day 15: crumbling foundations
**I don't usually do fiction, so this feels super vulnerable, but when I read today's 'May You Write Like the Fool' prompt, my brain sort of just took off. It's a pretty shitty first draft, but I like it.**
The floppy eared mutt beside her tilted his head up to meet her face, as though he was commiserating with her in her moment of frustration. She stared instead at the new crack that reached up from the spot where the Earth met the side of the house, and terminated she could not see where. It seemed pretty definite now, the foundation was crumbling.
She had noticed the first cracks a few months ago, kneeling beside the house as she’d pulled a decade’s worth of weeds and overgrowth back from the sides of the building. Visions of tomato plants wrapped around 5 foot tall cages, heavy with bright summer fruits, had powered her for hours, but it was hard to overlook it once the area had been cleared. Like spider veins across porcelain skin, the tiny cracks seemed harmless at first, compared to the looming old farm house.
“I guess we’re adding patch jobs to the To Do list, Frank.” She made a mental note.
The man at the hardware store had spoken to her a bit like she was 12 and perhaps not accustomed to English as a primary language. Or maybe rather, like she was in over her head and slightly crazy, which only time would tell. He definitely didn’t buy her ‘I looked it up online,’ DIY explanations.
“Add, ‘I’ll show him’ to the To Do list.” She smiled to herself as she drove back up the bumpy road, dodging potholes and prairie dogs.
Even the shitty road was beautiful though. Lined with impossibly huge old nut trees and rolling hills. She loved coming around the last bend and seeing it, just beyond the thick green creek bed and perched on the rise, her house. A work in progress on a good day, but impossibly hers.
When everything went smoothly and the repair project was completed, she sat in the shade of the ancient oak tree out front and stared at the side of the house. The recently patched, exposed foundation looked a little bit like a camouflage print as it dried in the warmth of the setting sun. By morning it would all be one smooth continuous grey, only slightly darker than the weathered planks that wrapped the building. The windows above reflected back the last of the day’s heat and glowed a welcoming orange. It really did look like home, and her heart was content.
Frank found the next problem, although the mole that Frank was after had probably found it first. She saw him digging frantically beside the back door as she walked back and forth from the truck to the house with arm loads of assorted supplies. “Cut it out Frank, you’re just gonna overheat yourself friend.” He paused long enough to pull his head out of the dirt and pant in her direction, but carried on when she didn’t give him an actual command.
The next morning she wandered over to kick the dirt back into the hole Frank had left and discovered that the small pile also contained quite a bit of rocks. Except they weren’t rocks, they were chunks of cement, pieces that had crumbled away from the house with the dirt. She laughed a disheartened chuckle and then got on hands and knees to more closely survey the damage. Below the dirt level, a thick foundational fault line spread horizontally for God knows how far. She sighed and sat back, her heart beating a little faster as her mind spun up all of the ways to solve this.
Frank wandered over and sniffed at her dirty, mole-scented hands. “I think I’m gonna need some help on this one buddy.”
The man on the other end of the phone had asked, after 15 minutes of explanation, to speak with her husband. She’d hung up the phone.
In retrospect, this had not been the perfect solution, given where she was and what she needed and what she had to work with. She couldn’t afford to burn bridges. But after wasting half a day on the phone and having gotten nowhere, it had been hang up or swear like a sailor at a most likely, well-meaning stranger.
“FUUUUCK!!” She aimed her yell upwards, but the wood floor and the bare walls meant that the sound went everywhere. Frank came thumping up the porch stairs and sat outside the screen door, whining lowly. “Good dog,” she smiled.
She called the hardware guy next.
“Let’s see if he really does know his stuff”.
Half an hour later she sat on the steps of the porch, letting the warm evening breeze dry her sweat, and maybe a few frustrated tears, as Frank snuggled up behind her. The phone was still in one hand, the piece of paper with the numbers she needed in the other. Down by the road, she could see a mother deer and two fawns step up out of the ditch on the other side. Frank hadn’t smelled them yet, and they hadn’t smelled him, and they grazed slowly up the road, tails twitching at semi-regular intervals.
The sky was clear and dry, and it would hold. It was perfect weather for concrete.
It was nice letting other people do the work, mostly. She tried to stay busy on other projects while the crew was there, stirring up dust with their backhoe, talking loudly to each other about sports and hunting and dude stuff. Heaven knows there was plenty to be doing. But she kept finding herself looking over her shoulder towards the action, watching from the upstairs window when she should have been caulking it, or peeking from the door to the outbuilding when she had gone to fetch some tool.
This is it right? She worried. This is right, isn’t it? She knew she wouldn’t have been able to do it alone, and clearly this was an important job. She just didn’t know if what she was feeling was a reasonable sort of fear, or her intuition, or just frustration, exhaustion, the heat.
“A dream of a home, the life of my dreams. I need a solid foundation.”
Once the men had finished, closed up the gashes beside the house and packed away all of their things, the quiet relief held her aloft for a couple of weeks. She filled the freshly tilled space beside the house with flowers and sweet smelling plants for the bees. Then the chicken coop arrived, with the chickens not far behind it, and the garden needed planting, and then a fence to keep the deer out, and then more fencing to keep the rabbits out when Frank was otherwise occupied.
Almost every night she would sit under the oak tree’s full outstretched arms and read and write and breathe deep full breaths of unspoiled air and be reminded of why she was here. And once the sun had set and the stars had unfolded, especially on those nights when the resident coyote family was sending up their salute to the day, her heart felt very full and content.
The summer had continued, and so had her labors. Things looked pretty legit by the time September approached. Plus, she had made friends. The meek but opinionated librarian, the old couple that owned the thrift shop, the teenagers from the house a mile down that she hired sometimes for weekend chores. She had even been to dinner with the hardware guy’s family. His name was Charlie and his wife Sam was an amazing baker.
The garden had provided handsomely all summer, and she was gearing up to tackle all of the canning and drying and preserving that was coming in the next week or two. The pantry closet already contained a sturdy shelf laden with bright jars of assorted jams. Strawberry from the market, raspberry from the canes out back, and blackberry that she’d wrestled from the brambles a mile or so down the creek. She couldn’t help but smile every time she saw that shelf. She dreamed of how the pickle greens and pepper yellows would pop beside it.
The herb garden that spread across the front of the house was coming in wonderfully. The lavender bushes and fragrant hedge of rosemary had been there when she’d moved in, albeit slightly more unruly. There was voluntary mint here and there that she’d chosen to remain after removing most of it over a sweaty weekend. Frank had worn a path through the oregano and thyme beside the stairs that lead under the porch where he could be found most days from noon until about 3pm. There was lemon balm, and basil, and also chamomile and young spindly echinacea flowers. They’d need a couple more years before they’d produce anything harvest worthy.
It was becoming beautiful. It was feeling like a home.
As she crouched beside her dream made real, breathing the smells of crushed herbs from her basket and watching the bees hoping from flower head to lovely flower head, her eye caught something. Way back under the porch, through the hole in the lattice that she’d carefully measured and cut and snaked the drip irrigation through. She knew what it was the moment she saw it, but she wanted so little to believe it that she walked to the kitchen first to get a flashlight.
By the time she’d returned, the crickets had slowed their chirping. The coyotes were singing to each other from the south and the northeast. A handful of bats were dipping and diving over by the creek, inhaling mosquitos and defying gravity. She scanned the horizon to the east, looking for signs of tomorrow’s weather, or anything else distracting.
Finally she clicked on the light and stooped beside the tattered porch railing, still waiting on the To Do list. The slow sweep of her spotlight showed her what she already knew.