Our guest writer today is Shelly (DeJong) Mosurinjohn. Shelly graduated from Calvin in 2009 with a double major in English and studio art. After working at Calvin for several years, she and her husband moved to Eugene, Oregon two years ago. She currently works in the business office at a nonprofit music institute during the day and writes/crafts/creates in the evenings. She has a personal blog at http://shellmo.blogspot.com/.
I had been living in Eugene for about a month when I decided to start walking to work. I still had those fresh eyes that you get when new to a place—even so, it took me a couple of weeks to notice The House.
The flowers are probably what first drew my attention. Held at bay by the old brown fence, a flood of brilliant, dramatic flowers burst into view, seemingly overnight. I nearly gasped when I turned the corner and saw them. From my perch on the sidewalk, the grass yard sloped down dramatically until reaching the brown, A-frame house about 100 feet away. A small, mulch-filled path led from the gate to the front steps of the porch. The roof of the porch sagged, worn but in a nice way. It looked damp and heavy, even on a sunny day. A large, droopy tree hung dangerously close the porch—casting big, deep shadows over the house.
I peered at the screened-in windows but could only see darkness. I scanned the front porch, moving from the rotted-looking swing over to the front door, where I was surprised to see that a paper sign was taped to it. I squinted at it to see what it said, but I couldn’t make out anything. I moved to the side slightly to see if a better angle would illuminate the words, but still I couldn’t read it. Seemingly without my knowledge, my hand began applying pressure to the gate’s handle. But just then, I heard the porch swing squeak and a shadowed figure rose from it. I jumped and turned quickly back to my sidewalk commute.
I thought about that figure the whole day at work. I had been so startled that I hadn’t been able to tell if it was a man or woman, if it was old or young. My imagination began to fill in the gaps easily—surely it was a widowed, elderly woman who couldn’t afford to hire anyone to fix her roof. She was lonely, but her flowers kept her busy. She came to life in front of me, and I was eager to learn more about her. On my way home, I slowed down and tried to nonchalantly look at the house. The front door was open, but that sign was still taped to the screen door. I could just see a figure moving about inside, but disappointingly, I couldn’t make out any more details.
Days passed without any other discoveries except for new blossoms opening and old ones closing. One warm day on my way home, I heard it before I saw it. Rich, brassy trumpet music flowed from the open, top-story window. Jazz, I thought to my surprised self. I wouldn’t have guessed that this woman liked jazz…she seemed more like a classical fan. Still, I stood there enchanted as the music danced around the yard, fluttering in between the flowers and breathing new life in the sagging wood porch beams.
“Excuse me,” a man said gruffly. I turned and saw a man gesturing towards the gate that I was blocking. He clenched his jaw absentmindedly.
“Oh!” I said as I quickly continued up the sidewalk. I glanced back and saw him carry a couple of heavy-looking black bags up the path. He paused in front of the door—just as I rounded the corner out of sight.
My mind was all awhirl that night as I tried to figure out who this man was. He had seemed angry. But then again, I had been standing there awkwardly staring at the house. But what if he was angry and dangerous? My elderly woman suddenly seemed in terrible danger. I put on a dark jacket, slipped the hood up over my blonde hair and crept into the darkness. I inched my way through the shadows and examined the house. All the lights were off and I couldn’t see any movement inside. The house seemed to sigh as the brisk night air settled in around it. My eyes drifted to the flowers, and I noticed how different they looked in the dark. I wondered if the night air made them smell any differently. I leaned down to inhale, and then a light flipped on inside the house.
The man I had seen before shuffled into view. He had changed into a white t-shirt and flannel sweatpants. He sat down at the table and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked out the window—I gasped and jumped into the shadows until I realized that all he saw was his own reflection staring back at him. He put his head into his hands, and I saw that his shoulders began to shake.
I felt helpless and a bit stupid standing out there in the dark. It dawned on me that this wasn’t like my childhood doll house or some story I was just making up. These were real people, and I was being rude observing their life from the outside. I was about to turn toward home when suddenly I saw another light flip on upstairs. I held my breath to see what would happen, but the man didn’t move—he was still crying into his hands. Suddenly, a woman came into the room. Not the elderly woman that I had always imagined, but a woman with thick, dark hair that hung around her shoulders. She tied her robe lightly as she walked quietly over to the man. She leaned down and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. His shoulders tightened but then relaxed as he turned toward her and laid his head against her waist. He cried, and she held him for longer than I stayed there watching.
From that night on, I decided to ride my bike to work instead of walking. But from my occasional (unobtrusive) glances, I’ve noticed the roof looks a little less soggy, the flowers are still blooming, and that elusive sign is now gone from the front door.