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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-five INTERIORS



he house, long in his family, but never something he thought of as less than a person, now bothered him. It creaked in wind, yes. If he didn’t work the fixtures over with lemon oil, it smelled musty. Come winter, unless he wanted to go poor fast by turning on the heat, he shivered. But in the end, it wasn’t the creaking, mustiness or cold rooms that bothered him.

It was the other thing.

Indoors he felt emotions he couldn’t account for. As if passing between rooms caused shifts in his moods. Sometimes he couldn’t help but feel multiple pinpricks of a great rage coming on. It would be unfocused, without event or person to tie it to or focus its poison on. Yet just leaving one room for another, he’d feel a cool bliss almost. Only an almost-bliss because he remembered so keenly the fury upon him just moments before, an almost-bliss because he knew the anger lingered nearby, ready to reattach itself to him. And this feeling didn’t stay put, but drifted, sometimes entering a hallway, closet or the pantry.

It didn’t used to be like this.

It used to be avoidable.

As a boy, when he first sensed the presence in the house, he decided not to mention it to his family. Ridicule he could do without. And after his father’s fatal crash, they’d all hunkered down here to grow up then leave. All except him.

“You don’t have to stay there, do you?” his mother called to ask him after moving to her own condo.

“I’m comfortable here,” he said, but really he wasn’t.

“Are you now?”

He didn’t like discussing the truth of this complicated house. And despite how it affected him, he didn’t know if he could live outside its orbit. It gave him something to resist and without it, what would he be? Not knowing made him uneasy.

“We could sell it,” his mother said.

“Where would I live then?”

“It’s a big world.”

“I have to do my laundry now.”

He got off the phone. He and his mother had never been close, and anyway the realization that others detected the presence, well, he knew that. Yes. Once in his teens, he started to enter a room when his sister standing in the hall stopped him. “Not now,” she’d said.

He looked into the room. The edges of furniture blurred, now waved. Heat radiated out of it despite there being neither a radiator nor appliance in the room to give it off. Also, it felt occupied.

If this wasn’t proof enough, the dog saw them from the other doorway to this room, meaning the dog had only to cross the room to come to them. Instead, it went around, taking a U-shaped detour through the hall to reach them because it wouldn’t cross that room, a room it had crossed hundreds of times. The dog whimpered.

Then the presence left, slow and sullen.

This volatility of certain spaces in the house went understood by family, but confused outsiders. Why, they asked, couldn’t they have coffee in the same place they did the last time they were over? And if his kin were there when someone asked, he’d catch their eye, then make something up. But after his family all moved out, he just stopped having guests over.

“It’s an awful lot of house,” his sister Denise said on the phone a month after they buried their mother.

“It’s an awful lot of work keeping it up,” he said, already sensing where she wanted this conversation to go.

“If we sell, you can live somewhere nicer.”

He didn’t respond, so Denise said the other thing.

“It’s not yours, you know.”

“No, but it’s two on three,” he said, knowing that the third sibling, brother Howard didn’t want to force the sale on him, preferring that his other two siblings work it out.

“My share of the property taxes on that dump is killing me,” she said. “You can’t be this selfish.”

“She was your parent too,” he said, meaning their mother, “but she laid it out in the will. Two votes to sell. Period.”

“Then you and Howard need to buy me out.”

“I have to go wash dishes now.”

He got off the phone. He could barely pay his own share of taxes, and of the three siblings, only Howard had buyout cash.

Sitting on a sofa his parents bought before he was born, he remembered guests from years ago. Questions tattooed their faces. Why, when they were so many at this party, did they have to cram into this house’s smallest room? No one in the family could explain without sounding ridiculous, so they endured odd looks whenever the presence forced them into in these situations.

“How you doing, buddy?” Howard called the next night.

“Good.” He dreaded now that his brother must be calling to say he’d thrown in with their sister to sell the house.

“You sound tense.”

“She called you. Am I right?”


“Tell me. You’ve picked a side?”

