2 June 2003 | Vol. 3, No. 2

Houses All My Life

I nod off? Listen. Call it a bell though it buzzes. More crackle than buzz. All my life, houses. Houses have bells. Apartments buzzers. Townhouse Georgia calls it. Shithouse. Listen.


There it is. Alright. Here I come. Feet go in shoes. Clogs. Hate 'em on the steps but like 'em on the rug. Help me reach things on the pantry top shelf. Ass is asleep. Cheeks tingle like they been novocainated. Feel like sand. Sand bags. Saddle bags. Get to the top of the landing so they can see my shadow.


Hold your horses. Hand on railing. Clogs clunk hard on wooden steps. Sounds hollow. Steps're slick. Smells stale. Like rotten lemon peel. Should put out some of the apple potpourri Georgia sent. Put it on the hutch with the mirror and the dog pictures. Dachshunds. Neighbors owned one when we lived out at Fern Prairie. Get excited and piss on you. Try to hump your leg. Wouldn't mind a leg hump these days.


You see this slow-moving shadow through that frosted glass? It's my old ass comin'. You got a package? Leave the bastard on the stoop. You want to talk to me? Then contain yo'self and give an old lady time to descend these steps.


Mercy. Must've been the cauliflower. Hope it don't smell. Now I must put out the potpourri. Wonder if I've ever done it around comp'ny. Grandmother used to fart in public. Oh Lord, how long has it been since I remembered the time she shit herself at the fairgrounds and made Kenneth drive her home to change? I bet I haven't remembered that for years. So embarrassed she stormed off and said outta my way chink to a nice older Chinaman with his granddaughter. Felt bad for her. And him. Tipped his hat and apologized for gettin' in us nice folks way. 'Nice floaks.' Know she felt bad too. Treated all folks good, unless they quarreled with her. Daddy Dub teased her when she came back and asked did she go home and put on one of Tissie's diapers. She said that's bold talk from a man who once got himself sucked by a hobo, Dub. Said don't try and shame me-I will win. Peculiar marriage. Last step. Biggest one. Hard to keep the clogs on the feet. Clunk.


"Mrs. Pereless?"

"Pronounced Peerless, dear."

"Oh, my god. I'm totally sorry. I'm Amanda?"


"I work with Courtney Benavidez? I guess she cleaned for you for a while?"

"Yes, I know Courtney. How is she? Why don't you come in, honey."

"Thank you. Thank you so much. And she's fine. She mentioned she talked to you about me coming over today?"

"Oh. Well that's okay. Company's always nice."

"I hate to intrude. God, she said she confirmed it. I thought she sent you an email."

"She did the what?"

"An email. On the computer?"

"I don't think this apartment has a computer, dear. If it has I don't know where it is. You're welcome to look. Maybe down by the furnace? There's a flashlight upstairs on the icebox. Has a magnet on it."

"No, I think she thought you had a computer and she sent you a message on it. An email?"

"Mmm-hmm. Well I've just got the calculator my husband bought years ago. With a hand-crank. It's left-handed. As was he. Down in the basement in a box marked Everett Pereless. You're welcome to it. You'll want the flashlight though."

"That's okay. Actually, Courtney was supposed to talk to you about a project I'm working on? I'm interviewing centenarians for a piece on NPR? Are you familiar with NPR?"

"I'm afraid I'm not, dear."

"National Public Radio. It's a non-profit radio station?"

"I don't listen to much music anymore. Mostly just the television when there's anything good on. How much would one be compensated for such an interview?"

"Well, NPR's mostly social commentary, Mrs. Pereless. Non-biased news? They also have talk shows and listener-powered interviews and exposés? So, like because it's a non-profit, meaning they don't profit, I mean I'm sure the people who work there get paid, but they're not in it to make money, right? So they don't pay for the interviews. So I don't get paid and I couldn't really pay you. But it would be great exposure for you."


"Yah. Like all your friends and family'll be all, Hey, grandma's on the radio. Right on! She's out makin' the world all better. Go grandma!"

"Indeed. And this is through your school?"

"No. I'm actually not sure where they get their funding. The ACLU maybe. I'm doing a story on people who've lived to be one hundred and was hoping to interview you."

"Dear, I'm only eighty five."

"Are you serious?"

"Very much so."

"Oh my god. Courtney is so dead. She is such a flake. I should have known. I took the day off and sort of bribed my neighbor to drive me all the way out here. She said you were over a hundred."

"I am sorry."

"God, I totally can't believe this. Can I use your phone to call my friend's cell to come get me?"

"I'm sorry dear. I don't have a phone."

"I thought I just heard it ringing."

"I'm sure that was my tea whistling. I love tea. I'd offer you some but I've already put medicine in it."

"Well I'm really sorry to have bothered you. Do you happen to know where the 48 bus stop is?"

"I'm sorry I don't."

"Ok. Well thanks though and sorry for the inconvenience."

"Bye-bye, dear."

Ugh. Was I so simple at that age? Speaks like a child. And no pay? No thanks. Christ. How many stairs? One. Two. Do you know what NPR is? Do you know what money is? It's what I require if you expect to be invited into my house so you can interview this one hundred and two year old body. Six. Courtney didn't say anything about a free interview with a simple person. She said I'm sure you'll be compensated. Move on. Too old to be wasting time giving it away. I'm not that bored and lonely. Nine.


Let that go to the voice mail. Not runnin' for the phone now too. Truly do not remember seeing anything from Courtney of late. Unless she sent it to the AOL which Daniel said he cancelled. Sent out a message on the new Hotmail weeks ago. Hope I did it right. A computer makes no sense to me. Twelve. Like to get me a Hot Male. He could rub my feet and bake me up that scone mix Nadine sent from Snoqualmie Falls. Tastes best turned by hand. Could turn me by hand too. Hump my leg like a Dachshund. Be my wiener dog. The Lord is listening, Bernice. Heavenly father-fourteen! Fourteen goddamned steps.

About the author:

James F. Ward lives in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in Sweet Fancy Moses, Eyeshot, Pindeldyboz, and SpokenWar.

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 3, No. 2, where "Houses All My Life" ran on June 2, 2003. List other work with these same labels: fiction, flash fiction.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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