A Stab at Flash Fiction…Sort Of

This story is based on a real-life escapade of my beloved Aunt, who passed on a few years ago – just after her new house was built. I loved the old farmhouse, and was saddened that it was beyond repair and had to be dismantled. “Skin” is fictionalized only in the sense that I don’t remember all of the details of my Aunt’s life (did she work at Sears or Montgomery Ward or was it another department store? Was the computer at Harris Bank? I didn’t record the stories, and so my mind is fuzzy about much of what she told me), and can’t really know what her thoughts were. And names have been changed. But I certainly remember her scowl as she told me, “I should have been born a boy!”

Skin

Bonnie Jepperson Vesely

It was time for the walls to come down.

Martha had moved the blue hydrangeas, the day lilies and every other bulb or shrub that could be smothered by falling debris, moved them from the farmhouse over to her Hopewell house, where she could care for them properly while the new house was being built here. When the yardwork was finished, she’d reluctantly gone indoors and begun moving out furniture, salvaging fixtures, woodwork, countertops, everything that could be pried loose. She’d made quick work of it, because she never could stand being indoors. Should have been born a boy. Her muscles were strong and wiry, hips narrow, skin in the summer as tan as any cowboy.

Long ago, she’d had a couple of indoor jobs – a bookkeeping position at Sears, then she’d worked for Harris Bank using one of the first computers, just after the war, after Max had come home and married her. Now there was a story for these youngsters, with their talk of laptops and gigabytes. That early computer had filled half the room.

But after her son was born, she’d become a stay at home mother, like all the other Moms, except not. She couldn’t abide a life of tasks done within four walls, sweeping rugs and arranging furnishings, following the fashion of throwing out and buying new every few years. Old was perfectly good, generally better. She worked in the garden, planted flowers, hounded flea markets and filled the house with piles of bargains: you never knew what might come in handy someday.

She’d raised her boy, who was labeled “slow,” though exactly what was slow about him she couldn’t tell you. Jack’s speech was a little different, like someone who was deaf, maybe, and he couldn’t keep track of his spending – she still had to watch him at the flea markets – but he could read and write well enough. Kept up with the sports scores – he especially loved Dallas, mostly because of those cheerleaders. He understood politics as well as anyone, took to driving like a moonshiner takes to whiskey. Hardest worker they had in maintenance down at the post office, everyone liked him. Mowed the grass and helped out on the farm. He was fiercely affectionate, had a gift for kindness and generosity.

“So where’s the ‘slow’ in all that?” she’d asked Max, when he complained about the boy’s shortcomings.

Now Max had died and she could only keep up with so much; she’d worn herself out caring for him in that last year. Even replaced her old wringer washer with an automatic, because washing all the bedding had got to be too hard. She couldn’t keep up with farming anymore, so now just rented out the fields. It was worth a good amount – she’d leave Jack in fine shape one of these days, had already found an honest lawyer to help him manage it. But she still had her gardens at both homes. For Saturday night dinners with her sister-in-law’s crowd, she could contribute cucumbers and tomatoes, apples and rhubarb and blackberries.

Who needed two houses, though? Like needing two bodies. One was enough to keep up with, and she liked being out here, in the quiet of the country without neighbors to worm their way into her home and goggle at the stacks of flea market bargains. The cost of bringing the farmhouse up to code and making it livable was outrageous, and there was no point in spending a big bite of Jack’s inheritance, so the Hopewell house was going on the market. She’d build a nice, new place for them here. Had hoped to do the building herself, as well as the demolition, but regulations were a maze these days; she’d need to eat her disgust and hire a contractor to do the construction come spring.

But the plants were moved and crops were in, winter was coming and it was time to begin the deconstruction. She took one last walk through the house, the root cellar and huge, sunny kitchen, the parlor and tiny bathroom and six bedrooms. She could almost picture the lives that had been lived in these rooms, the love and birthing, dinners and squabbles and sorrows and holidays and hard work – more than a hundred years’ worth – imagine that! She could feel their spirits, still here. But the spirits dwelt in the spaces, inside and out of the house, not in the walls themselves; they weren’t going anywhere. The walls were the skin, getting as crumbly and sagging as the skin she saw when she looked into a mirror. Well, her skin had housed a history too – the love and birthing, dinners and squabbles and sorrows and holidays and hard work – over almost as long a life as the house, now that she thought about it. Eighty-three this year.

And as for the bones of this house – she’d salvage as much as she could, use what was usable.

She stepped out through the splintery doorframe. “Jack,” she called. “Come on, it’s time.”

They hitched tractor to walls, and began.

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2 Responses

  1. Very nice beginning. Kind of appropriate as you redesign your blog. I completely understood your aunt. I still felt much the same way when I grew up and I was twenty years behind her. Girls growing up now don’t realize how fortunate they are. The restrictions society placed on earlier generations of women were very difficult for some of us to adhere to.

  2. Love it Bonnie!

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