Not even counting the ancient cellar holes, there are as many empty houses in my neighborhood, if it could be called that, as occupied houses. The built-up trailer with the lights on a timer and the mowed grass is owned by the bank but unsellable, my neighbors say. The family across the street, where the woman was on parole for embezzling the town's property tax money, owns a couple of the half-built ones that were meant to capitalize on their farm's frontage, but which were never completed to code.
The log cabin around the corner was empty for a couple years. There had been a lethal OD there and the elderly woman who remained after the troubles never left the house. It was hard to tell when it became empty. The driveway went unplowed one winter, but the kid who came by once said his grandmother had been there the whole time.
The arrival of the plumber's van in the spring suggested that the pipes had burst. Early that summer I smelled something wrong burning ? too nasty and strange to be brush. Someone had shoveled out the entire content of the house into the backyard, and set it ablaze. It smoldered for a couple days. Among the charred furniture and blobs of plastic, jigsaw puzzle pieces formed a moldering mosaic.
I found a recent Social Security job report attached to a terribly sad child's note to, I think, an incarcerated father: "Dear Dad I miss you and love you. I now we both wish you out. I now I wish you were out. I would like it a Lot because we could take some more walks, and I wish I cuuld teach you how to play my game. and we can pLay baskebaLL. and try to call me!!!! Love your son."
I found scraps of a neatly handwritten note dated May 1978 sent home by an eighth grade social studies teacher. I can't read much of it, but the gist is discernible: "...meeting in conference...rather drastic behavior." "I have said nothing to him about the doubt of your signature. That I intend to leave up to you." "Sincerely and concerned, Mr. R."
And I found the handwritten lyrics to the song, "Call Wind Maria": "Away out here they got a name for wind and rain and fire/ The rain is Tess the fire is Joe. And they call the wind Ma-ri-ah." It ends with the chorus, "Blow my love to me." Is it even necessary to say lost and lonely are in each verse?
I took home a knee-high Seagrams bottle with a dead mouse in it, a waterlogged stack of 1950s Popular Mechanics magazines, and a couple of cartoonish animals cast in concrete. I didn't mention any of this to the new owner as we talked in his driveway. He was moving rocks around, since, as they say, rocks are the main crop in our town. It's our destiny here to decide the rocks are in the wrong place and must be hauled to another part of the yard. I do this too, which is why I enjoy watching other people lugging around boulders and not offering to help them. I declined my new neighbor's offer to come in and see the new furnace. As I left he said, "Hey! Why didn't you tell me my bandage was hanging out of my pants?"