Fiction by Larry D. Thacker
A place can sit long enough, neglected and abandoned, with the woods creeping back to take it over, and it’ll feel like fair game. No one wants it. Go explore.
The old Pierce property was just like that. By the heat of spring you could hardly see the house, but it was there slowly hiding behind the expanding green, the porch not fifteen yards off the road. By the middle of summer it was like the house was gone. Kudzu and wisteria and poison vine climbing everywhere. Huge patches of wild orange day lilies all over. Trees blooming out thick.
My girlfriend Lexie didn’t want just any porch swing. The house we rent belongs to her parents, so we got what we got, an empty front porch included. She wanted the Pierce swing off that old porch. As fall would pull back the weeds and drop the leaves, kill back the vines, we couldn’t pass the place without Lexie watching to see if someone had grabbed the swing yet. If she wanted it, surely someone else did, too.
This went on for a couple of years. It was a game she played, I think, like she was waiting out fate, seeing how long it would take someone else to grab it, I guess. For us to finally drive by one fall day and it be gone for good. Wait long enough, I told her, and it’ll rot to dust and no one’ll get it. I knew she was really just waiting on me to get in all that mess and grab it for her one day.
The Pierce property, some twenty acres, butted up against Lexie’s parent’s place. The Pierces were long dead, the husband and wife. Seemed like none of the kids ever came around to see if anyone had burnt the place to the ground. Lexie grew up driving out of Fuson Hollow Road her whole life, passing the Pierce’s, everyone in the car waving at them, them sitting on the porch waving back. It was a friendly time, I guess. She swears she noticed every time old man Pierce bought a new porch swing or had put a fresh coat of paint on the one they had. She’s always liked the blue versions best.
Her mother didn’t have porch furniture. Or anything you could call a porch for that matter. It was a concrete pad with concrete steps and a tiny overhang held up with old style wooden columns. Lexie liked houses with real front porches so you could sit out front and wave to people as they drove by. Like neighbors were supposed to, she’d say. Lexie’s mother had told her she was glad their house didn’t have such a thing since she had no business sitting and watching neighbors. People were better off in the backyard where you could suntan and splash around in the pool and barbeque behind the fence and not be pestered. That’s what she thought. But the house we rent does at least have a big porch, which Lexie loves, and I like, too. It therefore requires proper furniture, according to Lexie, just like a living room or a bedroom, which I can’t really argue with. In the case of a porch swing, nothing from Lowe’s or Home Depot or Wal-Mart will do. She knew I knew what she wanted. That or nothing at all.
Lexie was a Halloween baby. She was born on the 29th and Halloween’s her favorite holiday. No surprise there, I don’t guess. That always made her mother mad since she loved Christmas so much and thought Halloween invited boogers around if you weren’t careful.
I wanted to get her something nice for her birthday. Anyone could get a card and some flowers. A cake. I wanted to do something nicer. I wanted to impress her. I was always trying to impress her. I’d do just about anything to make her feel special.
I kept an eye out for when the growth at the Pierce house was dying back enough. I’d taken a few extra trips down the road to see when the house would show enough for me to see what I needed to see – that swing. I wanted to beat Lexie to noticing it this year. I had a plan.
Luckily, I did see it first. I was on a grocery run and caught a glimpse on the way back. One of the I-screws had finally given out and one side had fallen to the floor. I saw all the faded colors from the road. It looked mostly blue. She’d love that, I thought.
A little more of the house was gone every year, as if the ground and foliage digested the thing bit by bit. A corner of the porch was sinking. Very little glass was left in any windows. Hardened vines, abandoned by their leaves years ago, froze on the outside walls like halted veins and arteries. Sidewalk was broken up like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. The front door pressed in and stuck to the uneven floor. Total darkness inside, at least from the road. Spots of the tiled roof caved in. Chimney bricks missing. Nothing square about the structure. Everything peeling or naked of paint. Wild trees sprouting up everywhere.
I parked in a church parking a ways up the road. The old yard beside the house was covered with old antique cars. What used to be those cars, at least. Old trucks. Muscles cars. Stacks of parts. Random tire.
It was a nice collection once, the vehicles pulled in and left zig-zagged over a half-acre and eventually forgotten just like the house. There were at least fifteen, a collector and restorer’s dream, even in their decrepit shape. Some without doors. Trunk lids gone. Hoods gone. Windows out. Full of dirt and weeds. The smell of dead animals hanging in the air. They’d been there long enough for small trees to grow up and out of the windows of a few. It was hard to tell what color most of them once were.
