He loved the house. Its idiosyncrasies. The things that made it difficult. The way he had to coax warmth into its cold bones if he came home late and well after dark on a cold winter’s night. The way the low spot next to the driveway filled with water after a hard rain so that, to get to the driveway from the house without wet feet, he had to jump from tree root to stone to garden ledge to driveway. It was like playing lava in the living room the way he’d done as a boy. He liked the subtle sounds as the house gracefully settled itself for the night, the crispy rattle of the red bud tree against the window. He liked the role he played with the house, its guardian, its caretaker, its lover.
His bride moved into the house. Two years later, she moved out. She’d wanted to change things. Wanted to put a rail around the porch, like a jail. To replace the heart of the house with propane. Suggested adding a thoroughly unnecessary guest room.
On the way out, her last day, her things already gone, she struck a fist against the wall next to the door. “I’ve lived inside your mistress for two years,” she said. “Now you can be alone together.”
He looked past her to her truck, running, the driver’s side door open. His chow-mix dog was inside, sitting expectantly in the passenger seat.
He felt her blow to the house in his shoulder. He had a bruise on his bicep the next day.
He swept the floor, throwing the last bits of dog fluff out the back door, watching them float away. He’d rescued that dog. Picker, the pick of the pound. “Picker picked her,” he told the house. The house stretched in the sun like a cat.
He rehung the black velvet painting of the white buffalo she’d taken down and replaced with their wedding picture. She’d left the picture. He put it in the freezer next to the ham she’d selected for Easter dinner.
The house welcomed him each night when he came home from work. They greeted each other, he by turning on lights or opening windows, the house by sighing deeply and settling around him.
He saw his former bride a year later. In the paint store. Her paint can read “Indigo Batik,” a splash of deep blue on the lid. He shuddered. Such an overpowering color. “Historic Ivory,” said his paint can. The house liked classic colors.
He went home and caressed the walls with his paint roller. The walls drank in the color, breathing back quiet warmth. In the stillness, he could hear the breathing. He took off the paint roller extension, making the handle short. He turned it around, ran the paint down his body, over his shirt, his jeans. No good, not right. He took off his clothes. He pressed himself against the breathing wall. He ran the paint roller up his body and down, across his face, down to his feet. He melted into the house’s embrace. “Home,” he said.
Epiphany Ferrell writes most of her fiction in Southern Illinois at Resurrection Mule Farm, named for a mule that survived a lightning strike. This story came from Meg Pokrass word prompts. Word prompt stories always bring surprise endings – and middles, and beginnings. Epiphany’s flash stories also appear in The Potomac; Cease, Cows; Ghost Parachute; Cooper Street; Prairie Wolf Press Review; A Quiet Courage; Unnerving Magazine and other places. She is an editor at Flash Fiction Magazine.