“No, no, no. I hope you two work it out. I just, that is, well I know that place.” Then Howard went quiet. He might’ve been smooth in business, but maybe he thought that even mentioning what lived here would encourage it to visit Howard out east in his penthouse apartment.

“I have to stay, Howard. I can’t stop you from voting how you want, but me, I have to stay.”

He got off the phone after Howard told him not to worry about their sister.


Of course, Denise next sent her odd-looking husband. Bryce argued at him to sell the house. Ridiculous. The only way he could make it through without saying something he’d regret was to focus on Bryce’s strange appearance. Chinless. Large-nosed. An Adam’s apple big as a goiter or wattle. He resembled a bird whose extinction was near. To be scolded by such a being undermined the moment.

“Denise has my phone if she wants to call,” he told Bryce.

“She wants to sell. You’ve gotta see that by now.”

“So why are you here?” he asked his brother-in-law.

“Look. It’s just a lot of money-Can I come in?”

“I’m busy now.”

Really, Bryce’s showing up was no surprise. Denise had always recruited guys to harass him on her behalf. In her teens, she liked muscled jerks with loud cars who shoved he and Howard if Denise told them to. Usually, after they teased her for being humorless or having pretensions. These suitors were so coloring-book-stupid too. And after one of these studs broke her jaw, she dated only Teddy Bear Hipsters, harmless physically awkward specimens with obscure tastes in music who he and Howard laughed at. Bryce was a TBH.

“Can we talk?” Bryce put his hand on the doorjamb.

He smiled at his brother-in-law.

“You haven’t been invited in, Bryce. Without an invitation, legally you are a trespasser.”

Bryce took his hand off the jamb fast. Denise must’ve told him about the nickel-plated revolver. What she didn’t know, however, was that he’d sold it for grocery money.

His brother-in-law wore a tight t-shirt for some unknown band even though he’d recently gotten a pot belly and pouch eyes. We’re all aging, I guess. Now Bryce wiped his hands on his jeans, then sputtered out that Denise didn’t think it should come to a disagreement.

“So I just agree with her and everyone goes away happy?”

Bryce didn’t answer.

He shut the door on him, locked it, and went to the kitchen for some black grapes he’d bought that afternoon.


The house still bothered him. He should let it go. Some nights in its rooms, he felt as though he were inside an animal’s belly.

The one time he’d talked to a broker about selling it, he was plagued by bad dreams. He dreamt his ribs poked through his skin when he bent to tie his shoe. It reminded him of his father. His father died on a business trip when the company jet went down in a swamp, killing everyone aboard. “He was going to sell the house when he got back,” his mother told him once when he was putting a blanket over her after she passed out drunk on the couch.

“I said no such thing,” she told him the next day when he confronted her over it.

Maybe this was why she never tried selling the house, or why she never forced a sale on him.

“The house didn’t kill dad, engine failure did,” said Howard when they talked about it. They’d been in a bar then, adults enjoying their beers. Game on the TV overhead.

“You don’t feel strange in the house, Howie?” He worked on getting the words right so that he didn’t sound ridiculous. “You don’t visit a lot, but when you do, you feel it, right?”

“I don’t want to discuss that house. Live there long as you want, spray-paint the walls or whatever, but if you want to talk about it, well, I can’t.”

That left things so vivid in his mind. A stone his doggedly curious lawyer of a brother refused to turn over.


Of course Denise was not done with her campaign. He came home from his job on a Tuesday afternoon early because he had a migraine. He’d just planted himself in his recliner in the living room when he heard footsteps in another room.

“Hello?” he called out.

“It’s me.” Denise, right. Who else?

“What are you doing here?” He turned his head to look behind him, but this ratcheted up his pain, so he stood.

“I came to talk.”

She had on a sweatshirt, jeans, her chubby face poking out between shocks of blond hair.

“Let me guess. No, in fact I won’t.”

“You can’t be this selfish. This house is killing me. Bryce and I and Charlemagne also matter. I wanted to talk.”

