He built the house for his wife; seven years it took--- seven years of sweat and sawdust, seven years of floor plans and precision. Endless days and long evenings, he sanded and waxed the imported mahogany floors, so that she could host tea parties on Thursdays. He carved the pattern on his sons’ door frame: a cat chasing a mouse through a field of flowers. He spent the early years of their lives teaching them about animals and plants, and how to mutually benefit in life from and with them. He was a member of the National Guard and one day civic duty removed him from his house and family in early summer.
She counted the days he was gone, pined for him atop the widow’s watch. She kept his letters in a tidy stack, rereading them in the evening on the porch. Sometimes she would wait a month between letters---and when a letter arrived, she read it in a quiet whisper and often would shed a silent tear. Afterwards she would rock on the porch, and then fold his letter, placing it inside the envelope. She would untie the red ribbon that held together his stack of tales from afar, his promises of an imminent homecoming and his promise of his undying love.
Her beloved returned on a Thursday, but hadn’t sent a letter in months; she was dusting the bookshelves, sashaying around the house in her purple dress, anticipating her night visitor. Then there was the sound of heavy leather boots as the returning hero tracked mud across the polished floors. He smiled weakly, when she dropped her feather duster with a shriek of joy. When his youngest child clung to his leg, he was startled at how the boy had grown, that his eldest had lost a tooth.
He had only been home for a few days, when a sudden storm swept in from the west, thunder shook the house and he remembered the gunshots and the fallen. On that dark afternoon he broke the boundaries between the life he had loved, and the things he had seen and done, the nightmare he had hoped he had left behind whispered to him once again.
“A family massacre” the press called it; they reported on the bodies of two adults, two children, strewn across a field behind an elegant farmhouse; the commotion of barking dogs caused neighbors to alert law enforcement. People of the town were aghast and the rumors flew about the motivation behind the tragedy. Was it those Thursday night visits? Of course, the progressive youth argued about war and morals. But there were no answers.
Today the hand-crafted house stands empty.
Story by Lisa Fliege