- Books, Literature, and Writing
"This Old House" and "An Overdue Conversation": Two Short Short Stories
This Old House
It was late afternoon. Daniel sat on the porch of his family’s farmhouse. Built in 1910 by his great grandfather and two of his brothers, the house was twice as old as he was. He paused to consider how much ordinary life had occurred in this home: quarrels between spouses, lovemaking, Friday night card games, births, deaths, and beyond. His grandmother, a soft-spoken woman named Elise, had been born in his childhood bedroom. Years later he moved to the downstairs bedroom in which Alfred, his great grandfather, had died. With his stocky frame and pale green eyes, he allegedly looked just like him. Elise, before dementia polluted her mind and personality, would always tell him this. Eventually, needing to be his own person, he asked her to stop. Thankfully, she never mentioned it again.
Have you ever lived on a farm?
He wondered, while wiping sweat from his freckled face, how many additional years this house would last. Already too much money and manpower had been invested to keep it intact. The foundation was crumbling; this problem, as well as various others, weren’t worth fixing. It didn’t help, moreover, no one was able or willing to live this far from town. According to Sheila and Sabrina, his twin nieces, it was lonely and depressing. As residents of Chicago, they were accustomed to near constant activity; vacationing in Iowa was, in comparison, maddeningly boring.
Daniel, always a solitary individual, found comfort in the the pervasive stillness. He felt most alive when he could neither see nor hear another human being. He felt, once sequestered, most free to be himself. There was, much to his relief, no need to masquerade any longer.
Abandoning all his melancholy thoughts, he stood up and strode inside. As he heard the screen door squeaking shut, a startling and calming realization came to him: This house would, even once demolished, remain his first and truest home.
An Overdue Conversation
Nervously twisting a black strand of hair around her finger—she did this, like countless others, unthinkingly—Heather waited for Ben, her husband of eight years, to speak.
He was often like this: luxuriating in silence when words, for her sake more than his, were needed. Back when they were dating, as students at Oregon State University, she found his thoughtfulness attractive and intriguing. Now all it did was exasperate her. Similarly, he struggled to admire her outspokenness. Quite often, he could see the underlying rudeness in how she insisted on conversation—even if there was nothing worth saying.
His long, pale face contorted with an expression between sadness and displeasure, he continued brooding.
Unwilling to wait him out, she spoke up. “For crying out loud, sweetie, what is going on?”
He winced. “I don’t know how to say what I need to.”
“You always say that. Please, my darling, offer me some words."
“You know that I love you.” Looking up, he met her gaze.
“Of course I do. Why is this worth mentioning?” She asks with apprehension residing inside every word.
Sighing, he paused before replying. His face, the one she first memorized at the age of twenty, was visibly pained. “I don’t know if I want to be married anymore.”
“WHAT!? What are you talking about? What’s wrong?”
“I’m unhappy. I feel suffocated. Plus, you haven’t been able to get pregnant. Maybe we should call it quits.”
With a mixture of fury and bewilderment flashing across her brown eyes, Heather was momentarily too stunned to speak. Never did she imagine he would try to leave her. Everything about this exchange was, to a greater or lesser degree, incomprehensible.
“What happened to the promises we made? What about ‘happily ever after?’ This isn’t like you.”
“Maybe we’ve both changed. I’m tired of feeling miserable and stuck.”
“Trust me, my dear, I don’t think I’m the only reason you’re struggling. Shall I mention your recent demotion?”
He sighed. All remaining shreds of confidence seemed to evaporate into the morning air. “You’re right. I probably need to get away for a few days. Maybe this would help.”
“It could.” She conceded. There was, however briefly, compassion in her voice. “Please go sort yourself out. I haven’t stopped loving you. I don’t think this is over.”
Offering her an insubstantial smile, he softly responded with these simple, however vital, words: “Let’s hope you’re right.”
Unable or unwilling to speak, Heather firmly placed her right hand on his left shoulder. She was not, for reasons simultaneously known, unknown, and unknowable, going to surrender this beloved man without a fight.