SPRING 2013 (Issue 78)

Robert Uren


My parents built me this house. They wore blindfolds and pressed together some of the best and worst pieces of their own houses. Propped upon glue-caked popsicle sticks, an oak beam. That sort of place. Instead of tools, they used their bodies: hands, noses, feet. And genitals. The house is kind of terrible, though it does keep out the rain at least four days a week. People have come to visit. They sometimes linger in the foyer, never enter farther. Some give me framed pictures, but my walls are papier-mâché made by my parents’ mindless sex parts and toes. Many of the pictures drop to the concrete floor and snap to bits. The walls are puddling. The papier-mâché never formed up. Because of the three days of rain each week. I have a table in here, but nothing to put on it. It’s only legs, anyway.

This lady I met married me. She had a house, too. So we pushed our houses together. It’s a nice idea. The shape and skew of our houses made a little atrium. We like to spend time in the atrium, but mostly she stays in her house and I stay in mine. That’s not weird. It’s just how it goes. Sometimes I hear her laughing in her house and I wish I were over there, laughing. Because that’s a nice thing to do. As far as I know, no one is over there with her when she does that. As far as I know, she’s not doing it at all. As far as I know, that’s just what my attic sounds like sometimes, my wife in stitches.

Feeding ourselves is simple. Every time one of us hugs the other, food sprouts up from the atrium floor. We eat it, the food. It’s dirt, the floor. The atrium isn’t comfortable. Many people visit us. They bring furniture. They pat our heads and say we’re good. They’re right. They’re nice. We eat our floor fruit while sitting on chairs gifted us by strangers. Often enough a leg fails and we’re upon the floor with a thud. Sometimes when we fall we smile. For instance, if we haven’t crushed banana or pear.

We have a son. It’s easy enough. We’re building him a house in the atrium by smushing together chunks of my house and her house. We keep our eyes closed sometimes when we do that. Other times we try to keep our eyes wide open. He watches and asks us questions about why this floor plan? why this sill? why no ceiling? My wife likes to imagine crown molding. I try in circles to explain physics I don’t understand. No matter the disaster of our blueprint or my defense of it, the boy hugs our legs. If for no other reason than that he’s hungry.

One visitor brought a couch that my wife lay on for three days. Then many ants bit her. The couch was infested with ants. Now both our houses are infested with ants. Our table buckles daily. In her house, my wife has a good bed. I sleep on a cot, mostly. Our son sleeps in the house we’re building him, even though it isn’t ready. My wife has curtains, for what they’re worth. Something she and I understand, though handle with held noses: our son shits all over the atrium floor. Someday he’ll keep that to himself, to his own bathroom, if ever we learn the necessary plumbing.

My wife and I decided to get better furniture for the atrium. We don’t have much money. Worse, the nearest furniture store is many miles away. We walked to the store and found a couch. We could tell how great it was. No ants. Cupholders. We took shifts dragging it home. It weighed 200 pounds. By the time we made it back, the couch was ruined, its wood splintered and fabric tattered. A formless and jagged thing; not a couch. We lie on it anyway, looking at the house we’re building for our son. It’s a nice house, but we know how that goes. Any day now it will rain and the papier-mâché we’ve shaped into his walls will droop. He’ll feel a constant draft. He’ll catch his death of cold.

One way to make an excellent house that can withstand weather is to find the right materials and tools. But that’s difficult to do. Another way to make an excellent house that can last forever is to keep your eyes open and sculpt—with your bare hands—the fruit from an atrium floor. But every time someone gives us furniture or we drag furniture home, the atrium floor becomes the more a mess. Even when we stumble around and over the chairs and tables and couches and hold one another tightly, we can’t find the fruit for the clutter. Tonight, their curtains pulled wide open, my wife’s windows let out a light from where she laughs alone. And in that glow, curled hungry in the entryway of his own poor house, our son sleeps. I hear his breathing as I search in the dark for parts of my house—joists, beams, anything—that may spare him trouble—leaks, creaks, everything.