Eternal by Hugh Behm-Steinberg
There’s a boarded up house with the word eternal painted on its side. It used to be a bridal shop: they made wedding dresses on that corner a hundred years ago. Mothers and maids of honor congregated inside while the bride-to-be would get measured. They’d negotiate the price for the silk (chiffon or satin), the tulle, the lace, the crepe and organza, the pearls, whatever went into a gown so extravagant it could only be worn once. “How is that eternal?” one woman asks, not for the first time, and the bride’s mother, not for the last time, says, “because that’s how long it’s going to take to pay for all of this.” The bride becoming furious, asks something like, “You don’t want your daughter to wear rags to her wedding?” A brief thunderstorm inside the House of Eternal, because all weddings have always been like this: all brides have to fight at least three times with their mothers before they may be wed.
But then the owner of the shop whispers in the bride’s ear, right as he is holding the measuring tape around her, “never be cynical if you want to be happy. It is love that is eternal: that’s why we’re all here.” He’s said this so many times, to so many women. But it works, the storm breaks, the bride beams, insisting upon the most expensive of options for her gown.
There’s a boarded up house I drive past all the time with the word eternal painted on its side. Sometimes I imagine what would happen if somebody finally decided to buy the house and fix it. They would have to fight their way through all the paperwork to bring the house back up to code, make it safe against fire and earthquakes. There would be permits and inspections and setback after setback after setback just to replace the foundation. They’d have to tear the structure down to its studs and then replace everything, even the windows. They would clear the mice out, sweep away the fabric remnants and stray buttons, take out all the empty piled up in that place, then stage it properly so it might sell for around a million dollars, that’s how much small houses in Berkeley, California cost, to a couple who’d fill its bedrooms and hallways with their own unspooling lives, so that nothing of what the place used to be would exist in the place it had now become. All the stories they’d tell each other would become their stories, not ours.
Still, after that, after all that work, after the house had been painted white or ivory or blush pink, just like the wedding dresses that used to be made there, even after leaving that last little bit in place, the eternal, as a nod to the preservationists, a cynic in the night with a spraycan might, over that last bit, write, temporary.
There’s a boarded up house with the word eternal painted on its side where they used to sew wedding dresses. The eternal is spooky when you think about it. Imagine all the ghosts that clog the place, not of people because why would a bride bother to haunt the place where her dress was made? Even if the wedding was a disaster, there’s so many better places to go. But what if all the objects we use in our lives also have their ghosts? All the gowns, truly eternal, even when dropped off at the consignment shop, or thrown away after the estate sale, surely they would all want to go home? What of the thread, the scraps of fabric, the needles and pins, the white buttons that rolled underneath the sewing station, forgotten but never lost? If you could see all of that, you wouldn’t be able to see anything. Only a giant snowdrift rising up past the windows of a boarded up house in a city where it never snows.
Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found or forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review, Okay Donkey, Grimoire, Occulum, Shift, Every Pigeon and Spelk, as well as in issue 16 of the New Flash Fiction Review. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast. A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, is forthcoming from Nomadic Press in 2019.He is chief steward of the adjunct faculty union at California College of the Arts, SEIU 1021.