Short Story: “The Old House”

“THE OLD HOUSE

A Rett Bonneville Short Story

By Anne M. Freeman©

I almost didn’t come by the old house today. Not because I don’t like where I grew up; I just don’t feel much attachment to it anymore. However, the “No Trespassing – Condemned” sign posted in the overgrown yard was jarring, and I was saddened to think the sagging, peeling Victorian had no further purpose in this world. It was lovely once, with 12-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and fancy trim. The house was a bit tattered when we lived there, but nothing like its current decrepit state.

I’d hoped seeing my old house would conger up some feelings buried in the scattered rubble of my psyche.   I was struggling with my music lately.  I had plenty of sales and gigs, but I was beginning to hate performing and the ridiculous behavior of some fans, and I just couldn’t rally myself to write any new songs.  I didn’t know what to do.  I thought, maybe if I saw the old music room where I learned to play piano, that somehow I could reconnect to what made me love music.  But apparently, I’m either rubble-free or feelings-challenged, because once my surprise at the terrible state of the old house eased, my soul wafted back into its cottony cocoon.  It seemed I didn’t feel much of anything anymore.

Somehow, I had to find my feelings again.

Finally, I climbed out of my car, crossed the street, and crouched under the yellow No Trespassing tape onto the broken slate walkway that led to the front porch. What had made the sidewalks crack and heave like that? Rain and ice and time, I guess. I didn’t remember broken slates when I lived here. In fact, we skated across their smooth surfaces as kids.

When I reached the weather-beaten front steps, the handrails were unstable, but the steps themselves appeared intact. Should I climb them? If I made it up to the front porch, I could see through the huge window into our music room where my father read and I practiced piano. I climbed gingerly, hoping I wouldn’t fall through, because I was determined to take a look.

When I stepped up on the porch, I paused, turned around, and sat down on the top step. Suddenly, I was 15 years old with my first guitar on my knee.  My long, dark, shiny hair, parted in the middle, hung in front of my face as I bent over my first guitar. Hip-hugger jeans flared into hems tattered from dragging on sidewalks, and un-polished toes peeked out from underneath. I wore my favorite India print blouse made of bleeding navy and bright green Madras cotton. Long silver chandelier earrings swung back and forth as I changed chords and strummed. Tiny bells on an ankle bracelet provided percussion with my tapping left foot. A young, sweet voice sang Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” with passionate longing.

As I watched her in my mind’s eye, the song welled up from inside me like a great bubble from my gut, but when I opened my mouth to sing, a sob burst forth in jerking cries.  Several minutes passed before its energy dissipated. What in the world was that? I sat for a while, head bent, waiting for my breath to calm into a slow, steady rhythm. An elderly couple paused at the end of the walkway.

“Are you all right?” the old woman asked in a wavery voice.

I shook my head yes.

“Alight, dear,” she replied, looking doubtful.

I smiled at them, hoping my smile looked genuine, my makeup wasn’t too hideous, and they wouldn’t call the police.

Once they strolled out of sight, I closed my eyes again to find her. I wanted desperately to feel the yearning she felt, her desire to be the singer/songwriter I eventually became … yes, yes, I know that our youthful dreams fall far short of reality. But did my dreams really fall short? Or did I change my dreams? Maybe I just needed a break. One thing was for sure: I’d grown to hate performing with its troubled fans and dealing with the crooked music business. I’d lost balance in my life. Too many late nights, heart breaks, and broken promises, not enough grace. But there was something good in it, too. Something about songwriting and performing that had once called to me so strongly and carried me until recently. My fifteen-year-old self appeared again, and with her all that yearning…

I stood up and stared out at the street. She dreamt of running down that walkway, guitar in hand and a backpack slung on her shoulder, sliding behind the wheel of an imagined 1969 Pontiac Bonneville convertible and speeding off into life’s adventures. My real Kia Soul! was parked across the street, waiting for me. I started down the stairs. No need to look in the window. There was nothing else here I needed to find.

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