Okiedokie, another flash fiction challenge, as seen here.
1500 words for a title provided. I tried something a little different for me; some bits work, some don’t. It’s a first draft though, so I’m sure I can work that out.
The House No One Built
Sara walked through the small coastal town, relishing deep breaths of clean sea air. Mid-afternoon on a school day has its own mystery, outside in the world, punctuated by the sighs of children tired of reading and writing and arithmetic, yearning to be set free. There’s a clinking layer of the wives in the houses, keeping, and the faraway whirrs of retirees cutting their lawns. Underneath was the sound of footsteps on the sidewalk, one shoe scuffing slightly at the conclusion of a step.
She stopped at the end of the street, stood at the fence around the little lot. There wasn’t much shade from the sugar maple yet. The house would be a little bungalow with a front room large enough for a piano. She saw a red door with a half moon window, a porch swing, a striped awning over the carport. Her fingers flicked to a red and white gingham ribbon tied in a bow on the gate. She felt every single one of her many years, and more besides.
“Oh, mister, this is where you’ll build me a house? It’s going to be perfect!” The woman was young and bubbly and pretty, with bouncing curls and eyes that didn’t miss a detail. She pulled the ribbon off the picket, laughing, and threaded it through the buttonhole of the cool cream suit of the man smiling at her.
“Sweetheart, it’s going to be the house of your dreams.” He pulled her in for a kiss, arm around her waist, one hand crushing her curls. Sara felt uncomfortable there, the nakedness of their adoration indecent in the bright afternoon. The couple wound their arms around each other, and sauntered down the walk, murmuring about paint colors and closet space, a built-in shelf for cookbooks and a garden out back. How happy they would be with a perfect little place of their own, and how they would never move, not for anything.
It was early winter when the man in the cool cream suit and the woman with the laughing eyes were able to move into the little bungalow just a few blocks in from the coast. He carried her over the threshold because that’s how these things went, and she placed her little wedding nosegay in the nook by the door. They settled into the business of living without a stumble. There were delicious home cooked meals, and cups of cocoa after snow-shoveling turned into breathless snowball fights, and so many nights of whispers and the glide of lips down the napes of necks and bodies sliding home in another, in their perfect little house.
The man grunted as he tugged harder, and the tree finally popped through the door. “Dear heart, your christmas spirit is here!” he cried as he wrestled the fir onto the aluminum stand. She rounded the corner into the living room with a towering armful of boxes. They spent a wonderful afternoon decorating their tree, and the evening in front of the fire, remnants of their dinner picnic and piles of clothes in a circle around them. She’d treasure that memory forever, lying on the floor looking up at the twinkling lights on the tree, the last night of their tight little orbit of just two.
Spring came that year in a rush of color and sweetness on the morning breeze. The small hopes of the happy wife solidified into a fierce joy. “Mister, have I got some news for you.” She delicately told him how many days it had been since her last monthly, and held his hand over the tiny swell of her belly. He thought his heart would burst, unable to hold even a drop more love.
“I don’t know where his blanket is, sweetheart. I can’t even think in this house anymore!” The leaves of the maple had just started to turn for the third time since they had brought their bouncing bundle of joy from the maternity ward to their perfect little bungalow. Despite the sleepless nights and tightened belts, there were still more quiet meals and gentle hands and murmurs in the night, plenty of laughter and wishes. Then Edward had become a big brother, and Julia’s sudden new presence had exponentially made all their lives more complicated. “Mister, I just can’t do this all myself with two of them. I really need you to be here, with us, even when it’s bad.” He immediately was contrite, and then Edward found his blanket and stopped screaming, and Julia cooed. A tentative peace calmed the air.
The first time Edward pushed her it seemed an accident. His little face scrunched up when he realized she was hurt, and she wiped his tears with soothing concessions, it was just an accident, he didn’t mean it, no real harm done. Years later, the man in the cool cream suit wondered if this is where it all went wrong. The woman, who hadn’t laughed in weeks, thought it started long before that first shove. But surely she was just irritated at the pain of her bones stitching themselves back together, annoyed at the demands her children put on her from her hospital bed. Edward was just being a careless teenaged boy, he was typical, everything was—well, not perfect, but normal.
Neither of them could have guessed how destructive their son would become. At first it was just snide comments, made under his breath on the days he spent home from college. Then his friends became more awful, the boorish ones who hit on his mother unabashedly, and the weaselly ones that tried to trick his father out of money, asked for this unnecessary cause or that one. The worst were the ones who bolstered his nonsense, reinforced the narratives he spun out of whole cloth, conspiracy theories that he renamed reasonable doubt. It was shocking how much power he gained with his lies.
The children grew, more each year as children are wont to do. Julia grew up quietly, taking a job as a nurse for the doctor in the next town over. Edward managed to build company after company, failing upwards each time. Eventually he found wild success in politics. The man in the cool cream suit died the day after he signed his house over to the government his son now ran, a forfeiture demanded to redress his dissidence. The woman, no longer young or joyful, managed to flee with her daughter before they were jailed as enemies of the state. The perfect little house with the red door stood empty and quiet, a rebuke to promises made in love.
Sara was living alone in France when she heard of the Breakthrough. The Japanese had of late reclaimed their throne as the masters of tech, and found a way to fix the mess they were all in. The little devices they made could gather up all the molecules of a person and redeposit them in the right order anywhere in time already passed. Research began in a flurry. Experiments to test the elasticity of the fourth dimension had some irritating and unexpected results. A few minutes to delay a certain airplane on a certain day brought back fifteen recently extinct species, but three hundred people suddenly found themselves and their stuff out in a field that had minutes before been a gated sub-development. All in all it only took four years to amass enough knowledge for them to understand how to manipulate timelines to fix the larger mistakes that had wrought such disastrous consequences.
When she found out the fate of humanity came down to her, Sara was surprised, though maybe not as much as she should have been. She didn’t hesitate, though, when the gaggle of scientists and historians and consultants outlined for her the role she’d have to play to bring the Redemption. Sara didn’t need the coordinates they gave her. She understood exactly when and where she needed to arrive. She knew exactly the size and shape of what they were asking of her. The morning she left, she went with only the clothes on her back, a chronograph in her pocket, and a red and white gingham ribbon wound around her fingers to confirm their intelligence was correct.
And now she was here.
The man in the cool cream suit strolled down the sidewalk towards Sara. He stopped and turned, slouching at the fence next to her. His dreamy gaze gave her a pang in anticipation of what he was about to lose. “Nice bit of land to build a house, eh? My girl is going to have the place of her dreams once I get the money to start it.” He pulled a sweet red and white ribbon from his pocket, and tied a bow to the front gate.
She turned to him with the polite smile of a stranger, and a familiar sadness in her eyes. “Oh, mister, that house is only going to ever be in her dreams.” She thumbed the cover off her chronograph, and erased him.
Sara stood there in the sudden lonely silence just a moment too long, her fingers empty, staring for the house no one built.