Over 300,000 dead. Massive unemployment. Government failure. Corruption. Alt right domestic terrorism. You and me. Us.
The leak started in the roof and dripped down, spreading across most of the family room’s ceiling, which sagged.
The man and his partner had purchased the home several years ago, and it had passed all its inspections. The couple hadn’t had any real trouble with the house itself. Yes, appliances would break and need to be replaced: the microwave, the coffee pot. Occasionally, a plumbing issue, the backed-up bathroom sink drain, but the simple two-story house seemed solid.
Their previous inspector informed them that it had been built over two hundred years ago out of the finest materials and construction techniques of the time. Been here for ages. No structural problems. Solid rock foundation.
The new inspector traced the leak, up from the family room and leading to a crack in the roof. He ascended into the treacherous attic, trying to remain on the floor joists and not fall through the ceiling, and then onto the roof. The couple remained inside, trying to follow his steps from the sounds. They finally gave up, watching television while the inspector now moved below them. The small basement had been finished off by one of the previous owners, hiding most of the house’s structural work inside the walls. The inspector managed to squeeze in through a small wire screen. They heard him thumping around underneath them, investigating the supports and other things, while they stood above, worried.
I’ll be up soon, he shouted, voice muffled.
He wiggled out later. He was sweating, wiping his forehead on his damp sleeve. He said it was rotted out.
Which part? The man asked.
All of it, he replied, sweeping his arm toward the house.
It’s not fixable? The woman said.
Your house is about to collapse in on itself. Totally rotted out, the entire area within the walls: the ceilings, the floors, and the beams holding it up, all bad.
The couple had no clue. Yes, the paint peeled in places and the gutters were stuffed with rubbish. But it had to be torn down?
The inspector nodded while scrawling across his notes. Your foundation’s safe but the beams are all wood. It’s old. They’re covered by that black junk. It’s dangerous, possibly fatal. You either have to fix or move. That’s what the city’ll say.
How much will it cost?
More than what it’s worth. He handed them the clipboard and pointed where they had to sign.
We can’t afford to move, she said after signing.
The inspector shrugged: it was merely business.
The couple nodded, understanding because that was the reason they always seemed to be given. What will happen?
Flipping through his sloppy clipboard, the inspector checked the signatures, warning that eventually, at this rate, within the year, it’ll just topple in on itself, killing anyone living here.
We’ll end up on the street, she said. Her hand gripped the inspector’s forearm. He looked down at it. The man put his arms around her, pulling her back, loosening the grip.
Sorry, I just inspect the houses, he said. You’ll get a notice from the city. He closed the front door behind him, giving it a hard pull because it always stuck.
The couple sat in silence. Upstairs something fell over. The bedroom window was loose. The past year had been difficult, what with the job losses. She whispered, We don’t have the money to hire someone. The husband said, I’m not the best handyman but still.
Surprised, she turned to him: Are you talking about fixing it up?
We have to do something. He pointed to the long crack growing in the ceiling. It will be as if someone leaned down and stuck a fingernail in the crack, breaking it open more every day. Besides, it’s our house.
We don’t have the skill, she quietly stated. I’ll start packing.
She stood, walking toward the bedroom, until he asked, And where are we going to go?
She didn’t answer.
Over the next couple of days, he started to gather wood and other items needed for the work, whether it was discarded by their own house, or found around the neighborhood, in the local green dumpsters or graciously given by friends who no longer needed them. What little money they had, the man invested in items from the hardware store. When he had a problem framing the new, smaller, structure, she joined him, helping him with the bottom plate. The couple learned that her construction skills were superior to his but he had good ideas and they learned to work together. Part of the original roof collapsed but they kept going.
They followed plans from the internet. They built within the footprint of the original house but expanded it in other ways, new directions like incorporating the first-floor bathroom into their new domain. They solidified the new frame within the old, added drywall, making sure it was strong and couldn’t fall down on them. After several months of intense work, they had a smaller house lodged within the currently decaying one. As they huddled in there, the old house rained its ruins down upon them, banging off the impenetrable roof, as the world, the sky and the land opened up before them.
Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, Mississippi Review, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His new novel, JDP, comes out in 2021 from BlazeVox books. He lives in Los Angeles.