Toffeehouse – L.N. Loch

Toffeehouse – L.N. Loch

This short story of Loch’s was one of our personal favorites this issue. All you’ve got to do is read it to understand. Enjoy.

Toffeehouse

Our neighbors’ house burned down on a black November evening. I’m not sure what it was that pulled me from sleep, if it was the shouting outside, the choking stench of incinerated fabric and wire, or the screeching harmony of every fire alarm in our house erupting at once, rattling the windowpanes with their terror. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough to rouse Giles, and I had to shake him awake before we grabbed Francis from his cradle and evacuated. By morning, the house was reduced to a sooty rectangle of rubble, and though ours still stood, the side that faced the disaster was marked by black scorch marks, creeping up the wall like rot. 

We never got around to painting over it, just as no one ever got around to rebuilding anything on the property. The lot remained vacant, a new kind of fire hazard in itself, growing into a tangle of underbrush and saplings that, as Francis grew and Abby was born, became an untidy, private forest preserve. I didn’t tell the kids to stay away from it until the summer Francis got sprayed by a mother skunk, and the stench of vinegar and tomato juice in the back of my throat lingered long enough to remind me to. Since then, I watched it through the kitchen window before leaving for the office, gazing at the deer and foxes that stayed past the sunrise. Giles and I thought little of it, and my friend, Elizabeth Robertson, one half of a barren couple who lived across the street, speculated over tea that the empty lot was actually a net positive since the foliage shielded us from our neighbors on that side. Unfortunately, it did nothing to guard us against the Robertsons, whose recent venture would catalyze the unkempt lot’s eventual taming. 

Abby had just started the seventh grade when they began stringing up chicken-wire at the side of their house in a fragile, mesh cage. When I asked Elizabeth what had inspired her and her husband to open a peacock farm, she simply shrugged and said they had gotten the idea from a magazine. Though this was baffling to me, I offered her no comment at the time, only quietly turned my morning gaze from the vacant lot to the one across the street. The squawking began to wake both Giles and me long before our alarms could, meaning that for the first time, we rose concurrently. The bubble of time I’d once had to myself, before departing on my lengthier commute, was punctured. He joined me in taking his tea by the front window and I, not knowing what to do with the extra body next to me, returned to my original post as watcher of the empty lot, missing, somewhat, the flashing of the birds’ bejeweled feathers in the sun as I stared out at the sooty mess. 

“What do you think is the real reason?” Giles asked one night at dinner. 

“I don’t know,” I said, because I didn’t. I hadn’t thought much on it, aside from how irritated I was with all the noise the birds made. 

“I think,” Giles said, “they eat them.” 

The children and I stared at him, our boxed potatoes thick in our mouths. This was more than any of us ever spoke at the table. 

“They’ve only ever accepted the best,” he continued, “and it works. No one puts in the effort in this house.” 

He was probably right. We weren’t eating peacock. 

“I mean, hell, we can do that.” Giles stopped eating, and he looked down at his food, his fists tightening around his knife and fork. “We can do that.” 

He excused himself and put his plate in the sink, and the kids and I finished our meal in silence. 

*** 

I braced myself for the announcement that we would be starting a peacock farm. Discreetly, I snuck some earplugs into my bedside table, though their rubber made my ears swollen and inflamed after a few uses, and I decided which side of our house I would not mind sacrificing to a fate of gravel, bird shit, and chicken-wire. However, all of this was in vain, as the only change to follow Giles’s mysterious dinnertime sermon was a sudden dominance in the kitchen. Cookbooks began to appear around the house, and our cupboards filled with confounding ingredients like gelatin and cake flour and cream of tartar. Dinner was still my domain, but Giles supplemented this with tantalizing desserts that always dwarfed the main course, enchanting the children with carefully constructed cream puffs and crème brûlée. 

