The Old Man and the House

Originally written for

The old man lived alone in a house he built on a six-month cocaine bender in 1962. The roof leaked in the bathroom, but by happy coincidence it leaked straight into the toilet, saving him what he felt was a lot of money on water bills. The stove worked all right so long as you didn’t use the back burner on the left hand side, which had a habit of violently exploding at random intervals. The back door had some issues closing, and no matter how many times the old man trimmed the bottom it always somehow ended up scraping the floor as it swung back into the oak frame.

Despite all these flaws it was a good house, especially considering the old man didn’t particularly remember most of the construction process or where he actually got the blueprints in the first place. There was a family of squirrels living in the attic, but the old man didn’t have the strength to evict the noisy critters from the crawlspace somewhere above his bedroom. Sometimes he could hear them scurrying about above him late at night, and would lay there and wonder what the devil squirrels had to do at eleven p.m.

The old man wished he had a cellar, but the ground in Louisiana was too wet to dig one.  Now and then in the afternoons, he would sit on his front porch and stare at the spot where he figured a cellar should be, and how he would go about digging one if he lived up north. He had never actually been inside a cellar before; what were you supposed to keep in one? He remembered a program he saw once on the History channel about cellars in Spain; their cellars usually had wine in them. Did all cellars have wine in them, he wondered, or just the ones in Spain? The old man decided that if he had a cellar he would keep wine in it, and maybe even start brewing his own beer like his neighbor Raymond.

There was a big oak tree growing next to his front porch that sometimes dropped big branches onto the roof when it stormed; when this happened the old man would get the rusty metal extension ladder out of the shed and climb up to push them off. A couple of years before a big storm had come and knocked down a bough almost as big around as himself; when he went to get it down, he discovered a small, fuzzy white owl chick peeping out of a hole in the limb. The old man hadn’t known what to do with the poor creature, so he put it in a tattered shoebox for a couple of hours until Steve, the neighborhood tabby cat, broke in and ate it.

A few summers ago he decided he wanted to take up gardening. The old man spent two solid weeks with his neighbor Raymond’s machete clearing out the wall of brush and chinaberry trees that had taken over the small plot of land behind his house. Then he tilled up the dirt and made it soft with his neighbor Raymond’s gas-powered plow (his neighbor Raymond had a lot more gardening tools than he did). The old man bought corn, zucchini, okra, squash, tomato, and green bean seeds to plant in his new garden. I’ll never have to shop for vegetables again, he thought as he carefully buried them in the little mounds he had made.

A month later he had a huge, lush jungle of only squash and zucchini plants. His neighbor Raymond had said to plant the squash and zucchini away from everything else, but the old man figured it wasn’t that important, and anyways he didn’t have a lot of space. That summer he pulled colossal, deformed squash out of the little plot, along with zucchini the size of baseball bats; the old man ate what he could and used the rest to throw at Steve the tabby cat whenever he came prowling by.

The old man didn’t replant the next summer, but the squash and zucchini plants came back anyways. A few chinaberry trees returned too, but the old man didn’t mind. He sometimes watched the family of squirrels that lived in his attic frolic around in the branches, and hung up a bird feeder so cardinals would land there and gobble up the seeds. The old man liked seeing the cardinals, but sometimes grackles would come and chase them away. He spent some mornings sitting on the porch with his pellet gun, taking potshots at the grackles.

One day as the old man was sitting on his front porch and thinking about cellars, his neighbor Raymond called to tell him there was a hurricane coming, and that he should evacuate because it was supposed to be a big one. The old man thanked Raymond for the information, hung up his phone and sat back down in his rocking chair. He had sat through many a “big one” in that very same spot, would sit through this one, too. Evacuate, he thought as he closed his eyes. As if. Anyways, it couldn’t be worse than Camille. Now that was a hurricane…

The old man was buried a week later in the little plot of land where he planted zucchini and squash, twenty or so feet from an old house with a big oak tree crushing the front porch. A family of squirrels had taken up residence in a nearby chinaberry tree, and could sometimes be seen racing across the granite headstone with an old tabby cat in hot pursuit.

Every spring the grave bloomed yellow with squash flowers. In late summer zucchini resembling the drive shaft of an 18-wheeler were hauled by his neighbor Raymond and used as shotgun targets; the roars of the .12 gauge echoed eerily throughout the empty old house, which still had a leak in the bathroom roof and a back door that never quite closed properly.

One thought on “The Old Man and the House

  1. Enjoyed it! Lots of personal tidbits in that one, eh? Liked the repetition of things from the beginning of the story.

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