“Two votes, Denise. Two votes to sell.”

She kept talking as if her talking had convinced him on numerous occasions; it hadn’t ever.

“My taxes are through the roof because of this dump.”

“Did you say ‘dump’? Fine house like this? These are light fixtures you could hang a side of beef from. ‘Dump.’ Unbelievable.”

“My taxes are killing me.”

“Christ, is this how you keep Bryce in line?”

“What did you just say?”

“Get offended and go. It’s all you’re good for.” He didn’t mean to be as ugly as that, but with a migraine hammering at his patience, she wasn’t helping. “I’m going to get something for this headache. There’s pretzels in the pantry if you want to snack while you browbeat me.”

He left the room, going to the bathroom to shake a lone pain-relieving capsule out of its plastic bottle. Grumbling, he clapped it into my mouth, annoyed that he hadn’t thought to take some pain relievers at work. He ran the tap, scooping a handful of water into his mouth to wash down the pill.

Watching him, at his elbow his sister stood.

“The Prince has a migraine?”

“Who said so?” He turned, wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He didn’t want to admit his migraine to her, however obvious it was. Howard might pour him a whiskey, warm up a shared childhood memory to laugh at to help him. Denise was different. She was born late and didn’t know the struggles their parents had when they were younger and had less money.

“Look. You know the terms of sale. Two votes. Now go home and make kale salad for your husband.”

He shouldn’t have baited her. She’d made him by not taking the hint and going.

“Do you know what it costs in tuition to send Charlemagne to private school? Do you?”

He winced, what a lousy name for his nephew. Charlemagne. He should’ve been a Keith or a Mick, or something that sounded cool.

“You don’t know because no one exists but you. You, you poor genius, you.”

That hurt, because it made him remember his scholarship to a renowned design school. He’d flunked out because the talent of his fellow students so intimidated him, that he stopped turning in assignments. Then he’d come back home and got a job as a graphic designer because whatever else was to be said against the house, he didn’t feel ineffectual here. Instead, he felt like he was heroically resisting some great evil.

“Oh, I have something of yours,” he told her, in as blank a tone as he could manage. “I found it while I was looking for my old sketch pads.”

She just looked at him.

He liked to treat her insults this way. Where she fueled up on yelling and insults, he didn’t like to raise his voice. Speaking in commonplace non sequiturs just aggravated her more.

“I was looking for inspiration,” he told her, now going to the closet, taking the trophy out of the liquor store box.

It was a participation trophy. They each had one from that year they played peewee soccer. For some reason, he ended up with both of them after all of this time. Naturally.

“Can’t leave without this,” he said, then he pulled it out from behind him and swung it at her face, not knowing why he did so, but enjoying her wide, startled eyes and that she stumbled back to avoid it. The trophy had a heavy base.

“What the hell-?”

“Just kidding, Denise. Hey, come here.”

He put a hand on her shoulder, she jerked it back, yelling.

“What’s the matter with you? Are you crazy?”

“Come here,” he said, feeling the room burn around him.

“I have to go.”

“Go where? Where else do you have to be but here?”


He listened to Bryce, nodding politely, trying to avoid his nephew Charlemagne’s eyes as he looked up from behind his father’s leg as they stood outside the front door.

“Well, I’ll call if I hear anything,” he told them finally.

And maybe Bryce was going to say something else, but it could wait.

“I have to go,” he said to his brother-in-law.

“Go where?” Bryce asked, making him laugh bitterly for how the conversation sounded so similar.

Yes, everyone was right. He really should have sold the house.

“I have to clean the light fixtures now,” he said.

“If I only knew where she went,” Bryce said.

Then he shut the door on their confused faces and undid his belt, telling himself how the fixtures really did look so sturdy.




Alexei Kalinchuk lives in the Western US and was once nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has had a zombie story published in an anthology, and other stories published in The Bitter Oleander, Foliate Oak, and other literary outlets. He is a native Spanish speaker and interviews persons for a living.

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