Some of you may know that I’m a college student, and like many college students, I have a somewhat perverse streak in me that will unaccountably jump at any opportunity to temporarily avoid homework. Don’t get me wrong—homework is important—it just isn’t so important that I can resist the siren call of any excuse to write something new (and fictional) when essays have been on the menu for a while. To those of you who have read What Is and Could Be, this story might be beginning to sound familiar... and you’d be right. About midway through the term the student leadership decided to host a flash fiction contest, and wouldn’t you know—I thought, “Why not?” It wasn’t as if I didn’t already have enough to do.
So I wrote ”Once” around the feeling you get when you’re standing somewhere and you begin to realize that the walls around you have seen lives pass them by—some good, some bad. They’ve witnessed happiness and sadness, and maybe a little grief. Maybe nothing extraordinary ever happened there, but people were there, and that was enough.
I hope this story blesses you.
It was one of those white-hot summer days—the ones when the cicadas humming in the trees make someone want to do nothing but drowse in a shady hammock. I couldn’t have told anyone why I went for a stroll along that blistering sidewalk, or why I found myself at the old Abel place. It wasn’t as if there was anything to see but rank weeds, a broken lawn chair, and a roof missing shingles, but something drew me there as sure as curiosity killed the cat. Some say the place is haunted, but I think it’s only rats, skittering their tiny claws over the roof beams to scare the kids.
Anyway, there I stood. And there it stood. The stuccoed walls had begun to crack and crumble, giving in to the slow passage of time. As I looked at the broken windows yellowed with cobwebs and the dry brown lawn home now only to grasshoppers and lizards, I realized that the dead thing before me had once been part of someone’s life.
Children had once played on this lawn. Doubtless, some daring young adventurer had skinned his knee coasting his bike down the same sidewalk that had nearly burnt through my sandals. On the left of the two-story house were a few crazy fence posts, all that remained of a garden choked by thistles. I saw a mother there picking tomatoes, enjoying the scarlet-red firstfruits of her labor before any made it to sandwiches and salsa.
My feet crunched the sun-baked earth as I stepped off the curb, wading through the waist-high grass in silence. The peeling door hung listless before me, frame warped, and held on only by a hinge and a few rusty screws. How long had the house been here? Every day I ignored it, too busy to remember what had been. I stepped inside.
It was one of those quaint old-fashioned kitchens once full of light, yellow chintz curtains and white cupboards. The remains of checkered linoleum shrank from the floor as if it, too, had been fried by the late summer heat. A fly buzzed by my ear, alighting on a blackberry bramble that had climbed in through the kitchen window over the sink like an undecided burglar caught with one leg in, and one leg out.
The room was stuffy, but a splash of sunlight fell on a rickety kitchen table near the door. There was a girl there, twin brown braids falling over her shoulders as she propped a contemplative chin in hand. Maybe she was lost in the sleuthing adventures of a girl named Nancy Drew. Or maybe she was trying to remember what the capital of Nebraska was.
To my left rose the stairs, curling up and away with tantalizing mystery. I’d come this far, so I put my foot on the first stair and, finding it solid, went up the squeaky old staircase. Each stair had once been carpeted, but the rats had chewed it up for nest material long ago, and all that remained were a few threads and dusty gray fragments that tried to trip me.
At the top I found a hall stretching away to my right, and in the dark, dirty bathroom nearest me, half hidden by another crooked door, was a man. He stood at the chipped mirror oblivious to the scum rings in the sink, absorbed in his morning shave.
I made my way down the hall, glancing through the holes in the ceiling that let in patches of sunshine like unfinished skylights. Through them I could make out snatches of cloud that hung like just-popped popcorn in a blue bowl. I was sure that every one of the rooms I passed held a memory, but the one at the end drew me to it as inevitably as I had been drawn to the house in the first place.
The room had once had a large window in it, but it was broken now, letting a stale breeze into the breathless atmosphere of the upper story. The tattered carpet showed the dry wood beneath, and on the floor in the midst of the wreckage of broken glass and shingles sat two girls playing Miss Mary Mack.
I couldn’t hear them, but I knew it, sure as daylight—and as I watched them, tiny hands clapping together to the tune of back, back, back, I had the strange consciousness of being them. I had been—once. Like countless others before me, I had played that same game. Outside under a tree, or inside on the playroom floor; it didn’t matter much. As soon as I realized this, they were gone—and I was alone.
Alone with the consciousness that the walls had memory.
Welcome to Katelyn Buxton Books! I'm a Christian author and blogger, with a passion for writing stories that are not just enjoyable, but also lead people closer to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!