Sometimes he could almost stand to be away from the house. He might take a walk.
Shadows lay short but deep as he stepped out onto the porch of the crumbling red Arts and Crafts in the middle of the block. Across the street stood Mrs. Falciani’s immaculate Arts and Crafts No More, clad in flavorless vinyl with a vicious chain link fence blockading the pool-and-shed infested backyard. Nobody swam in the pool. The shed was never opened. Poor Mrs. Falciani spoke to no one but the lame man who mowed her grass and shoveled her walk.
He dipped a toe into the chilly sunlight splashing against the cool cement steps. Cars grumbled in the clear afternoon distances of mysterious directions. Somewhere a door slammed. Of course he had his own map of the street, the neighborhood and surrounding area. The motionless waves of unfamiliar houses flanking swiftly running streets had all been charted in the unencumbered days before their invisible menace had slowly made itself known. There was a coffee shop he used to pass, filled with slanting shadows and placidly smoking patrons. That would be easy to find. He’d always wanted to go in, to smell the pleasant smoke and watch the coffee steaming in a trapezoid of light spread across the table.
Hadn’t he spied Mrs. Falciani there, maybe before she was a widow?
The library; that should do nicely. It was closer than the unattainable coffee shop and easy to enter. No method of travel was as safe as books and the children were usually quiet enough…
A car came purring down the street. He knew something was out of place before he saw it.
No, not the library he reasoned vaguely, wondering about the approaching car. He couldn’t go there today because… because…
Nervous fists began to sweat as the car stopped at the house across the street. Two women in their late twenties got out, their conversation echoing like the muted chirps of birds in trees too far away to see. It was none of his business.
The library was the wrong place because he was not in the mood to read. That was that.
Now the sunlight surrounded him, burning his short deep shadow into the flagstone walk. The sounds of the neighborhood ran together like the whoosh and gurgle of the breakers at Ocean City, where most people found memories of fun and romance but he remembered the undertow.
Maybe he could just go once around the block.
With each step along the tiny flagstone walk the pounding of the motionless sunlit surf grew stronger. The sidewalk swept fiercely past his feet; it was the boundary of the great abyss.
He had almost decided not to care if he drowned when the house across the street opened its door. There stood Mrs. Falciani and her two daughters, laughing like the shameless birds, perfectly at home in the rushing, glittering abyss. She was radiant and the hateful ease which carried her to the waiting car froze every blossoming flower.
Viewing her across the mightiest of oceans, cursing everything and everybody, he turned his back as she smiled and waved. He gave himself no reasons. His many fires had ceased their battles for supremacy and smoldered in simple, purposeless confusion.
Enough was enough. The house called and he came, making his way with his own hateful ease through the sun edged splendor of the finest of days, retreating once more to the wall at the edge of the world.
“Chuchundra” first appeared in Bewildering Stories issue 389, June 28, 2010