It all left the kitchen a mess, but usually I was cleaning things as I cooked dinner anyway, and I didn’t complain when he danced around me with hot trays of this and that as long as I had oven space to finish the casserole or meatloaf. This lasted through the oncoming autumn and winter, and though we didn’t entertain for Thanksgiving or Christmas, our fridge was full enough of leftovers that it appeared we had. 

“We may not have the best house on the block,” he said one night, as the children scarfed down second helpings of organic berry cobbler, “but at least we can enjoy the simple pleasure of food.” 

I couldn’t argue with that. He’d become an amazing cook, and the kids and I had gotten into the habit of expecting an elaborate dessert to follow every meal. Double chocolate soufflé with candied orange peels became such a regularity that I was struck one day with the realization that Giles was not sinking into the new routine like I was. The more he cooked, the more time he spent looking out the windows. Not only at the Robertsons and their flock of strutting peacocks, but also at the open lot, a presence I had nearly forgotten. 

One summer evening before bed, Giles and I watched a 40-minute cooking competition on the food channel. It was a rerun of a Christmas episode where the contestants were tasked with creating spectacular gingerbread houses large enough for children to play in, and while I absorbed the clock’s decreasing numbers and the judges’ resolute faces, I glanced over at Giles once to see his eyes were bright and wide, the television’s images playing back in them like a vividly recollected dream. 

The next morning, he was not in the bed, and a bright red woodchipper was situated at the front of the vacant lot, consuming the saplings being tossed into it by workers in neon vests with a deafening roar. Giles directed them with a knobby finger. I didn’t ask him about it at dinner that night, as the manic energy with which he consumed his chicken breast made me aware of myself in a way I wasn’t fond of. 

“They’ve finally cleared that vacant lot,” was all I said. 

He confirmed that they had, and I got the sense from his voice that his mind was miles away. So, after a few minutes of bearing the dinnertime silence, I questioned our son about his college plans. Francis’s ensuing manifesto was more detailed than any personal statement I’d ever written, and it spanned the rest of the meal. His declarations of his superior work ethic and his promises to make something of himself rang off the glass bowl of Hamburger Helper cooling to room temperature next to the stove. 

Within a week, the only evidence that remained of the house fire were the scorch marks on our siding. I got up one morning and migrated to the window with my tea only to be struck with the view of our neighbors’ house, which I hadn’t seen for years. I passed the summer in the kind of bleary, cranky headspace that comes after one is awakened from a nap, driving Francis to repeated ACT tests and Abby to sleepover parties. Giles ceased production of desserts as well, which made the dinners I produced seem even more inadequate than before. Suddenly, he was too busy to cook, or even to eat. Busy with what, I didn’t know. He would sit down to a meal with us, take a bite, and then dash off to make a “quick” phone call that never ended until we’d all left the table.  

I knew he was planning something, from the large sheets of paper that billowed like white sails when he moved them around the house, and the irregular tap, tap, tap of calculator keys that always arose when I least needed it, but I never asked what. Instead, I did my own planning, stewing in my indignance that he didn’t enlighten me as to what he was doing, and composing in a hundred ways what I would say when it all came to light. 

Clarity came with the first frost. I awoke to the sound of construction equipment, and when I went to the window, there was a crowd of workers surrounding a house-shaped hole in the ground. Foundation was already flowing, slow as molasses, down into the form, and its bright white reflected that of the late September sky. 

I rushed outside but could think of nothing to say. After walking past me a few times, Giles finally caught my eye and grinned. 

“Wait until you see it.” 

He didn’t explain further, and I watched the buzz for several minutes, shivering in my robe and slippers and wondering why it smelled like a carnival. When I finally came to my senses and went back inside, it was already far later than Giles left each day for his supposed commute, but he seemed blissfully unaware, and I, irritated and hurried, left without alerting him to the time.  

That first week, Elizabeth commented that she didn’t know how we did it and looked to me expectantly, opening the opportunity for me to say I had no part in it, that this was Giles’s crazy project. But I thought of her and her husband eating their peacocks, and I nodded silently, as if to say, Yes, I know, it’s incredible what we do. 

