House is the story of a house that picks itself up off the ground and walks across town.
Then one day the 1926 two story white house with the green shutters at 4224 Whipple Lane—in that green, affluent suburb with the wide winding roads—tugged its foundation from the ground, scattering clumps of dark brown earth and roots, and began moving down the broad road, soon to be lost from view. The house’s family, when they returned from the mall, were quite surprised.
Little chunks of concrete and wood cracked off the house’s foundation as the house ambled down the road that led to the port. Inside the house, a clear glass vase on a hall table shook, and the vase’s water spilled out onto the glossy hardwood floors. The irises and petunias inside the glass trembled and shook, and the grandfather clock, which nearly always kept the wrong time, gonged in protestation. But with a mighty, creaking shrug of its wings, the house yawned through its windows, sucking fresh air through musty passageways. The air was salty from the sea, and the house’s windows drew up and down slowly, as if deeply inhaling. Chips of paint flecked off the sills and the bottoms of the windows, the curtains flapped and stretched themselves, and the fluttering blinds sounded like tambourines as they flexed in the warmth of the summer sun.
The house turned down wide, two-laned Maple Street, a quaint residential road whose houses butted up against one another like the apartments of New York City and whose yards seemingly were the size of postage stamps. At the far end of Maple Street was a cul-de-sac, and beyond the cul-de-sac lay a small grassy hill, a fisherman’s wharf, and the gently lapping ocean. The house continued along Maple, and the house moved so noiselessly and unobtrusively that, despite its colossal mass and concrete foundation, not even a man reading a newspaper at the Maple & 8th street bus stop noticed the house pass. When the house was not more than ten feet in front of him, the man, who was immersed in an article on Pennsylvania football, let a page of the newspaper dip and, for a moment, seemed to have discovered the house which moved blithely by. But the man picked up the drooping page, ruffled the paper, and continued reading, not any more aware of his circumstances than he was a moment before.
Further down the road, the house’s oven door fell open, and the scent of burnt casserole wafted out while crumbs of blackened crust pattered to the ground. The refrigerator door swung wide, and the cheese drawer fell open to reveal a healthy wheel of Gouda and three quarters of a cold salami. Shaking from the movement of the house, the milk sloshed in its plastic gallon jug, the zucchinis rolled onto the floor, and two half cut lemons gently bumped the side of the refrigerator. A woman beating her rug against her third floor balcony railing threw her hand to her mouth. The rug slid from her hands and fell at her feet. It wasn’t until the house had nearly passed her balcony that the woman recovered her voice, yet when she found it, she screamed so loudly that even her deaf neighbor shuddered, and the man reading the newspaper four blocks away pulled up his head, frowning in curious mystification.
In an instant, many of the windows were full of gasping faces. Doors opened. Men in slippers and women in curlers flooded into Maple Street, crowding the sidewalks as if a parade were passing. Simultaneously, a bus pulled into the station on 8th and Maple and, when the passengers discerned what was happening, the bus emptied, and the driver turned off the heavy diesel engine, descended, and locked the bus’ doors. The family who owned the house had followed the trail of cement, roots, and broken two by fours, and now they stopped their car a few blocks away, merging with the crowd that was following their house.
A woman with a big black camera which had an enormous flash strode up to the house, contorted her body and drew the camera to her eye. Every time she shot a photo, the people nearby blinked in stupefaction and had what seemed to be an eternal after-image from the blast of the flash. Onlookers began packing together more tightly, jockeying for the superlative view. With flashing red and blue lights, police began slowly motoring through the crowd of pedestrians, who parted like the Red Sea. The police dug barriers out of their car trunks, set the barriers parallel to the sidewalks, and formed lines to keep the crowds confined to the sidewalk.
“Move on back!” yelled an officer, shooing people back to the sidewalk like they were chickens. A family—bustling, grabbing their children’s wrists, and quickly counting to make sure all their children were present—moved back to the sidewalk. “Oh God, John,” said a woman with a baby in her arms and another six or seven year old with curly blonde hair held by the wrist, “I’ve just realized I forgot to take my birth control this morning.”
