From Issue 12: Sunk

JoeAnn Hart
 
On Monday, Brad came home from work humming to himself, but at the path to his door, the hum drained to silence. The sun was low and weak, the sky thinly washed in purple, making the picture window mirror-dark. He tilted his head, trying to align his house with his mind. Something had changed, but he could not say what. “Must be the light,” he decided, then went inside to his wife, Edna, and his small child, Oliver, and he forgot all about it. But on Tuesday night the same, if not more so. “Something is definitely off,” he said to Edna, who was in the kitchen scraping dried mac ‘n’ cheese into the disposal. “I’ll say something’s off,” she said, without looking up. On Wednesday, he made a deliberate point of ignoring his house, but on Thursday morning he stood for a long while trying to decide if his home was tilting. Before he left for work, he stuck a yardstick up against the concrete foundation. It looked perpendicular, but what did he know? He was a bean counter, not an architect. That night it was too dark to tell what was what, but on Friday morning he thought he saw a sliver of light between the house and the yardstick. “Maybe it’s the stick that’s sinking,” he told himself, then hurried to catch the bus. On Saturday, he offered to rake leaves so he could watch for any sudden movement. “Be my guest,” said Edna, pushing Oliver outside to roll in the leaves, but a leaf pile never materialized. Brad was too busy calculating the expanding space between stick and house, if that’s what it was. At lunchtime, Edna called them in, but there was no “them.” Only Brad. It took a few minutes to find Oliver who had wandered to a neighbor’s yard, making Edna irritable for the rest of the weekend. She refused to join Brad in the inspection of a hairline fracture on the kitchen ceiling. “Signs are a way of investing coincidences with meaning,” she said, and he wasn’t quite sure what she meant, if anything. That night in bed he heard the house creak, like the dry snapping of bones. “The heating system,” he told himself, but when he checked the thermostat Sunday morning, it wasn’t even on.
On the second Monday, Brad checked the yardstick on leaving for work and on his return. The space of light had grown from a sliver to a slender wedge, he was sure. He stood under the darkening sky until Oliver came to the storm door and pressed his open mouth against the glass like a Moray eel. On Tuesday morning, Brad felt a sense of relief when the door closed behind him, as if he had escaped a great danger. In the employee lounge, he joked with Marvin in technology. “My house is sinking.” Ha, ha. “Sounds like normal settling to me,” said Marvin. “Ah,” said Brad, and celebrated with a jelly donut. Then Marvin told him about a friend whose aunt’s house fell in a sinkhole one night while she was watching TV. “The earth just swallowed it up,” he said. “It was a miracle she survived.” Grape jelly oozed from Brad’s clenched fist. On Wednesday night, Brad told Edna he was going to hire a structural engineer. “To make sure it’s normal settling and not something else.” He did not look up from his beef stew when he said those words, but he felt Edna’s eyes upon him. “Nor-mal,” Oliver whispered to the piece of carrot on his fork. On Thursday morning, as Brad was putting on his black socks, the light from the window cast an angled suncat under his feet, and he felt as if he were falling through the universe. At the office, he asked Marvin if he knew any structural engineers. “A great guy,” Marv said, and gave him the number. On Thursday night, Brad told Edna that the engineer would be there Friday, and she blinked. The next morning, before she got out of bed, she turned to Brad and said, “Have you thought that it might be you, and not the house?” He had no answer to that, so she got up to make French toast.
There was a note on the kitchen table for Brad when he got home on Friday night. “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since you weren’t listening, everything must be said again.” Brad skipped to the end. Edna had run off with the structural engineer, taking Oliver with her. There was an addendum in a different hand at the bottom: The engineer would send a full report in a few weeks.
 
Joeheadshot-2Ann Hart is the author of Float and Addled, novels that explore the relationship between humans and their environment, natural or otherwise. Her short fiction, essays, articles, and book reviews have appeared in a number of publications, including Orion magazine and Design New England. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.