Empty House

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The house is haunted. All of the kids say so. When we pass it after school they throw rocks at the windows and sticks in the yard, but no one ever dares go past the gate and down the gravel drive. The porch is sloped, nearly collapsing under its own weight, and the garden’s long since overgrown. No one goes inside. Not even the adults.

But I do.

I always wait until the other kids are past. I drag my feet, pretend I forgot my lunchbox, or go back for a rock in the stream. When they’re all past it I slip around back and go in through a broken window. I pried the boards away a few years ago, the first time I came here, and now I pull them off whenever I come home.

It’s my own place. A refuge for a kid who doesn’t have one.

My bedroom is upstairs. I found an old couch in the dump, and someone left a side table out by their garbage cans, so I have a few things that are mine. The kitchen doesn’t work, but there’s a well out back, and I mostly eat at school anyway.

I get more here than I ever did at home. And I’m safe. A haunted house is a better place to sleep than a home with a drunken father and a mother who left so long ago I can’t remember her face. This is better. The school board, the church people, no one knows. My father doesn’t say anything, and I show up at school every day bright and clean and happy, so they don’t ask where I’ve been living.

They never ask, and I never say. So everyone’s happy.

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