Loading...

“Heritage House,” by Emily McKay

Ladybug sketch

The bodies of ladybugs are scattered throughout the house, withering into wings that still shine through coats of dust, like drops of rusty old blood allowed to dry exactly as they fell. No one has been here to grind them into paprika or bury them under the many overlapping rugs, or build any tombs. No one has broken Rutledge’s curse or admitted to believing in it. The house is in-the-family but the nearest neighbor is a wolf sanctuary on the next Appalachian ridge.

I lost my job in October and no one minded that I came here because no one was here. You can always fall back on family, especially if they’re away. I wouldn’t be long though, just needed a rent-free space while I looked for the next thing.

I perch my empty suitcase on the spiral stack of old suitcases at the foot of the spiral stair. None of them look like mine, they are dusty, they are cracked, they are crocodile, they are unrelatable and unrepeatable, they are shades of green and yellow that nobody wants anymore.

Some ladybug wings lie single and apart and glow when the window brightens, then dim in unison like gaslight.

As I turn in bed the first night, the corner of the blanket sweeps the floor and they snag their way up and across the wooly fibers, and by morning the dotted shards suspend themselves in my jungely bob of hair. There must have been an infestation once, it could have been a decade ago, could have been last week.

There’s no hot water except what I can boil on the stove, so I keep still to never sweat, never bathe. There is no one to speak to, report to, no one to impress. The stillness feels like the only way to be, the only way to ever have been, and it was just a fluke that I ever worked and smiled forty hours a week. Forty hours is too vast a period for the human brain to comprehend. I fold myself into the blanket on the overstuffed yellow armchair in the corner of the living room. Century-old chairs and couches line the walls, and footstools crowd the middle of the room like the black eye of a susan. No one can walk between them anymore. Great Uncle Rutledge—or my great great, or plain uncle braided into the family yarn? He said everything he put here has to stay here, always, and after he died, the family still listened. They even seemed to add more—I could swear that leather ottoman is new. Great Uncle Barlow thought this was bullshit and he died of a heart attack while throwing boxes of lavender soap out the barn window.

I don’t go into the barn. It’s full of blacksnakes, and even if they’re all hibernating deep in the barn by now, their paper lanterns of shed skin hover everywhere with clear eyes. Between the endless stuffed trunks and planks and piles of muted copper kettles are intractable flashes of the story my father told me as a kid, so casually it was almost involuntarily: a barn beam, barn beam somewhere, broke under the weight of his homestrung noose when he was eight years old, after the news of his father’s boozy suicide in an empty field, field emptied somewhere in New York. I wouldn’t know where, I wouldn’t go there, and I don’t go into the barn.

From my yellow chair I see a pinprick of red wriggling in a spider’s web in the fireplace, though the spider is dead.

From my orange chair I see three huddled ladybugs painted into the pale green wall. The paint is chipping and the wood underneath is damp, liver-purple.

From my green chair I see under my yellow chair, inching ecosystem of dust and contracted legs.

I sleep a few hours and wake with only the aim of sleeping a few hours.

I sleep a few hours and listen to the house for a few hours. I think I can hear it sinking for a few hours, for a few hours I can hear the waxing asymmetricality.

I sleep a few hours and I spring out of bed, pointing a flashlight around the house, peering inside the suitcases, inside the trinket boxes, inside the doll houses and the old wine crates. I open all the tiny doors and I open all the drawers in all the cabinets and bureaus and pantries. Rust and mahoghany, burgundy and vivid living beating tip-toe red. Is it an infestation if it never stops, if this is its home city?

I find a bottle of whisky from the seventies. Excellent. Finally. Sometimes I give up drinking, for up to nine days at a time, and it’s incredibly easy. I sleep well and lose weight and feel purposeful and energetic, and I wonder why I don’t do this all the time. Not-drinking is my superpower. And then I drink, and drinking is my superpower, and I sleep a few hours.

