On day 1000 of winter break, a mom sits at the kitchen table browsing her inbox, and her six year old works on a word search next to her with a yellow crayon. In your day, you encircled the whole word, but the boy strikes through them with the crayon.
He chews on a toaster waffle intermittently. Yesterday, you commented on how much energy he had, and he agreed, and told you that he was running at 99 gallops, a word you have never heard him use. He can’t read or spell yet but is so eager to decipher the words on the paper.
He looks for the word ‘penguin’, scanning the puzzle with the blunt tip of the crayon, howling with frustration. You say: ‘if you can’t find it, move on to the next one. You can always go back’. He’s all but on top of the table and his face is an inch away from the paper, baby teeth gritted. He has no idea what the concept of moving on means.
The sophomore in high school who lives here is certain of this fact: there are two types of teenagers. First, there ones who desperately want to be normal. They go about in uniformed pairs, laughing too loudly for an imagined audience. Next, there are the ones that desperately want to be unique. They wear thrifted menswear and fill their pockets will gum that is out of style.
The worst thing about being sixteen is the feeling that you have to choose one or the other: your brand must be intelligible and consistent. There is no room for both or neither at all. The searing visibility is a red-hot poker pressed into the centre of your chest.
This is a secret, rented house of a person who spends most of their time living in another house larger than this only two miles away, complete with a family of four needy people.
Here, you can live for a few hours a day away from the clutter of other humans. The floors are a beautiful, battered Georgia pine. All walls are white, except for the bathroom, which is the palest mint. In the living room, there is a white futon crouching on a maple frame. Next to it, a small table made of a slab of walnut, posed on steel hairpin legs. A copy of the Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert straddles the span of the table.
A long, spindly, and emancipated cactus leans into a corner next to a window. In the kitchen: one fork, one spoon, one knife, one plate, one salad plate, one bowl, one mug, and one drinking glass. A radio sits above the refrigerator. Coffee is made boiled on the stove, camp style.
A Formica table seats one in the eat-in kitchen: when it was purchased, the seller apologized that it was missing the accompanying three matching chairs. An avocado seed sits hovering over a jar of water, balanced by toothpicks pushed into its flesh. The closets are completely empty. There’s a twin bed in the bedroom, heaped with coverlets, duvets and quilts: purposefully heaped for laying down in the bed and feeling completely anchored.
These three short stories are from a grouping of vignettes from a larger project I’m working on called ‘Domestic Conjecture’ – fictional conjecture about the lives of houses and the people who live in them. The project lives on Instagram at @domesticconjecture.