Home Sweet Home

by Deborah Koren © 2003

Marge sat on the porch, rocking gently in her chair. It was August, still hot and humid at eight-thirty pm. A pitcher of iced tea sat beside her on a TV tray. She watched the hired men across the street carry the last boxes into the moving truck and close up. They'd been at it all afternoon, loading the Adlers' possessions, footsteps clomping up the ramp into the back of the truck, then back down again. They'd stomped right through her nap time, and so she'd moved out onto the porch to watch and wait.

She'd hoped to say good-bye to the Adlers, but they were already gone. It was their real estate agent, old Sam Harkins, who locked up their house after the truck rumbled away. He caught sight of her as he walked towards his Buick and, after a moment, crossed the street to join her. He bobbed his head up and down in greeting. "Evening, Marge. Fourth house I've locked up in a week, you know that?"

She nodded genially. Of course she knew. Everyone still left in Tucker, Ohio knew. "Have a seat, Sam," she said.

He did, sinking into the white wicker chair with a sigh. She passed him a clean glass she had waiting and poured him some iced tea. He smiled and sipped gratefully. "How long, do you think?" he asked.

"It varies. An hour, maybe?"

His eyes widened, and the ice rattled in his glass as his hand shook. "That quick?"

"You didn't stick around before?"

His head shake was quick and vehement. "I can't. Most of these places I saw getting built."

"Where'd the Adlers go?"

"Cleveland," he said. "One of their boys lives up there. They're looking for some place nearby. Some nice new housing development. Grand kids, you know."

Marge nodded. Her own son, Wyatt Jr., had been trying to get her to come to Philadelphia since her husband had passed on. "Tuckerís a ghost town, mom," he had told her. "You've got one gas station, one grocery store, one diner, and one church left. That's it."

"And the railroad. And the station. And the houses. And the memories," she'd said, but he didn't want to hear that. No one wanted to hear about the past. They wanted shopping malls and four lane highways and fast food restaurants and debit cards. Convenience multiplied by prosperity to equal comfort. If Tucker had been in a desirable locale, then the old homes might have been worth something. It might have been turned into a historical site, with murals and exhibits and shops that sold Amish crafts and souvenirs and tee-shirts emblazoned with trains and the town's name in antique script. There was a fine line between decrepit and historical. Tucker had walked that line for twenty years, ever since the new highway had diverted traffic south, and finally gone the side of decrepit.

She wasn't sorry for that. Resurrection as a tourist site lacked dignity. A faÁade of fresh paint and a bunch of souvenirs? No, some things served their purpose and passed on. Husbands, railroads, towns.... Marge drank from her glass and smiled to herself. Even old women had to pass on sometime.

She turned her attention back to Sam as he checked his wristwatch again. "How long now, do you think?" he asked.

"You'd better run home, Sam," she advised.

He nodded hurriedly and set his glass down on the table. It was still half full. "Thanks for the tea."

"Say hi to Evelyn for me," Marge said. "Tell her I'll drop by soon."

He nodded and hesitated. "She wants to move out West. Start new in Palm Springs or Tucson, or some such place. Somewhere with dry heat and desert."

Marge nodded. And shopping malls and golf courses and convenience stores, she added, but didn't say. It was that clean new look they wanted in their lives again. A make-over. Plastic surgery. Anything to feel young again. Tucker was old and seeping into their bones and they couldnít accept that.

"What about you? When are you moving out? "

"Moving out?" Marge said and laughed. "That's silly."

"But.... "

"Better hurry, Sam," she murmured. "It's nearing nine."

He twitched in alarm, then flashed her a nearly imperceptible smile. He paused again, and she could see him scraping for words to apologize, or to ask forgiveness. He finally said, "All right, Marge, you take care," hurried across to his Buick, and sped off.

Marge sighed as peace settled on her twilight neighborhood. It was just her, and her iced tea, and the tiny creak of her rocker. She could hear the cicadas droning again, and the wind whispering through the elms. A mockingbird sang somewhere nearby. Wood boards snapped like firecrackers bursting. With a sound like a thousand tiny bells, glass shattered, the lower floor windows first, then the upper windows, as the Adler's house ruptured from the inside. The creaking and groaning of wood beams and the cement foundation came next, and Marge hummed a little to counter the noise. She hadnít known that wood could scream when it stretched and broke, but it did.

It only took ten minutes of breaking and fracturing and the house crumpled inward. Marge felt the wind from the collapse ruffle her dress and hair, caress her cheek. She inhaled the musty scent of freshly turned earth. Stars were visible on the darkening horizon where the house had blocked them minutes before and she could see the silhouettes of two trees standing in what had been the Adler's backyard. Something rippled over the ground where the house had stood, and she knew it was the plants and dirt devouring the ruptured building, as their appetites had devoured every other abandoned building in Tucker. By morning, wild grasses, weeds, and bushes would be sprouting.

Marge smiled at the uninterrupted view from her porch.

x x x

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