Story – A Couple of Doors Down



A couple of doors down the street, there’s a guy who’s dead. He was that way for a while, dead, but nobody knew. He hardly showed his face before that. He was around but not around. The background on him was that he had been an architect, moderate to OK successful in his time, who had retired some long while back. Since then he had just stuck to himself and his four walls. Four walls in a high four story house.


He went urban hermit and eccentric. Besides not showing up on the street much, it was noted he did not throw stuff away, no trash, no nothing. He burnt his waste in mini-bonfires in his smallish back yard. The most nearby of neighbors got a whiff of it, week after week and went and rang his bell to complain, but he was now pretty much entrenched and hole up and he didn’t come to the door. So the local city authorities fielded the incoming complaints, eventually showing up with their slow power to settle issues and rang the bell of the front door. No one came to the door. They insisted, as only those in authority can. Finally, the door did get open after they yelled they were the police through the letter slot. A scrawny aging man stood before them, in un-ironed, somewhat stained clothes and he took the heat silently, only quietly saying that his burning of trash would not be repeated.


The fires ceased, but still no trash appeared in the street to be hauled away on appointed, weekly days. Unknown to all, he began keeping his crap and the trash in his five-room cellar and left it there. Various vermin began to call it home.


Some rumored that he had family, a couple of daughters somewhere, but he had chased them away with some letters he had written, the severe content of which kept him isolated from family ties. Which was what he seemed to want.


Very occasionally he was spotted going out to get some food locally. He dragged it behind him on a little board with two creaky wheels he pulled with a cord. Some neighbors, the same ones who would “smell something” coming from the house once in a while, said hello, and the architect nodded at first, then gave up even that after a time.


He went his way and everyone else did too.


What types of buildings his architectural mind had been responsible for in the past were unknown, but evidently he had been semi-successful, enough to buy a big roomy house and slum his last years away.


Until he hadn’t been seen around for a while and people began to smell something. Curious questions were traded between neighbors.


“When was the last time you’ve seen him?”


Same answer came back after a pause for thought, like trying to remember if you had ever seen a ghost.


“Not for a while.”





Once more, the authorities were called, ones with different responsibilities. Ones that came to knock and knock again. Then reinforcement authorities showed up, cop-types who could break the lock on the front door and walk in. They stepped in the house then stepped back out.


The stench was wicked, and the first two things these authorities saw were three piles of papers reaching up to a tall man’s nose, and a couple of startled rats skedaddling away.


The authorities gathered some breath in their lungs and went in. The whole place, every wall, every floor, every nook, every cranny, had stuff, had trash, had piles, had junk, had material, had empty food containers, had mounds of dust, had broken objects, had all this and more, everywhichwhere. They could only move through the whole house sideways, sucking in their stomachs, taking tiny ladylike steps between and around piles of things and piles of stuff.


Four floors of this. At the top, the street hermit aka retired architect was discovered. Unfortunately, the rats, which had had a population explosion over the months, maybe years, had been picnicking off his body for a while. Mostly the soft, moist places, face, groin. He had ended as rat snacks.


The authorities called in other authorities. Body packing authorities. Later, rat-killers came to clear out the riffraff. Everyone in the neighborhood were informed to lock their doors, closed their chimneys and windows, shut everything up because the rats would probably be abandoning that particular ship shortly. Food supply gone and chemicals sprayed, rats move on.


The house stands empty and crumbling as the city decides what to do with it. The door is and has been rotting through. The windows are impenetrable with dust. It’s inert, empty, just full of a single mysterious ex-life of sketchy details.


The neighborhood’s been pretty ordinary for a while now. Except for the homeless lady with the scabs on her legs who stands at different locations on the street depending on the time of day, smoking half a cigarette and keeping to herself and her three bulging plastic bags, sometimes vomiting through the grates in the street or yelling at the stones of passive buildings. Everyone on the block is pretending not to pay much attention to her now.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “Story – A Couple of Doors Down”

  1. marc nash says:

    Rats move on but this old guy didn’t. Is the bag lady one of his daughters perchance?

  2. Isabel Walsh says:

    Very moving Vincent. I felt I was in that house,saw everything and worse smelled it too.

  3. Nicole Baillieul says:

    Anonimity of big cities, people we pass by and ignore …wondering what’s going to happen to the bag lady…she doesn’t even have a house to hide behind trash!

  4. brainhazewp says:

    Wow – nice story. The bag lady could be his daughter, or perhaps the house has become something of a hermit magnet – either way, its s shame the people on the street haven’t learned from their previous mistakes and offered an ear or lending hand

  5. Don says:

    nothing like a crowd to hide in…
    not an uncommon situation in cities (or country also…)but here beautifully and soberly described.
    Well, “people are funnier than anybody” (was it JB Shaw who said/wrote that ?)

  6. Peter Newman says:

    There’s something compelling about the dispassionate way you tell this rather sad story. Nice work, sir.

  7. Jane Steen says:

    This rings all too true…here in the respectable Chicago suburbs there are regular news stories about houses filled with trash from floor to ceiling, sometimes inhabited by 50,000 cats, sometimes not. Sometimes the situation is discovered because the trash has fallen on top of one of the resident people.

    We haven’t had a fatality for a while.

    I will think of your architect next time I resent putting the trash out because it’s Bob’s job and he always seems to slip out of doing it.

Leave a Reply

*

Comment Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree