The house just hugs you, Beth said about our place in West Seattle. Mike asked if they still had the speakers I left in the living room ceiling but I didn’t think to look. I parked a few spaces up, spotted a woman crouched in the garden and stood there for a while hoping she’d notice me but she didn’t, and it got to be so long it started to seem weird with me just standing there so I walked off, decided I wouldn’t barge in on them like that, but then I thought better of it and turned back.
Do you give tours, I asked? She looked up and smiled, and might’ve recognized me when I said my name, seven years ago we sold them that house.
And it was sketchy there for a time we agreed, her husband and I in the back, talking about what happened to the neighbors, how Jaughn was depressed and killed himself and they had to break the news to me, he’d worked something out with a friend beforehand, a sign indicating where to find the body with instructions and what to do, but his friend just stole all his things and left him there and it took a while before he was found.
It was a great house and neighborhood but a bit sketchy for raising kids. We were rattled in that first-time parent way when we had Lily — someone broke into our car at the hospital and left tiny bits of broken glass inside the car seat with a hole punched through the window, and they’d gotten our brief cases because we were in such a state we left them in the car with all our identity and SSN cards and unemployment forms Dawn had filled out, but someone dropped it in the mail for us and one day a package turned up with our wallets and keys, but still we got the locks changed, feeling some menace in the air and vulnerable in a new parent way, finding an unposted card someone put in the mailbox with a crude drawing on the cover and something scrawled on the back, someone’s kids trapped in our basement it said, and they were coming to get them.
It was a woman we started seeing on our street looking down our front yard at us staring, and I had to go confront her because she’d figured out which house was ours off the alley and was wandering there around the back, looking in the windows and through the fence; they took her kids away and now they were in our basement trapped, and could she come have a look.
After, when the cops came it was a white guy deep in his 50s with a crew cut and a thick neck who described her, a big black woman in a bathrobe — “fucking bats” he said — lives in the halfway house around the corner, he’d go talk to her. Harmless he assured us, but he’d tell her to stop — and that was that, no more notes.
And it was probably another woman I spotted in our alley lifting her dress against a fence and pissing down the sides, who caught me watching her and didn’t care, that’s when we decided it’s time to go.
I drove down to the small park by the beach imagining what it would feel like to look at the old swingset where we used to take Lily, but it was a hornet’s nest of construction, you couldn’t see anything, all of it closed off with loud sounds and guys in hardhats.
So I walked the road that winds along the beach and stopped at a bench under a sky that was changing and threatening rain, and dreamt about the people we knew who lived along that road, all the stories and characters and times.
I climbed back up Jacobsen and zig-zagged through Seaview, past the bona fide funk of West Seattle, back down the road to the water, recalling details in the concrete walls and cracks, carrying Lily on my back as her speech started to spool out and she could say a few things, pointing to the spider webs and how the sun makes the strings light up and sparkle in the morning.
They invited me into the house to look at what they’d done and I couldn’t stop myself but still felt like a lurker, not right in my own skin, in our old house — and their love for it shone through, I said.
Dawn reminded me we have a picture of it from the early 1930s we should give them, when it was used as a summer house for people who lived in the city to kick back at the beach, just up from the Sound.
I told Mike and Anthony what happened to Jaughn and our old house, and we cut through Seattle by foot in the rain, from Capitol Hill to Pill Hill, over the Convention Center and the freeway and the homeless, dropping into Pioneer Square for chicken legs and late night congee.
I thought I saved the note from the woman about her kids in our basement but it reeked of a hex and I had to get rid of it, a bad energy too sad and unfair for fiction writing even — but writers live in separate worlds of the real and imagined and have to reconcile the two to matter.
You could see where I tried to tie in the cobblestones into the sidewalk at the old house, where there used to be a pond we paved over, and it looked like it was always that way, meant to be.
The same with a stained glass pane and a red heart in the center, which looked familiar but I wasn’t sure; she found it in the yard and set it into a shed they built by hand, but I didn’t remember leaving it and it didn’t look the same now that it wasn’t ours.