A&E » Fiction Contest

Indoor Fireworks

Third Place

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“The house felt, in these moments when the bedroom door was closed and heat pressed on it like smoke, as if it were fulfilling a role greater than structure, more than shelter.” - ILLUSTRATION BY CHELSEA RAFLO
  • Illustration by Chelsea Raflo
  • “The house felt, in these moments when the bedroom door was closed and heat pressed on it like smoke, as if it were fulfilling a role greater than structure, more than shelter.”

Red fire truck lights spun over the devastation. The beacons arced long, looking like science class experiments as they passed through the dust and smoke above the rubble that had once been a house. Fire and rescue teams crawled gingerly around it, hoisting planks and shoveling brick. Walkie-talkies beeped and buzzed and neighborhood kids looked on, perched around the moving truck parked on the street — a lawn's length from the police tape.

When a family moves into a house, there is a period of adjustment. Walls that were barren carry the weight of pictures or of furniture pressed against them. Floorboards flex under new footsteps and electricity courses through the veins of the place at night. Inhabitants wake a house to life.

209 King Street had never been anything before it was the Hargis family home. Shelly Hargis had by chance seen it being built and had made her husband go see about buying it. He'd gone dutifully and still seemed bemused 19 months later as he sat at a table applying his signature to things. She had not been wrong about it. There was room for the two of them to thrive and to grow. But it was not too large, this craftsman with the brick façade, inviting front porch and the oak trunk pillar in the living room. There was room there for them to move freely on their own or, more frequently, as one.

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It took longest to unpack the stuff in the kitchen — the thousand little things that belong there — but Shelly called for her husband to come see just weeks after beginning the move.

"Peter, we have officially moved into this house!" she said as she flattened and folded up a Starbucks box. He held her and looked at their home together, how they seemed to fit perfectly into it. Beneath them, the floor could feel for the first time the attention Shelly had put into arranging the furniture there. The imbalance and heft of the move gave way to the ballast of well-thought-out interior design. There was an invisible symmetry in the way the refrigerator and the cabinets seemed to radiate around the butcher-block island. And the floor was appreciative that it played on the strengths of the support beams so there was no vulnerable spot where a footstep could cause the china cabinet to sway and clatter.

And it was not just the one room, but entering the house felt like stepping into a river, naturally eddying from hallway to living room to bedroom to porch. And while Peter Hargis himself may never have noticed the way the mirror by the front door was arranged just so to catch the reflection of the birch just outside of the kitchen window, he still felt a sense of calm as he adjusted his tie in it every morning.

The final box of newspaper-wrapped cookware dispatched, Shelly danced to the living room and dropped onto the couch. Her husband followed behind, their shoulders nuzzling together as they leaned into each other side by side, admiring this place they had settled into. The floor beneath the sofa gave slightly. The floorboards flexing just so, sounding like the satisfying crack of a fistful of knuckles.

It did not take very long for the house to be fully woken up. Peter and Shelly threw parties. It was their first house — a place with a yard and more than just the living room and kitchen for guests to congregate. They invited their friends over and their friends invited friends and the house hummed along. Peter kept the kitchen a constant swirl of hors d'oeuvres and liquor, or he'd be manning a small grill on the back porch next to a cooler full of beer. Shelly buzzed from conversation to joke to thoughtful one-on-one and the floors grew warm and the walls flexed. Nearly every light was turned on and electricity jolted all through the house until it seemed to have the caffeine jitters. The plumbing flowed until the pipes were sweaty and as more bodies filled the space, the air conditioner took gulping breaths. 209 King could not join in on the party, so it contented itself with the incredible high.

In the last hours of these parties, the crowd would dwindle, leaving the hosts in long, reflective conversation with the last three or four really good friends to stick around. Seated on patio chairs or around the bottle-strewn coffee table, the house relished these moments, with their long shadows and laughter filling the place better than any crush of people could. Emboldened after a long night of absorbing conversation, the house would attempt to interject, but the creaks and groans it knew to make were only mistaken for "the house settling." Opinions went unheeded and observations unpondered as they were mistaken for the rattles of pipes and ducts. But 209 King loved its inhabitants and forgave the language barrier. It loved them as a nurse loves an infant.

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