Who would have drunk the first quarter-bottle, who was here? There’s an old bottle of gin too, but it’s left a grimy line around its middle, so I put that one back. Two ladybugs sneak out between the panels over to the silverware drawer. I uncap and sniff the whisky as the label flakes in my hand: sweet, and a little buttery, potent. Probably fine.

How beautiful is the closed door of the heritage house, from the inside. The front door is the most beautiful door, I find, closing them all again, to be sure. Yes, it is the only door I can really rest my face on, and sort of hug.

I do not have and do not require any concept of what today was, or what yesterday. Today dies now in these no longer memorable spirits, today just another tired rabbit out of the magic hat.

For you too, ceiling, I feel so much affection. When you finally burst out from under your layers of mold and old rain, I will stare into a dimmer, further ceiling.

And all the magic rabbits scatter as you descend, become wild through the empty door and windowframes, even the hexagons in the wallpaper untessellate like beetles, shaking loose toward the moon.

I should be more hurt, and we should all be more hurt, always, holding our blood knuckle-white until it lets us go.

In the morning the windows frost on both sides and I wrap myself in a fringed Mexican blanket and I am heavy and slow. I wrap myself in an ivy-patterned blanket and I am heavier and slower. I wrap myself in a purple quilt and I am heavy, heavier, slow, slow, slow. There are more and more blankets, with crucially distinct textures and sizes and patterns and histories and social functions and psychological effects, I need them all and I have them, and I do not need to be any shape anymore, under here.

About the Author:

Emily McKay is a Creative Writing MLitt graduate of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she studied and then worked as a cheesemonger for seven years. Her short memoir, fiction, and poetry have been published in Glimmer Train (Issue 95), Shenandoah (Vol. 63, No. 1), and Welsh poetry journal Zarf (Issue 2), respectively. She has recently moved to Tallahassee, FL, where she works at a veterinarian’s office and focuses on poetry and short fiction.

Special Note:

This piece was selected as part of the “Dis/appearances” theme, guest edited by Matt Tompkins, author of Souvenirs and Other Stories and Studies in Hybrid Morphology.

Image Credit: © cat_arch_angel – stock.adobe.com

Our 2015 “Best of the Net” Nominees

We’ve submitted our 2015 nominations for the Sundress Publications anthology, Best of the Net. This year’s nominees are Benjamin Allocco’s “Spider and John Englehardt’s “This Is Great But You Don’t Need It.”

Benjamin Allocco lives and teaches in Upstate New York. His work has been published in The Fanzine, The Conium Review, Fiction Southeast, and Prick of the Spindle.

Follow him on Twitter @benjaminallocco.

John Englehardt has an MFA in fiction from the University of Arkansas. He won the 2014 Wabash Prize in Fiction, and his work has been published in Sycamore Review, The StrangerThe James Franco Review, The Monarch Review, and Monkeybicycle. Currently, he edits fiction for Pacifica Literary Review, and is a fellow at The Richard Hugo House in Seattle.

Naturally, this was a tough decision. There were many deserving pieces published on our site in the past year. In fact, we arrogantly think our whole damn website deserves anthologization or some sort of prize (we can provide a gold-medal-sized SASE upon request). Two other favorites that were heavily considered for nomination are Ingrid Jendrzejewski’s “The Box of Skinny Women and Jinny Koh’s “Fish Head.”

“Spider,” by Benjamin Allocco

Spider Sketch

There’s a spider where my engine should be. It was never a special engine. A ’97 Jeep Grand Cherokee and whatever kind of engine they have. Six cylinders, I guess. I’m not a mechanic. I need a ride to work. The spider’s curled up, nested like a giant fist under the hood.

I text Sherry. She texts me back. She’s upstairs about to take a bath. I text that it’s the middle of the day. She doesn’t text again.

I knock on Hal’s door in the next townhome. He answers in his bathrobe holding a clear mug of coffee. Through the side you can see tan granules of sugar swirling. “Tim,” he says. Gray hair all feathered to his skull like he just woke up.