The neighbors from the other side of us told Giles they were happy someone was finally doing something with the lot. From what people were saying, it seemed like the old owners had been desperate to get rid of it and had sold their former land to him for an absurdly small fee. How much this “fee” was, I don’t know, and I couldn’t ask, but the fact that I noticed no change in our bank account beyond the tens place was enough of an answer for me.  

No matter how small the sum had been, Giles was happy to receive the praise for paying it, as well as the praise for assuaging the neighbors’ worries about wild animals. Ironically, whatever new thing he was building attracted far more animals than the initial woods did, and instead of seeing an occasional deer or fox when I looked out the window in the morning, I sighted entire herds of deer, murders of crows, and even, once, a great black bear. After the last, a barbed-wire fence as tall as our house was erected around the lot, which made me feel safer, if a little bit sad. 

I didn’t find out what he was actually building until a local news crew gave him an interview, which I watched while on my lunch break at work. It was titled, “Meet the Man Building an Edible House.” 

“What motivated you to do this?” a reporter with limp, caramel curls asked. 

“I just wanted to show people that you can do anything you put your mind to,” Giles responded. “I’ve always loved sweets and candy, and so do other people, so I thought this would be a good way to make a point while also making people happy.” 

It was around this time I found out he had stopped showing up to work. I’d stayed home to treat Abby for a fever, and when I turned to look out the window while a mug of tea was in the microwave, was thunderstruck to find him right where he always was before I left: directing the workers. I initially pretended I didn’t notice, but ultimately confronted him about it on a rainy day in mid-October, when he was involved in the frantic erection of a gigantic tent around the already-melting foundation that had taken weeks to get in place. 

“How will we afford this?” I asked, when what I meant was, How will we afford our actual mortgage? 

He reassured me that it would be fine, that his job had been planning to lay him off anyway. 

“Francis is going to college soon,” I said. 

“Nothing wrong with in-state.” 

Though his responses held such an easy confidence I nearly believed in them, it was the reactions of people around me which ultimately enabled me to turn my dislike towards the project into indifference. Our street became a constant parade of cars, parents leaning out the window with rubbernecking children in the backseat, pointing as they cruised by. On occasion, Giles walked over to talk to them, and the families parked on the curb, their faces bright with interest. It was a rare day that I pulled into the driveway after work without being questioned as to what was happening next door. People seemed to see the white tent and assume someone was getting married. I didn’t mind correcting them. 

Reactions were not universally positive, however. Halloween brought a special kind of disenchantment, as I watched crowds of trick-or-treaters trot down the block, plastic jack-o-lanterns bouncing against their pudgy legs, and subsequently watched their faces fall when their gazes landed on the bare foundation and sugarcane scaffolding that made up the house so far. I received little thanks for the Jolly Ranchers I handed them from the same bag I’d been using for three years. None of them, however, were as disappointed as Abby, who had somehow gotten the notion that the toffeehouse’s existence predicted she would harvest more candy this year.  

When I questioned her about why she thought this, she only told me she wanted it. The candy, that is. 

*** 

“Whatever you need, I’ll get it to you.” 

I heard the hearty clap of a hand on Giles’ back and walked into the kitchen to see Paris, the owner of a local family bakeshop she had worked at since I was in high school. She was a dignified woman with short, dark hair and a deep voice, and before I’d met Giles, I’d bought countless overpriced croissants from her during my lunch breaks. 

Against my best efforts, she caught my eye and offered a politician’s smile. 

“Katherine, your husband’s paying my mortgage!” 

Seeing her brought every pastry I’d ever bought from her, and the coy conversations they’d come with, racing back to me. I strapped stones to their feet and drowned them. 

*** 

Paris was not my husband’s only new best friend. As soon as she got involved with the project, it seemed every bakery, candy manufacturer, and sugar factory within a thirty-minute drive was clamoring for our business. Some of them pitched themselves to me as well as Giles, saying things like, “We here at Snow Puff Pastries operate by the same mission of perseverance and dedication that your project represents” and “Hi, I’m the owner of Carolyn’s Cakes, and I just want to say how inspiring I find what you’re doing.” These appeals didn’t affect me as much as they did Francis, in whom they brought out a rage I had never before witnessed. 

