The House on Lilac Lane
When we visited the house on Lilac Lane, we found it empty. By curb appeal you would never know. Someone, either the neighbors or the title deed owners, must keep up the exterior to ward off looters, squatters, and teens, like us. Payten, Ty and me were high school juniors back then. For fun and for cash we fixed motorbike engines and broken lawnmowers. One day we would make it, us three, and start an auto shop together.
“Hey Brendan, Ty, look here,” Payten said. I turned to him pointing down two feet at an egress window he had pulled open. “No latch,” he said. We climbed down, contorting ourselves to slip through and land on our feet in the basement. Ty turned on his phone flashlight. The unfinished basement had cement floors, uncovered pink insulation, pvc pipes, exposed copper wire pressed against the ceiling as it traveled on its way. Several plastic tubs sat closed on the other side of the basement. We went to them. Payten opened one, but it was empty. So were the others.
The steps groaned. I reached the top first and found a light switch, but it didn’t work. The house had no power. The kitchen cabinets were empty, and the gaps between them outlined spaces where the stove, refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher had once done their duties. Around a corner we found the living room and in it an old chair, tipped on its side. The living room opened into a front room with a piano. The keys were left open, and a song rested on the stand, open to neither the first nor the last page, like someone had bolted the house mid-performance.
Upstairs were three bedrooms and two bathrooms, all empty, devoid of furniture but with little spots pressed into the carpet where everything heavy had once been. Ty pressed his hand against the window and looked out onto the street below. There was only dark. “When do you think they left?” he asked. “From how it looks,” Payten replied, “they left fast but fully.” Ty stared and stared. We went back to the main floor. The house was lame. We broke in because someone at school mentioned it. Sounded like a haunted house or at least a place to get spooked. Instead we were disappointed. We sat around on the kitchen floor facing the well-manicured backyard. “Who keeps up this place?” I asked. “You do,” the house replied.
Every Thursday after school I had mowed the lawn. The flowers under the porch needed watering every third day, so I went Sundays, too. Each Spring I bought new mulch to lay around the bushes, which I trimmed when they needed it. When Fall came I pressure washed the siding. Taking care of the house kept me busy. It was difficult work. The owners had left without telling anyone. Taking care of the house felt like taking care of them. I would rake the leaves and prune the trees and think about how much this place must have mattered to them — it was their everything, I bet. Someday soon I will leave this house behind. But if I go, know that I have prepared a place for you.
Dear Mr. Neir
I’m a student in a class at a school you substituted for over the past week and I remember you sharing this story. I really liked it and thought it was quite creative. I liked it so much I went back and read it a couple times. I believe it brings awareness to people and I thought it was heartwarming.