“You know cars, right?” I say.

He shrugs. “Thirty years ago, maybe.”

I show him what’s under my hood.

“How about that,” he says. “It’s a spider. Part of the Lycosidae family, I think.” The eyes are the size of bowling balls. Hal pokes one. The mandibles twitch. He wipes the finger on his robe. “Yeah. Your engine’s missing.”

We stare at the spider until work calls to tell me I’m late.

I thank Hal, slam the hood, and run inside to swipe Sherry’s keys from the hook.

*

This job is boring. I use an automated die press to cut out labels. Stickers and tags and that sort of thing. Line it up and set the speed. They fly by all colors. The machine keeps track by counting tiny black tick marks on either side of the roll. I have no idea how many labels I’ve done by now. More than a billion. At the end of my shift I can’t remember what a single one looked like, but they’re shipped in their brown boxes to whoever.

*

I climb the stairs and flick on the light to see that the spider has plastered its fat abdomen over our entertainment center. Completely covers the screen. The legs flayed out, butting against the ceiling like a tangle of furry arms. I have to watch something or I won’t be able to sleep. I settle into the couch and hit the remote. The sound’s all muffled and whatever’s onscreen lights the spider’s belly like underglow. I turn it off.

Sherry’s in bed, but I text her anyway.

I take a night stroll to the mailbox at the end of the street.

Two bills and a credit card offer.

I let myself back in. The spider’s not there anymore, but neither is the screen.

The office door’s open.

Inside, the spider’s upside down on the floor, legs shriveled up like a mummified monkey paw. I toe it. Like a bundle of dry leaves—almost weightless.

Something moves behind me. Sound like very wet lips smacking together. I turn.

*

Ten in the morning. Sherry’s still in bed. The Internet repair guy’s here. He puts his hands on his hips and cocks his head. “That big white sack is full of babies,” he says. He means baby spiders, I think.

“I thought so.”

“It’s right over your laptop screen, and the wire running through the wall. You said you have cable and Internet?”

“The Mach Six package.”

“I’d say this is your mama spider.” He gestures at the dead one. He’s wearing plastic slipcovers over his boots.

I nod.

“I’m not sure what to do here.” He takes a seat on the spider’s mouth. “Between you and me, it’s the government.”

I raise my eyebrows extra high. “The government.”

“They’ve got their hands in everything.”

“They do.” I’m putting him on.

He wipes the tip of his nose with his inner elbow. “It’s all rigged. Everything.”

I nod enthusiastically.

Walking him out, I broach canceling our service but the Mach Six comes with a hefty termination fee.

*

“Don’t try to do it yourself,” Sherry says. “What do you know about spiders?”

I’ve dug the baseball bat out of the garage. Haven’t held it in years. It’s wooden, dented but still shiny. “I tried calling people.”

She ambles back to the kitchen to finish her bagel.

The sack has taken up half of the room by now. Shapes inside like sleeping cats.

I imagine it’ll tear like cotton candy. But when I swing, the bat just splats and sticks there, half submerged. I pry. No use.

The sack has a pulse.

The dead spider has begun to fester. The knuckle of one leg’s been swallowed by the sack. Something must have a hold on it because it starts to slide in.

The bat has already been absorbed.

I sit at the table, across from Sherry. She has a mouth full of bagel. Her eyes say, Well?

“I give up.”

She swallows. “It’ll take its course.” She’s all that keeps me going.

In another room, something explodes.

About the Author:

Benjamin Allocco lives and teaches in Upstate New York. His short fiction has appeared in Prick of the Spindle and Fiction Southeast. You don’t know him, but he thinks you’re pretty alright and would like to hear from you more. Tweet at him here: @BenjaminAllocco

Special Note:

This story is one of The Conium Review‘s nominations for the Sundress Publications anthology, Best of the Net 2015.

Image Credit: © macrovector / Dollar Photo Club