“Shut the fuck up,” he told one of them, right to her face. I peered down the stairwell in time to see her rearrange her initial shock into a smile. 

“Francis!” I said. “Apologize to her.” 

He whirled on me. “These people don’t actually give a fuck about Dad’s stupid project, only their own agenda.” 

Of course, I knew this, but I appreciated the extra congratulatory words and friendly smiles their soliciting brought to my day. 

“Apologize.” 

“Ma’am, I caught word of what you’re being charged for sugar, and I just want to offer —” 

I made my way down the stairs, told her thank you, we’d consider, and explained that Francis was applying for college and very stressed. She wished him luck. 

Day by day, it got colder, and production intensified. Such a spectacle was never seen in our little Michigan town; it even seemed to dwarf the Thanksgiving county carnival, which was usually the biggest event in November. I was worried about the wind blowing the house over, with the way it bent the tent poles to its will, beating the plasticky fabric so relentlessly that its whip-like cracks never seemed to leave my ears, but I needn’t have. The higher the walls were built, the more imposing the actual building appeared. Giles and Paris, it seemed, had done their research. 

The house taking shape before my eyes was a saccharine mirror of the one I’d raised my children in, and I could already envision where Abby’s room, the living room, the upstairs bathroom would be. Its foundation was made of a thick, sugary cement, the precise ingredients of which I was unaware. Rather than being constructed out of sheets of sweets, like a boxed gingerbread house, the walls were made of massive cinderblocks of solid toffee mortared together by more of the sugary mixture. Every piece of it was edible, and even the plumbing was made of hollow rods of sugarcane. The tiles were hard candy, the insulation a mixture of popcorn and marshmallow. The windows, which were the interior’s source of light, were the only discernible flaw. These were made from poured isomalt, and though they were clearer than blown sugar, they were still not ideal for looking out of. Their imperfection was anachronistic, calling to mind the clumsy glass of centuries past, yellowed and translucent, which the Puritans would have watched their neighbors through. 

I checked our bank account, and it remained shockingly stable, so I wasn’t sure where Giles was getting the money to pay for the elaborate construction, but it didn’t particularly matter to me, as long as I had money to go about my life as usual. As it turned out, money was not what prevented me from doing this. 

The fear of running into Paris, who was always around when I least needed her to be, coupled with the constant noise and the kids’ near-constant irritability drove me to spend less and less time around the house, even on weekdays. I wound up making a habit of heading across the street after work, where I watched Elizabeth tend to her precious flock. Curiously, she avoided the topic of the construction whenever we talked now, and I was just gathering up the courage to bring it up myself when she finally mentioned it. 

“The house is coming along nicely.” 

“Thank you. I’m excited to be able to tell people I own two houses.” 

She looked at me, her hands full of feed. “And that one of them is made of candy?” 

“Giles has such ambition, and you know, it really makes people happy.” 

“His ambition makes people happy?” She threw some food to the birds and watched them rush in to peck away at it. 

“What?” 

She brushed the remaining feed off her hands, and then put her hands on her hips. “Nothing. It just seems a little wasteful to me. What will you do when summer comes?” 

I told her Giles was planning on air-conditioning the tent, though the truth was that the question hit me like a punch to the gut, as I had no idea what he was planning on doing upon the dawn of the warmer months. The next time he was present for dinner, I asked him about it. 

“It doesn’t get that hot up here,” he said. “And besides, we’ll install a cooling system in the tent.” 

I frowned. “What about insects?” 

“It won’t be that bad.” 