I high stepped lightly around the front. Through the patches of lilies and chicory and other wildflowers. Over the line of broken sidewalk. The wooden steps up to the porch were bowed from rot. I hopped up past them to the porch floor. The floor sounded out hollow under my steps and weight. The floor was scattered with junk. Rotting cardboard boxes of mason jars.
Some jars broken. Some filled with an oily fluid. Broken picture frames. Random window glass. Ripped curtains. Rusted out metal porch furniture. Things pulled from the house, rummaged, and left. Everything broken.
And the swing.
That poor swing was barely there, a ghost of itself. The paint was crusted and cracking, revealing down through all the paint jobs, the red and blue and white layers from over the years. It was rotting at the corners with softening chunks falling away. The whole thing was turning to soft sawdust. One side rested on the floorboards. The chains would have pulled out of the wood at the arm rests had anyone tried sitting on the thing. It was beautiful, in a rustic, decaying sort of way. It and the whole house, resting here minding its own business, deteriorating and beautiful.
I gripped the hanging side and tested the remaining connected chain. It was weakly gripping the ceiling. I held the chain with both hands and pulled. A little dust fell from the I-screw up top. A put my weight into it. It popped out and the swing fell with a hollow thud. A support plank along the back of the swing fell out. I thought the whole floor would give.
I didn’t think for a second the swing was useful anymore as a swing. I thought if there was enough strength left I might could fashion what remained into a kind of bench. Straighten and tighten it up with some nails and screws, a little wood glue, put some legs on it. Give it some paint. That would have been good enough for Lexie. She’d have loved that.
But this thing was a wreck. I rocked the swing on the floor. All the nails and connections were loose. It felt like it might collapse apart like a puzzle. I picked up a side and dragged it a little. The armrest threatened to dislodge in my hand. I wasn’t getting it to off the porch, let alone to the car in one piece. We were too late. By a few years we were too late.
This would break Lexie’s heart. But I reminded myself mid thought how she wasn’t aware of what I was here doing.
The front door was pushed in as far as it’d go. I took a look. It was gray nasty dark. Only a little dusty light shooting in from broken windows. I forced the door with my foot and dragged the swing inside. There were newspapers everywhere. Stacked dishes in a corner, mostly broken. Boxes of molding books. Ripped rugs. Peeling wallpaper. What you’d expect.
I dropped the swing on the floor in the middle of it all.
An old upright piano stood in the corner, missing keys, the top flap gone, the veneer warped. I pressed a few keys. Most were stuck. The ones that moved only clunked. No sound.
I went back to the swing and stepped on it. Flipped it. Kicked it. Picked up pieces and threw them down. Jumped up and down on it. I wanted it broke up. Gone. Unrecognizable. It ended up looking like a pile of kindling. It could have been anything once.
I left it all scattered.
It was the next day. A Saturday. We were headed to town. I slowed up, hoping she’d notice. She did and let out a tiny gasp.
“It’s gone,” she said. “Oh, no, it’s gone.”
“What’s is?” I asked, concentrating on the road.
“The swing’s gone,” she whispered. I could hardly hear her over the truck engine. “Somebody’s got to it. I guess. Finally.” She sounded so defeated, like she’d really lost at something.
I looked. “They did, huh?”
“I can’t believe someone finally got it.”
“Me either,” I agreed. “I was planning on trying to get in there in a couple of weeks.”
She was quiet all the way to town.
“I wish you’d tried harder,” she said.
“To do what?”
I knew what she was getting at.
“You could have gotten it last year. We knew this was gonna happen eventually.”
But I hoped she realized how much she enjoyed seeing it on that old Pierce porch. Waiting for it every season. She probably enjoyed that more than she would have having it on her own. That was the pay off. That’s just a hunch. I’d never have told her that. She’d have gotten so mad.
“You’re right, baby,” I said, knowing I’d have to keep the truth to myself.
“I was just a little afraid to get into all that junk and maybe someone walk up on me taking it. I put it off too long, I reckon. I let you down, baby.”
We passed it again on the way home. She craned her neck trying to see if she might have missed seeing it. No, it was definitely gone. I think I saw her wave out the window.
“It’s fine,” Lexie said, just before we got the house. “I doubt we could have salvaged it anyway, ya know? I just wanted to maybe judge it for myself. Let you get a crack at working on it,” she said.
I agreed. “That would have been nice.”
“You wanna run by the hardware store tomorrow? I bet they’ve got new ones. My birthday’s next week.”
I said that’d be fine.