Do you know the house I'm talking about?
I know you've passed by it a thousand times on your way through town. It sits off the road aways, half hidden by scrub and oaks. There used to be a fence, but only the gate remains; hanging there like dusty hand bones, waving in the wind and clattering against the sidewalk.
You know the house. Every time you pass by you wonder, what happened there? You can see in the lines of the roof and the stone in the foundation that this house had been important, once. To someone. Now it sits there, vines and vermin eating its flesh, stinking up the landscape, a rotting relic of prosperity past.
Small, scared children creep up the porch stairs to touch the doorknob, cold under their hot hands. They run with screams stuck in their throats, swallowed by nervous laughter once they're safe on the other side of the broken gate. Teenaged couples slip away to sleep on its bare floors, burned by cigarettes, covered with dirt and sweat and illicit acts. They spread blankets and make fires and lie back to back after all is done, pretending to sleep and praying for dawn.
You know the house. On the porch there is a chair, rusted green metal, rounded back, spring loaded legs. Your grandma had one on her porch, but in red. You sat there for hours reading Nancy Drew and comic books and drinking sweet tea out of jelly jars. I wonder if a child sat in this chair on summer days and solved mysteries and looked out at the road and wondered where it went.
There are big trees in the backyard and I suppose if there had been a child, there must have been a tire swing. I spend too much time looking up into the sun, searching branches for pieces of rope. I run my hands along the trunks and pretend I can feel the footholds. If I stand too long in the sun and manage to forget the noise from the road and put my face against the warm wood, I can feel the tree shake under the weight of a boy climbing up.
There is a low stone wall around one side of the house. It has fallen in parts and bits of stone have been thrown carelessly against the house, making messes of windows. The holes like little mouths gaping, caught in perpetual screams.
Do houses weep? Do they cry as they crumble and wail as we abuse them, kicking corners and slamming doors? Does the earth cry out in pain as we dig it up and shove things in it that don't belong, like mailposts and birdbaths and flagpoles?
Do houses miss us when we're gone? Do they silently beg us to return and fill them up with laughter and love and tears, until their walls swell and beat like great, living things? And do they die, then, when we abandon them? When we decide that they are, afterall, only things? When we pack up our possessions and don't bother locking the door and leave them to become detritus, legend, mystery?
I imagine they do.
And I imagine they take one small breath, beat one small beat, when we pass by and later remark, do you know the house I'm talking about?