I imagined Francis scoffing at that. He wasn’t at dinner that night because he was taking the ACT again. A strange resentment for Elizabeth and her peacocks quickened in my breast that night, and I clung to Giles’s words to soothe it. They didn’t want to put forth the effort, they were jealous that we had more going on, that we’d overshadowed their stupid peacock farm, and that was why Elizabeth wasn’t supportive. I tapered my visits to her house from then on, and the more time that passed between them, the more certain I became of her bad intentions. By December, her house was no longer a refuge from the turmoil next door, and every time one of her peacocks’ squawks sounded over the roar of the construction equipment, it strung cold dread through every muscle in my body. 

*** 

Christmas was a melancholy affair which found me in a surprisingly similar mental state to Abby. I tried so hard to enjoy the toffeehouse that I became even more miserable when I couldn’t. We hardly put any lights up, and we were still the most trafficked house on the block. Everyone wanted to show their children Giles’s nearly completed concoction, its pastillage shingles dusted with snow like Paris’s pastries were dusted with powdered sugar. She sent a bright red envelope in the mail a week before the holiday, but rather than open it, I panicked and shoved it to the back of a drawer, spending a good ten minutes trying to calm my heartbeat and convincing myself that I was ill. 

Giles was the only one of us in truly high spirits for the holiday. I was preoccupied with Paris, Francis was exhausted from finishing his college applications, and Abby was grumpy because of the amount of Daddy’s attention the toffeehouse was robbing her of. When I attempted to reassure her, she said something along the lines of, “He doesn’t love me, only that stupid house,” which I was certain she’d picked up from a movie somewhere. 

Just in case she was serious, I commented on it when Giles and I were lying in bed after putting Santa’s presents under the tree. He turned to face me. 

“You’re serious?” 

I told him I was, though the way he asked it made me second-guess myself. When he rolled his eyes, I felt even more foolish. 

“Kath, this house is every kid’s dream. She’s gonna look back on this someday and feel so blessed.” 

“How do you know that?” 

“Think about it. She has something no one else has. Everything edible,” he leaned in close, and the feminine smell of vanilla sugar filled my nose, “including you.” 

That was the end of that conversation. I was never a fan of cunnilingus, but I understood Giles was being generous because of the holiday, so I did my best to enjoy it, though all I could think about was the red envelope Paris had sent me in the mail and, it follows, Paris herself. I fell asleep to a silent stream of self-flagellation. 

*** 

Winter dragged, and more forebodingly thin envelopes arrived in the mail from the admissions committees. With each one, Francis grew quieter, until he became another silent audience member for Giles’s dinnertime lectures. I was grateful for the break from his righteous outbursts, though I feared him not going off to college would mean listening to them for longer. 

By February, the detailing was the only thing preventing the house from being finished, and Giles sat us down for a family meeting. 

“I want us to live by what this house stands for,” he said, referring to the one next door. “What do we all think of moving?” 

Abby started to cry because her room here was pink, and she didn’t want to live in a room that wasn’t. She calmed slightly when Giles informed her all the toffeehouse’s interior walls would be colored with edible paint, and that hers could be pink if she liked. 

In spite of his recent silence, I was appalled that Francis had nothing to say to Giles’s outrageous proposal and spoke up myself. 

“You can’t be serious.” 

“We’ll only take what’s most important to us, to keep the authenticity of the thing. We want most of it to be completely edible.” 

“What about the kids’ electronics? How will I cook?” I had a sneaking sense that my family was being turned into a roadside circus act, but Giles was already getting up. I whirled on Francis. 

“Say something!” I hissed. 

He looked at me with empty grey eyes and followed his father. 

*** 

Francis started talking again when he started helping Giles with the toffeehouse. I never saw him working, only his silhouette behind the tent’s white expanse and the crisscrossing pattern of the barbed wire fence. Because most of the heavy construction was finished, I didn’t hear the noise of power tools or workers, either. Most of them had gone home.  

The extent of what I heard were his exchanges with Giles, in which he was ordered to do something and he affirmed he would do it. This simple obedience seemed to vastly improve his temperament, though it soured mine; my only possible remaining compatriot was an eight-year-old. To make matters worse, the fresh silence reopened itself to the chatter of the peacocks, which had me thinking of Elizabeth day in and day out. 

