November 23, 2017

A House’s Heart

Old brick house covered in ivy

photo courtesy of pinterest.com

by Marisa Gonzalez ’18

Portfolio Staff

 

Green vines entangled the old brick house, sucking the life out of it. Not that there was much life to suck out, as Old Gladys had passed, but the brick house was being consumed and the sight was scary. There was a time when I thought the house was always scary, even without the vines, but that was because of Gladys and the stories that swarmed around her. Now, the house was a simple house. A poor house being overrun by little green monsters.

It was strange to see such a scary house be so vulnerable. I wondered if Gladys was ever vulnerable. Perhaps deep down she was a sweet old lady. One that would read to her grandchildren and bake cookies. Or maybe she was simply the witch who occupied the house. I wanted to know. I yearned to know, but 10-year-old me was simply too scared. She was too scared by the stories of the house and its occupant. Too afraid of the cracking of the branches and screeching of the bats. She was young, and stupid, and frightened by the unknown. She stayed clear of that house until the magic had died. By that point it was too late. Too late to get to know the woman inside. All that was left was a house.

When Gladys died, the children cheered. They were no longer afraid to venture outside and took every opportunity they had to walk past the house and stick their tongue out. I was humored by this and participated a few times. I never realized I was disrespecting someone’s memory. I thought I was getting back at the woman who terrorized the children. I thought I was being brave. Oh, how stupid I was to listen to the stories. I was childish and I hate myself for it. So many lost opportunities because I listened to the silly tales.

The tales still follow me today. They come in my dreams. I hear them whisper in my ear as I walk past the house. The childish tales of Gladys being a witch who performed black magic to stay alive. The frightening tales of her eating her grandchildren and the ones the parents often spoke of, the tales of her being a crazy woman who spoke in tongues. These tales come to me in my dream and I cry for what I never knew. Or sometimes I laugh at my stupidity.  But mostly, when the dreams appear and the whispers come, I smile as I remember the day that changed everything.

The old brick house lost its occupant when I was about to turn 11. It stayed empty for four years until a realtor became brave enough to try to sell it. The neighborhood was tasked with cleaning the house since Gladys appeared to have no family. I was the lucky one to go in first. No one else wanted to do it, and my parents told me I would get a car. Of course, at 15, I would not be able drive it, but it was a big deal for a teen. I swallowed my fear and went inside.

The house was trapped in spiderwebs with dust sprinkled upon them. I had to swat at one to make my way through the door, causing the dust to swirl around me. I lost my sight and bumped into a table which led to something falling onto the floor. This caused more dust to fill the air. When the dust cleared, I could see a book. Curiosity overcame me and I decided to pick it up. I pushed some of the dust off and saw that the book was blue and battered. When I opened it, I noticed cursive writing inside. The handwriting was neat and delicate as if a fragile child had written it. I began to read.

What I read broke my heart. The book was a journal, telling a tale of sorrow and heartache. I had found Gladys’s heart and I did not know what to do with it. So, I sat down on the dust covered floor and continued reading. As I read, the room suddenly became brighter. The dust cleared away and the spiderwebs vanished. The house began to breathe and I could feel something embrace me. I felt comforted and warm and alive. I never wanted to leave. Gladys was with me like she had never been before.

I now understood the old woman who stayed in her house all alone. She had no one. Her family had passed long before her. She was a mystery, and the neighborhood hated the unknown. No one wanted to know about her, only speculate. If only our fear did not get to us. If only our hearts were open. I sat on the floor in the newly revived house and cried.

Now as I stare at the old brick house being eaten away by the vines, I remember feeling so alive and warm. I remember reading about the real Gladys, seeing inside her heart.  As I stare, I feel the love I wish I could have given her. But, while I feel sad, I also feel a little happy. Happy that someone was able to know the real Gladys and happy that she now has real stories to be told about her. I stare at the vine covered house and feel the warm sun on my back and the comforting embrace of the breeze. I feel Gladys.

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Short Fiction