simply keeping an eye on the property until the father got his life back together, though things weren’t looking good. The hope was that they would be back next fall, but it was really too difficult to know for sure, but certainly Glen would be happy to let them know the old man was asking after them.
The electricity came back on its own. In the middle of the night every light in the house came on at once. He went room to room, hunting for light switches. He would sell the generator after he finished patching up the foundation. Then, maybe then, Lisa could move in. Maybe she could see the house and the farm. Walk through the long fields of Glen Corn, feed the chickens and walk from one end of the property to the other, feeling every step and wading into the creek to be born again.