With Francis always helping Giles, the house, our real house, began to fall into a state of disrepair. He’d spent so much time at home while he was writing his applications that he’d wound up taking on most of the chores, and as such, dishes had always been his domain. Now, in his absence, a monolithic, stinking pile of them began to grow in the sink, which I resolved not to touch when the first plate settled. I had spent my entire childhood doing dishes for the family, so I shouldn’t have to do them now. I thought of asking Abby to do her part, but I was so offended at the fact that I might have to do so that it never happened, and our sink became a landfill of glass and old foodstuffs. Things fell out of order and were never set right, clouds of dust, hair, and crumbs formed in the corners, carpets went unvacuumed, smells remained uninvestigated, and lightbulbs went out, plunging rooms into scattered darkness until our real house was just as unlit as the one made of candy. 

Maybe I would have considered Giles’s proposition of moving if I hadn’t found his newfound self-satisfaction so damn repulsive. After all, even Abby was starting to warm to the toffeehouse, now that its existence was more about candy than construction. Francis had already taken most of his belongings to Goodwill, having selected his few precious necessities that would follow into his next life in his sweetest of residencies, a toffee-flavored tomb. Abby brought a group of friends I hadn’t seen before to take one of the five-dollar tours Giles had begun giving, and instead of bringing them back to her room afterwards, she sent them on their way without setting foot within its pink walls. Maybe because the new one had already been painted. 

I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Was my life worth less, because I didn’t have dreams? Because I didn’t want to “go places?” Was it not my right to live modestly, to not do anything before I died, to suppress every outlandish urge my foul mind could drive me towards which would require me to step outside routine? How utterly repulsive, to question the way things were. Giles had corrupted my children, filled their minds with the idea that what I could provide them with wasn’t good enough, turned them against me to fuel his own ego, and I hated him for it. I hated the Robertsons and their peacocks, and I especially, deeply, hated Paris. 

The first spring floods were coming in when I saw her next. We were on high ground, so I wasn’t overly concerned about Giles’s project washing away, but on the weekends, I still wandered over to the window now and again to check and see if it was there. Only its shadow was visible behind the translucent walls of the tent, and my heart lurched several times when I convinced myself that this was only an illusion, and the toffeehouse was, in fact, gone. After each fit passed, I wandered away into the darkened house and waited for my thumping, irritable heart to slow before the urge for stimulation drew me back to the window again. 

On a quiet Saturday in May, I stopped by the window yet again only to find that my temporary absence had provided enough time for a car to pull up without my knowledge. Paris had parked her Toyota on the muddy curb, and now stood in front of Giles’s project in apparent contemplation. 

I stormed away into the depths of the house, half-enraged and half-terrified. What business did she think she had, showing up here? She was probably just there to gloat, to see her new best friend, my husband. Her best customer. 

When I wandered back to the window, she hadn’t moved. I strained my ears, but couldn’t hear Giles and Francis, or anyone for that matter. There was only the whistling of the wind, restless and threatening rain. 

I would feel so stupid, if I went out there only to find that Giles, and Francis, and God knows who else were out there, and it had simply been too loud to hear them. That would make me feel foolish. I couldn’t bear them watching me talk to Paris. Yes, I wouldn’t go out to see her. 

I was content with this plan until I remembered the old red envelope from last Christmas, sitting at the back of my drawer. Staying inside and not having the satisfaction of going out and handing it to her trumped my fear of being seen, and I found myself stepping out into the wind, my shawl billowing out behind me like a cloak. Across the street, the peacocks fretted, their tails ruffled by the oncoming storm. 

She noticed me just a moment too late for my comfort, and I felt unimportant as I handed her back the forbidden envelope. 

“What’s this?” she asked, a corner of her mouth twitching upwards. She looked so young and alive. Speaking to her made me feel like a rotting corpse. 

