My wife and I were driving through the old neighborhood and we passed my Grandmother’s old house. It sat empty and abandoned among the bustling community of stores and shops and offices that had sprang up around it. It was an isolated spot of desolation, a lingering smudge of the past. The rotted boards were falling off the house and the paint had nearly chipped and peeled off completely. Even the leaves in the trees were dark and wet with decay, and the yard was a mire of mud and debris. I was amazed that the place was still standing, that it hadn’t been swept aside by the progress surrounding it. It was like a piece of death with deep, tenacious roots, something fixed and stubborn that they had been forced to build around.
I pulled up into the dirt driveway and insisted on going inside. My wife was reluctant to go in. She leaned forward and stared up through the windshield at the forbidding facade of the house and the cracked boards near the peak of the roof where bats were probably making their home. I told her that we’d just be a minute or two, and I was already climbing out of the car. The front door was unlocked. The knob was rusted and it nearly came off in my hand. We passed through empty rooms pervaded with dampness and mold. We could hear voices coming from somewhere in the back. I heard my grandmother’s voice, saying something about the inevitability of death and despair. We came into the room and found her sitting around a table with some friends, playing cards, like some afternoon gathering of the dead. She looked younger, younger than I’d ever seen her, younger than I remembered her being even when I was a child. There was color in her hair. Her face was bright and clear, bearing none of the lines of age. She looked up and smiled warmly as we walked over, and everyone else at the table turned and looked at us.
I felt like I was put on the spot. For lack of anything else to say, I remarked that even though I’d heard her saying something about death and despair being inevitable, her being so young, her being here at all, would seem to prove otherwise. All the ladies at the table rolled their eyes and made a bunch of sighs and dismissive gestures, as though I were putting them on, and they all turned back to their cards, waving me away with their hands. Only my grandmother got up from the table. She said she had something to show us. She led us out the back door and off the back porch. She led us out into the back yard, and we stopped a few paces from the house and turned around. It appeared that the house had been resurrected, as well. There was a fresh coat of yellow paint. All the boards were straight and even. Everything had been repaired. The weathervane had been replaced. It stood like a masthead on the peak of the roof, the rooster and the arrows mounted against the clear blue sky. I stood gaping at it, baffled. Were we seeing it all from some new angle?
But we went back inside and found new life there as well, new carpet, new furniture. My whole family was there, preparing for a party in the dining room, hanging up streamers and lighting candles at the center of the table and laying out plates and silverware on the white table cloth. They were all younger versions of themselves, years stripped from their faces, ages of disappointments cleared from their minds. The house was the way that I remembered it now, and I showed my wife around. I showed her the place where I would always hop the bannister rather than walking all the way to the end. I showed her the hidden back stairway, the one that we all thought was some kind of secret passage. I showed her all the best spots upstairs where we would hide whenever we played hide and go seek. I showed her my favorite spot in the guest bedroom with its slanted roof and gabled window. I showed her the high view of the town from the window, told her about watching the distant lights out there in the dark. I showed her how I would hide under the bed, feeling the heat blowing up through the vent. I could feel it even still.
As we came back down the main stairs, I saw a young blonde-haired boy sitting in a huge plush chair that had been placed in the hallway in front of a small black and white TV. I knew this boy was me. He sat there watching cartoons, totally absorbed. He didn’t even notice us there on the stairs. I could hear voices coming from the living room across the hall. My mother and brother were in there, sitting at a table by the window. They were arguing about something. I could hear it in their voices. I could hear the stress and frazzled nerves along the frayed edges of their sentences. But the boy just sat there watching his cartoons. I could remember that. I could remember sitting there on a Saturday morning, catching snatches of adult conversation. I could remember people at the window just like that, like a snapshot of strangers from another life, never knowing what it was all about. I remembered this being the shape and shade of my earliest impressions, everything a whisper along the peripheral edges of a world of cartoon honks and rattles and whistles. I remembered being that boy.
It was time to go. Our minute or two had long since passed. I went to the window, and I could see that one of the new stores that had grown up around the area had a flea market with stands and shops set up along a thoroughfare paved with red bricks. One of the stands was selling sunglasses on a revolving rack. My wife and I went over to check it out, and we stood at the counter, goofing around with the sunglasses, holding them up to see the evening sky through their tinted lenses. I looked over and the house was still there, still freshly painted and new. The sun had dipped behind the house now, and the weathervane stood sharply black against the rich medley of clouds and colors. I felt like we had stepped out someplace else. I felt like it would all be different now. It would all connect back to this, leading on to endless fascinations, embarking from some exotic bazaar somewhere on the surface of the Earth in the darkening shadows of the day.