After the fire, after what was left of the house had been torn down and hauled away, the lot filled with weeds and trash. Cats screamed and fucked, waking neighbors. Kids skipped school and huffed bags of cooking spray. Diego Ramirez repainted the back of the collapsing garage repeatedly to cover the endless graffiti. After six months, Beatriz had had enough and began calling the alderman’s office.
The old man who’d died in the fire didn’t seem to have any family. No one would want the place even if a deed could be found since the city’s cheap demolition job had left the basement intact underground. Again, Seth Winslow considered getting out of the alderman game and trying something relaxing like insurance sales. He sighed and instructed an aide to come up with something.
Diego got the guys together to put up a fence that kept the kids, if not the cats, out. Eventually everyone forgot about Boris Manley and his strange, old house.
Livingston Manley didn’t forget but, from the age of sixteen on, she gave it her best shot. At first she tried moving over to the east side but that wasn’t far enough. France would have been good, but she tried upstate instead. What a mess that had turned out to be.
Moving to Miami would do the trick, right? No place else had, but Miami turned out to be different. She found work in a little boutique, got a tan and lost eighteen pounds. Anyone from the old neighborhood would have passed her like a stranger on the street. But she knew the truth; God knows the old man had told her often enough.
Girls like you, Livvie, you just need to be happy with what ya got. You ain’t got it so bad. See? You’re decent enough looking. C’mere.
She should find some not terrible guy with a not terrible job and start having kids.
“Liv, babe, you got a visitor.” Shondelle, the manager at Periwinkle, stuck her head around the corner.
Livingston froze. Visitor?
“Are you Livingston Manley?” The guy was a stranger and let nothing show.
“You’ve been served.” He put the long white envelope in her hand and walked out.
A week later, another lifetime later, Livingston turned the corner she’d sworn she would never turn again and there it was. There it wasn’t. The gray green shingled house with those aluminum awnings over each window wasn’t there. There was a fence instead. There was thin air where there used to be a bedroom with a door that locked from the outside. She stood there and stared.
“You lost?” The kid looked to be about eight.
“I sure am.” She’d give anything for a cigarette right now. “You remember the house that used to be here?”
“Not really. The fire happened when I was little.” He picked at something on his head. “Was it yours?”
“Is there a way in?” She walked over to the fence. It seemed solid.
“What’s in it for me?”
She looked at the kid for awhile. How badly did she need to walk that ground again anyway? Five bucks got her to where the fence met the corner of the garage. He ducked in through a gap and disappeared.
“This way. Come on!” The kid had opened the side door. The garage, dim and oily, was exactly the right passage to take Livingston back. She followed the kid out the back door and into the old yard.
Livingston made one slow circuit of the bumpy, broken ground. She reached the remaining first step of the front porch and was surprised to find herself ready to face what was no more. Old truths and older lies were crumbling underground with that basement. She stepped into what was no longer a living room with all the furniture facing the long-gone television.
After awhile the kid split and still she stood there. Was she waiting for some kind of “closure”, some sign? Finally she walked over to where the old Emerson TV had been and leaned down to switch it off.
Time to go.
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