“Something of yours.” 

She stared at the envelope for a moment, and I clarified, “You sent it for Christmas.” 

Taking out a small knife, she slit the envelope open and retrieved a glossy photograph. In it, she was smiling next to a woman with glasses, a blue-eyed husky between them. 

“My girlfriend did Christmas cards.” 

Did. Past tense because Christmas was months ago, or because the girlfriend was no longer around? The toffeehouse loomed above us, its tent whipping around it in the warm, spring wind. It looked more like a jailhouse than a home of any kind, with no light behind its sugared windows. Its mortar, once the pure white of sugar, was now greyish with grit, and I imagined it would repulse any tongue it touched. I wondered if Giles and Francis had set up the cooling system yet. It didn’t look like it. 

“It’s impressive, what Giles has accomplished,” I said. 

Her gaze was heavy. 

“There’s nothing impressive about it.” 

I didn’t feel vindicated, hearing it. Only sick. I looked at her. 

“Pardon?” 

“Well,” she said, “anyone with money can pay workers to build something for them.” 

“Giles designed it himself.” 

“And look how it turned out.” 

I snorted. Its cast sugar gutters were more functional than ours, and that was saying something, considering they’d melt at the first touch of water.  

“I’m sorry the architecture isn’t up to your standards.” 

“My standards don’t matter.” She appeared to struggle for a moment, then continued, “I never saw you out there during construction. Did you and Giles even talk about what you want in all this?” 

“I’ve never wanted anything,” I said. 

*** 

I checked our joint bank balance again, but as always, it was like nothing outside of our usual expenses had occurred. Though it was on my mind, I refused to actively consider whether Paris was closer to Giles than I’d thought, and was somehow eating the expenses. When Giles finally returned home at the end of the day, the rain was coming down in sheets, and he immediately engaged Francis in discussing a wedding ceremony that was to take place at the toffeehouse in a few months. I interrupted them. 

“Can we talk?” 

Abby seemed to sense my tone and darted off to her room while Francis stalked away to the basement. Giles, meanwhile, positioned himself as a soldier awaiting orders, adopting an easy, wide stance and a blank stare. 

“Where did all this money come from?” 

“Money?” 

“How did you pay for this house to get built?” 

“Kath, it’s making us a ton of money —” 

“I’m not seeing any changes in our bank account.” 

“Then what are you complaining about?” 

“I’m complaining because I don’t know what I’ve sacrificed to —” 

“It was mine.” 

Francis had reappeared. 

“What?” I asked. 

“I didn’t get into college, so we used that.” 

We. Like it was as much his idea as Giles’s. I turned to my husband. 

“How could you let him do this?” 

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Francis continued. “Not everyone wants something big from life. I don’t want to go to college and be a physicist. I just want to live simply. Is that too much to ask?” 

A great crack from outside plunged all three of us into silence. 

“No.” The look of terror on Giles’s face robbed him of all the borrowed youth the project had offered him, and for a brief second, I watched Francis’s suppressed rage rekindle and sputter behind his eyes. 

I followed them out into the storm in time to see the tent’s white mass lift into the sky like a great, prehistoric bird taking flight. Giles and Francis shouted in tandem, racing to their masterpiece. The rain made the trek next door into an odyssey, and it seemed like I followed the sounds of their anguish for minutes, a nervous Abby at my tail. 

Mortar melted in great streams of sugary white, mingling with the mud as it ran down from the house’s foundation to my feet. Shingles morphed, windows dissolved, and I watched from behind my husband and son as the rain poured on, the springtime air sticky sweet with mist and toffee. Giles fell to his knees, and Francis roared. After a few more moments of silent watching, I left them to the downfall, and returned to the house with Abby, whom I asked if she would like to go to the bakery. 


L.N. Loch is a 22-year-old student and writer. She adores reading and storytelling of most kinds, but especially draws inspiration for her fiction from the dustier corners of literary canon. She lives in the Midwestern United States.

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