All Houses Fall to Disrepair

by Joshua Snyder

Old townhouse

One thinks, usually, that with effort comes reward.

Duke and Lian expected a reward to befall them after their first summer, but success was not instantaneous. The reward for Duke and Lian, as it was with most people of the nation, was financial. They hoped and wished and worked for the payoff that would most certainly secure them a decent life.

It was Lian that convinced Duke to take up the house. They used what little money they had saved and purchased an aging townhouse. On the outside, the purchase was a smart business decision. Duke had the knowledge to demolish and rebuild the home, and Lian could lend her design abilities to give the home significant appeal.

In May, Lian and Duke moved into a one-bedroom apartment across town with the focus of working on their house all summer. It was a seven-minute drive from the apartment to the house. Duke decided to begin work in the basement and slowly make his way up the two-story house. Lian would focus on demolishing certain rooms in the home that did not need plumbing work. The very first thing they did was repaint the front door a velvety red.

It went on like this for three weeks. The house was stripped of its walls and insulation. Then the floors were ripped up, exposing the dusty subflooring. From the street, the house matched its neighborhood; a faded home with a shaggy lawn enclosed by a flaky white fence. It was when someone walked through the red door that they saw the home’s true nature. The home was nothing but a shell packed with dust and odd scraps of wood. Wires separated from the walls like snakes hanging from their trees in the Amazon. The kitchen only emphasized how empty the home was, with metal pipes twisting upwards into nothingness.

And the home sat that way. May turned to June, and there was no work done on the house. The dust within settled, and the air dried.

Back in the apartment, Lian and Duke had stopped talking to each other. They were forced to sleep in the same bed, but that was the closest the two got throughout their days. They ate meals in different rooms, spent their days apart, and they were socially separate. At the end of the day, they would go to bed together without a word.

On the thirtieth of June, Lian got a job at the middle school. It suited her well as it required her to be up before sunrise and kept her out until dinner. She would be the art teacher for every class the following school year. Her days during the summer were filled with lesson plans and classroom renovations.

Duke, on the other hand, spent his days on the lake. He rented a kayak every day for ten dollars and fished from noon until sunset. It was his time to relax and lose the world. On the off chance that it was rainy, Duke would sit in the adjacent park and smoke.

Life for Duke and Lian was smooth and unhappy. Neither spoke to the other, and there was no work done on their house. None of their friends said a thing about this shift in their marriage, but they gossiped constantly behind closed doors. The families of Lian and Duke were not aware of this change, as there was not a family member living within three hours. In their calls and texts, the couple acted as if everything was normal.

The fourth of July forced Lian and Duke’s hand. Each had to attend the family parties that were tradition. They could not go to their family’s parties separately because no happy couple would do so.

Lian drove Duke to her childhood home in silence. They watched a parade with Lian’s family and had lunch at her parent’s house. The house was a three-story palace with an impeccable lawn. After they left, Lian’s parents and siblings began discussing how odd the couple seemed. “They must be fighting,” said Lian’s oldest sister.

Duke’s family was equally uneasy about their brother and his wife. The party had an extensive family that included four generations. His parent’s farmhouse sat on twenty acres of well-manicured land with a significant garden. It was Duke’s great-grandmother that spoke first of the gloomy spirit surrounding the two. “I bet it’s money problems,” she said.

At the end of July, Duke began sleeping on the couch. Lian would avoid the living room and do most of her work in the bedroom. They also stopped eating the same meal, with each getting their own food. It was around then that Duke also began frequenting bars around town.

Meanwhile, a window at the couple’s house had been broken. The perpetrators used a brick from the backyard to shatter the glass and enter the home. Inside, the intruders found little to steal. They ran off with a portable speaker, an electric generator, and Duke’s drill.

Lian began to solidify her plans for the school year as the middle school’s new art teacher. As the summer began to close, more teachers were in the building to work on their own classrooms. Lian found that her fellow teachers were warm and fun. She started staying at the school all day, taking her lunch break with other teachers, and going out whenever someone asked. She became especially close with an English teacher named Chris.

By mid-August, Duke had taken to drinking in the mornings and afternoons on top of his nightly barhopping. He would pull out a fifth of whiskey from under the couch the moment that Lian left the apartment and continue drinking until he came back to the couch. Duke stopped shaving and would often wear the same clothes for a few days. This didn’t stop him from picking up women at bars and going to their apartments, cars, and dorms.

Birds began to make their nests in the walls of Lian and Duke’s house. Children broke in and did their best to vandalize the building. The lawn surrounding the house had grown to a considerable length and held rabbits, snakes, toads, and thousands of bugs. However, the door remained intact and untouched with perfect red paint.

School began the Tuesday after Labor Day. Lian found the schedule to fit her mindset perfectly and loved her interactions with each new student. It also helped that she would spend her free moments with Chris in a playful banter. He didn’t know that she was married because she did not wear a ring, speak of Duke, or use his last name. In fact, at the end of the first week of school, Duke moved out of the apartment and began sleeping on the unfinished, dirty floors of their house.

The divorce was settled in November. Duke got the house, and Lian got everything else.

Lian moved out of the apartment and into Chris’s home. They married and had two children together. After twelve years, Chris got a position at a college upstate, and they moved. Lian would live to be seventy-seven. She had six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Duke lived in that house until he died at age thirty-eight. He was a drunk, panhandling for spare change outside the local diner. The empty house had not changed in the decade and a half after his divorce. There was a secondhand mattress, a lamp that flickered constantly, a pack of cigarettes, and a six-pack of beer. His body was not found for three weeks and one day after his death.

The house was sold to settle Duke’s back taxes. It went to a young couple who were looking for their first financial opportunity. They wanted a nice, quick reward.

Category: Featured, Short Story, SNHU Student