Driving to work down Route 44 with the sunroof open on a fine spring morning, Jason Murray looked over at the abandoned farm-house that stood perhaps 30 yards from the side of the road. Jason had the sense that other drivers never noticed the old structure, surrounded as it was by trees that had grown up in what was once its front yard. Jason had spotted it on the first day he had taken this route, and something had made him look over at the old house virtually every day since. He often wondered about who must have lived there over the years, and tried to imagine who had it built, and that first day that the original owners had moved in, which clearly was decades ago.
Just since yesterday, daffodils had bloomed along the side of the old house, while other sprays were scattered throughout the trees. Virtually every time Jason passed by, he thought, One of these days, I’m going to explore that old house!
For some reason, today was the day. Perhaps, it was because he was early, and he expected an easy day at the office, and so, he could afford the time. Perhaps, it was the daffodils. In any case, he ignored the rusty No Trespassing sign and tested his footing on the front porch, for he did not want to fall through any rotten boards.
Encountering a staircase upon entering, he carefully made his way up, and entered one of the bedrooms. Dust beams danced in the sunshine that filtered through the glass-less window. All was dim, cool, still.
“It’s about time you got here!”
Jason jumped when the cheery voice broke the silence.
“Who’s there?” he stammered.
He called out again, then called down the steps. When he did so, he heard the voice behind him.
“What took you so long?”
He returned to the bedroom from which he came. It was brighter and warmer, but a chill ran through him that was so severe, he felt frozen where he stood. Had someone slipped drugs into his 7-11 coffee? Was he having a seizure, or perhaps dying? For there was no doubt that it was the house itself that was talking to him.
“Yes, I’m talking to you, Jason. I’m so glad that you finally stopped in. I don’t think I can hold on much longer.”
Jason took a deep breath. “You’ve been waiting for me?” he said as his eyes darted about in an attempt to discover where to direct his voice.
“Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people have passed by since my last family lived here. Very few of them have recognized that there is Life in me.”
“How can a house be alive?”
“I didn’t say that. I said that there was Life in me. You never just glanced at me, Jason, you looked at me, you really looked at me. You’re the one, Jason, the one to whom I must pass on this Life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Go to the doorway and look.”
Jason did so and noticed a series of notches that began about three feet above the floor and stopped about five feet above the floor.
“Yes, there. . . . Ah, Timmy. He would run through me, laughing so hard that it tickled my walls. He came down with the flu, though in the big epidemic back in 1918. Two weeks later, my floorboards were wet with his parents’ tears. They couldn’t stand to live here anymore, so they sold me to a couple with eight children. Eight! The love that filled me. . . . Those boys—there were seven of them and the one girl—would cause their mother all kinds of consternation, climbing out that window there, and down the trellis that used to hold up Mrs. Cooper’s roses. She was the one who planted all the daffodils; she did love her flowers. Then, the war came along, World War II, that is, and the Cooper kids all served, even the girl. Ruth was her name, and she became an army nurse. Only Russ, the oldest boy, came back to the farm, but he brought a wife with him. British she was. She had a big, four-poster bed which she dearly loved. . . . In fact, go out in the hall and down a ways and look at the wall.”
Jason did so and his eyes fell on a spot that had been plastered over.
“When that thing was delivered, they left it on the front porch, so Russ had to lug it all upstairs and he banged the headboard into me. He cussed like he was still in the Army! And, as you can see, he didn’t do a very good job of patching me up. I didn’t mind though. Why I could show you a hundred nicks and dents and spots and they all have a story!”
The house fell silent.
“What happened next?”
“Hmmm? Oh, Russ and Patty, that was her name, Patty, they had three girls, but it was just the two of them here when the state roads people came along and told them they were buying the farm. Needed it to build Route 44 out there. Russ didn’t mind selling as there wasn’t any money in being a small-time farmer anymore. That was about 1970. Or ’71. Oh, well, the time doesn’t matter.”
“And you’ve been abandoned ever since?”
“Not exactly. I was filled up with Life. All of it, every bit of it, every ingredient that goes into it. Joy, sorrow, sadness, passion. One hundred and two Christmases, hundreds of birthdays. Four first kisses on my front porch, countless tears over everything from skinned knees to lost loved ones. You don’t feel abandoned when your full of such memories, but I have been waiting.”
“For you, Jason. People move into houses all the time. This old house needs to move into you. You see, people, animals, trees, even houses live, and then they die, but Life—ha! Life is a different story. Life is eternal, but you can’t expect it to just float around out there with no . . . home. It needs a place to be. That little slice of Life that was mine is now yours.”
“What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Remember it, respect it, learn from it.”
“How do you know I’m the right person?”
“You stopped, didn’t you? . . . It’s been nice to have someone cross the old threshold one more time, but I’m thinking that you need to get to work.”
Jason looked at his watch. “I guess so. I . . . I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say good-bye.”
Jason walked out the front door and stepped off the front porch, being careful not to step on any rotten boards for he didn’t want to impart any further damage to the place. He turned and looked over the old house.
“Good-bye,” he heard himself say.
“Thank you,” came the answer.
Jason walked back to his car and went on his way, but it was a good thing that this was an easy day at work. Upon sitting at his desk he called his wife just to tell her that he loved her. Later, when he remembered that he needed to cut the grass when he got home, he thought he would see if his daughters wanted to ride bikes instead. After all, they wouldn’t always think it was cool to have Dad along.
When it was time to head home, he felt a certain wariness that he could not explain to himself, but as he drove along, he knew. He passed the spot where he had parked that morning, then began peering through the trees on his right. Sure enough, the old house had collapsed.