SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page


Story by John Minichillo (Read author interview) October 3, 2011

art by Matt Kish

The realtor convinced them to bid above the asking price and now the house was theirs, with all their belongings boxed and placed in the appropriate rooms. They had signed the paperwork that morning at the mortgage company and they were tired, sweaty, and dirty from the long day of moving. They had put the bed together, something the movers offered to do, but they just wanted them out of their new house. They had wanted to be alone, it was getting on into the evening, and they were hungry.

“Let’s walk down to the shops and get something to eat.”

The draw for them was this desirable neighborhood. They didn’t get the house they wanted, in many ways the house was a step down from the one they had lived in, but the neighborhood was connected to the good schools, so that goodness flourished here and they had to decide if they wanted sushi, a wood-fired pizza, tapas, Vietnamese noodles, or Indian food. They settled on a sack of burritos to go, which were fast and filling, and they looked forward to sitting on the floor of the living room and eating at the coffee table, with both the dining room table and the one in the kitchen nook covered with boxes. But when they got back to their new house, neither of them had the key. Hadn’t they used the key to lock up? Yes, yes, this new and foreign gesture was memorable and there had been a key.

During the ritual of signing for the loan, they had both slipped the new key onto their respective key rings, and now they flipped through these keys, each identifiable, but none was the key to the new house. So they sat on the stoop, ate burritos, and called the realtor, who remembered seeing them each take possession of a key as well. She would send a locksmith, hold tight.

They waited as the neighborhood darkened, and the rooms of all the expensive homes, their new neighbors, were lit with large TVs. The bend in the road seemed to veer off into night as the remnants of daylight were harder to detect and the lamplights that stood sentry flickered to life.

“He should have come by now. I’m calling again.”

The realtor said it wasn’t like him to not to show, and he must have gotten lost. She would call him back, but she would also come out to meet them. She didn’t have a key, but she didn’t feel good about their not being able to settle into their new home.

There were no stars and no moon. They wanted to wash their hands.

Earlier, despite their fatigue, they had talked about making love on the old bed in their new bedroom, but that mood had passed, and now they only wanted to sleep and to wake up to a long weekend of gradually unpacking boxes. When a car drove by, they perked up, but it wasn’t the realtor, and they felt like trespassers, with all the lights off in their new home, and the “For Sale” sign still out front. They decided to sit in the backyard, on the patio, and when the realtor arrived she would know to come find them.

They walked around the house, which seemed small, though each month of living in it would require handing over a chunk of gold. The gate to the backyard was locked, and so they clumsily climbed over, a skill from childhood they could barely perform. There were no trees in the backyard, something they had agreed to plant soon, and the yards of several nearby houses backed up to theirs like haphazard cars parked in a gravel lot. There was no lawn furniture yet, so they sat on the back stoop, and as the night grew cold they held each other.

“I’m tired of this. I’m going to look for an unlocked window.”

“I’m coming with you.”

They stood on the top of the fence, climbed onto an eave, and crawled up to where the sloped roof met the windows of two bedrooms, all of them locked. Through their bedroom window they saw their unmade bed, cast in the light of one of the street lamps. The bed looked small and bare and they wanted nothing more than to dress it and sleep on it. A window would soon be broken; it was only a matter of deciding which one. And if a neighbor heard the shattering glass and called the police, they were sure that, like the locksmith and the realtor, the police would never come.

But they didn’t break a window. Instead they stood there and looked in. And they watched themselves inside, first making the bed, and then sleeping in it. They saw themselves get out of the bed the next morning and move from room to room, making the new house livable, spreading possessions all around. Then they went over to the next window and saw a small boy who looked a little like each of them and he played with wooden toys or later, as they continued to watch and he was taller, he read from library books.

They didn’t speak but quietly observed and they were hooked. The moment when they could have broken the window had passed. It didn’t matter that they never bathed or ate or defecated or slept. Instead of living inside the house they watched the couple living inside. The sun rose and the sun set as they stood on the roof. People saw them but didn’t stare. Even the people inside would glance up with recognition and then look away. They had bought the house and belonged to the house. They had signed the papers. And even though they couldn’t find them, they owned the keys that opened the door.

About the Author

John Minichillo’s work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Third Coast, the anthology Next Stop Hollywood (St. Martin’s), Gigantic , Monkeybicycle, wigleaf, Metazen, Nashville Review, Staccato Fiction, In Posse Review, Prick of the Spindle, Necessary Fiction, Everyday Genius, Moon Milk Review, Northville Review, Hint Fiction: an Anthology of Stories in Twenty-Five Words or Less and elsewhere. He lives in Nashville and teaches fiction writing at Middle Tennessee State University.

About the Artist

Matt Kish never attended art school and hasn’t had an art class since 1987, but he draws almost every single day. Childhood obsessions with everything from Jack Kirby comics to Roger Dean album covers to Japanese monster movies fuel an obsession with the unknown, obtuse and unloved. He recently completed a project to create one illustration for every page of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” which will be published as an art book this October. Oh, and he also talks to planets. You can see more of his art and photography at www.spudd64.com.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Three

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

The Hybrid Flash: How to Dual-Wield Genre

Book Now!

The Hybrid Flash with Erin Vachon

In this webinar/workshop, you will harness the experimental power of hybrid flash. You will discover the intertwined history of hybrid and flash, and read published flash crossed with image, poetry, and creative nonfiction. You will learn the rules of each genre, so you know how to break them.