I live on Myrtle Avenue, a little non-descript five-plot street lined on one side only by post-war bungalows with the quaint covered porches and tiny front yards and crooked sidewalks that demonstrate a civility unique to the dreams of those mid-centuries romantics who built for themselves a small modicum of tranquility on the backs of a textile industry long since moved to a place where folks care less for it. My house, number 26, sits right in the middle of the block, the smallest house on the street and the least noticeable. I tell newcomers to look for the house with no front door, to look for the pair of windows that stare back at you when you pull up, suggesting that you just as well return from whence you came. It’s not a particularly inviting little house in and of itself, although we have tried, in between soiled diapers and two jobs and late dinners, to improve its curb appeal. But, that said, this is a house among other houses, each individual and unique and ripe with the sort of history that make even our most most quiet small towns meaningful.
I know very little about this house. But I do know that it was built in the ‘40s and that sometime recently a DJ owned it and used the small room that is currently our nursery as a studio. I know also that it’s far too accessible to cockroaches. Up in the attic and down in the crawl space (the closest thing we North Carolinians usually have to basements) sit several old, mostly-white doors, including a couple iterations of damaged screens that once kept mosquitos from the kitchen, and two glass paned doors with bronze hinges still screwed on that used to guard the entry way to our dining room, as if the floor manager of the mill down the road had dreamt as a child of owning the kind of home for which French doors made sense. Truth is, they are better off in the attic where they can spy on our far too infrequent dinner parties and overhear our two boys play.
I imagine these doors have seen – and heard – enough stories to fill an anthology, stories told by those boxes and crates with which they have shared the attic space. I am amazed when I think of what they must have seen over the years, first as doors in frames then later as wood leaned against other wood. To think of the people that must have gone in and out of this little house, that must have slept in its rooms and cooked in its kitchen and bathed in its bathroom is to feel small and insignificant.
Perhaps they have even heard the story of the house that sits empty at the corner, where our little avenue make a T with Spring Street and ends.
It’s been empty for as long as we’ve lived here and for some time before that and I’m told that its most recent inhabitant had a malady of some kind.
I’d wager it’s the newest house on the block, a square, squat, unimaginative little thing with a red-brick foundation, white horizontal siding, and the sort of black cosmetic shutters one finds on a toy farm house. It’s the kind of house that sprung up in a neighborhood expansion project, that mimicks the bungalows that border my house. It’s surrounded by a chain link fence that someone probably put up so they could avoid caring for their German Shepherd and is built on a lot more like an inner city baseball diamond than a yard. Over it hangs an old oak tree, split in twenty different directions like most of the trees in the neighborhood; trees which, mercifully, have been left to themsleves more often than not. It has two small steps up to a slightly raised stoop that collects phone books like the yard collects leaves.
Sometime before we moved in, more than a year and a half ago, someone stuck a notice of foreclosure on the glass screen door, a brand, daring a brave investor to scoop it up while at the same time reminding why no one has done so yet.
It’s a sad house, a broken down, weepy microcosm of our time, settled in the midst of a neighbordhood that once evinced the best Southern charm we had to offer, a place more than a century old and rich with stories forgotten a little more each season. Indeed it stares down to the other end of our street at a quaint, lived in, well loved home with a beautiful garden and an elegant front door, like some kind of tragicomic metaphor for the very real tension between classes, like a standoff between the rich and the poor, between the future and the past, between the noticed and the forgotten.
One day I’ll write a story about this house. But it will have to be the right story.
There’s a set of old white curtains that sit in her front window, a large two-paned thing that stares out from the dark recesses of the house. One curtain, the left when looking in, hangs closed, the other rests half open like someone rushed to close it but never finished the job. Every day, when I pull away from the curb and drive to the end of the street I take a peek to make sure that the curtains are where they should be, where they are usually. And every evening when I pull up to the front of my own house I check if they sit as they were that morning. Sometimes I sit out on the sidewalk and watch the night go by and wonder how soon – if ever – that curtain will close or if, perhaps, each night they do close for some dark and God-forsaken reason and then each morning return to the usual position.
This is a sorrowful house and I am saddened and excited by the mystery of it. I am saddened by the way it’s been forgotten as if whatever happened in it once upon a time no longer matters, as if the stories it has to tell, or that have been told in it, are somehow less meaningful than the stories my house has to tell, or my neighbor’s, or your’s. Yet I am excited by the reality that those stories are meaningful precisely because they have been forgotten, because they are mysterious. And I am confident, I believe, I have faith, that one day those stories will be told and we who hear them will weep when we should weep and we will laugh when we should laugh, and when we should sit quietly and simply listen we will do so.
There are stories being told all around us, stories that are forgotten and abandonded, and sometimes our most important job is to have the ears to hear. For in that they will be redeemed and they will be told and we will glory in them.