Staring up at the house, holding a three year old over his shoulder, and calling to a nine year old boy, John replied, “Not the first time… Lord, would you look at that house move!”
Dogs whimpered at the sight of the house, running off with tails tucked between their legs and casting pitiful looks over their shoulders. A girl limped behind the line of people, holding her father’s hand and pointing at the house. The father of the girl, a man with a short cinnamon beard, hairy forearms, and a bag of supplies slung over his free shoulder observed the house in silence while listening to his girl.
Past the cul-de-sac on the wharf, an enterprising vendor was selling fresh-caught shrimp out of his stall when he saw the house approaching his stand.
“You lazy shrub,” said the vendor to the pimply fifteen year old who worked for him. “Go out and tell those people to buy shrimp from me. There’s two thousand people lining those streets, and I’ve got seventy-five pounds of jumbo shrimp to sell. Can’t you see the business? Can’t you do the math?”
The boy saw the people, all of whom were focusing only on the house that was moving quietly down Maple. “I don’t think they’re hungry,” he observed.
Cursing filthily, the shrimper picked the boy up with a hand that only had four fingers, set the boy outside the stand, and kicked him to the ground with all his might, “Do I pay you to use your mouth or do I pay you to work?! Work!”
Picking himself up off the splintered, soggy boards of the wooden wharf and rabbiting away, the pimply fifteen-year old cast fearful glances over his shoulder as he hawked, “Fresh shrimp, fresh shrimp!”
In the crowds, a preacher nudged his wife and mentioned that the house was a parallel to the parable of the prodigal son. “That house… It’ll come back,” the preacher reassured her, and she nodded absently, her mouth agape at the sight of the moving house. A group of construction workers, greasy and unshaven, with thick arms and suntanned skin came over to watch the house.
“Huh,” observed one. “Wonder what happened to its plumbing?”
“Beats me,” replied a tall worker with jet black hair, “Probably broke it off. Whoever laid that foundation did a hell of a job, though, I can tell you that. Look at how fast that house is moving—you don’t have a house that moves that fast with a poor foundation.”
“Yep,” nodded the foreman. “You got that right.”
The sounds of conversation mixed and buzzed through the air, and the people followed the house’s path, making guesses as to where it was going, why it was moving, and how it moved at all.
“I know how it works,” said a fellow with short brown hair and brown eyes, nodding his head up and down and pointing at the house’s foundation. “There’s a motor in the kitchen of the first floor—there! you can almost see it through the window there—and that motor powers the wheels of the house which you can’t see because they’re hidden behind that concrete foundation. I know that much for sure. My only question is, why didn’t I think of it first?”
On the other side of the road, near the preacher and his wife, the wife in the family who owned the house spoke in rapid, rainy tones to her husband, “It’s my fault, isn’t it? I never cleaned the bathroom enough, and I just knew that something would happen—”
“Beatrice!” exclaimed her husband, nearly in a shout, “You didn’t know anything like that would happen. How many times do I have to tell you not to kick yourself for things that aren’t your fault?”
“I knoooow,” Beatrice whined mournfully, “But I just think that if we had treated the house better, it might still be where it belongs?”
Her husbands lips tightened and he shook his head.
“Bill!” said Beatrice, “Are you mad at me?”
“No,” he answered, his tone clipped and short. “I just think it’s silly that you think a house getting up and walking off is your fault. And I kind of wonder where it’s going, that’s all.”
“I can’t help overhearing you,” said the preacher, “But I can tell you, whereever that house is going, it’s sure to come back.”
Soon enough, the house came to the cul-de-sac at the end of Maple drive. A small hill lay to the house’s left, about a quarter of a mile away, and straight in front of the house—just past the end of the cul-de-sac and the fisherman’s wharf—lay the broad ocean. At the cul-de-sac the house veered from its path and climbed to the zenith of the small hill, where sailors and citizens backed out of its way. The house circled partway around, so that its back doors commanded a vista of the ocean, and its front faced the people and their town, and there, with a resounding thump, the house settled.