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Suddenly there was a sound; it reminded me of a fire drill at school, but muffled. It was an old-fashioned phone, ringing inside the house.
The old guy on the phone was kind of spooky, but I wanted to finalize my investigations.
House of the Future
by Richard Butner

The house was wrecked, but you could squint and imagine what it looked like originally. It swooped long and low—instead of like a normal house, where you can tell the difference between the house and the roof, here the roof was the house. Straight on the edges, but somehow curved in between. It was as if someone had taken a tarp and staked two opposite corners to the ground, while hoisting the other two corners aloft. Underneath the roof, after a large overhang, there were glass walls. Big chunks of the overhang had caved in, the roof dangling as if punched out by a giant's thumb. A tall pine tree had fallen on the house, too. From a distance, in the twilight of the clearing, I couldn't make out anything other than a large living room area and, beyond that, some interior walls painted white. I wanted to get a closer look, but there was a metal "No Trespassing" sign nailed to a maple tree on the rise of land overlooking the house. Benny stood one step beyond the sign but went no further.

"I'm totally gonna touch Janice Freeman's titties," Benny said, gesturing at the house.

"Wow, I've never seen anything like that," I said.

Benny and I had been in the Army Club three years earlier, in third grade. Now he was big and played pee-wee football, but he still wore combat boots. In the meantime I had started hanging out with the girls who sketched horses all day in class. At recess the horsey girls and I avoided kickball together. None of them had grown Janice Freeman–sized boobs yet.

"You've never seen titties?" Benny said, slackjawed.

"I've seen titties," I replied. "I meant this house. It's like a wing, or an alien spacecraft."

We stood at the edge of a clearing at the end of Lucio Street. I had ridden by Lucio hundreds of times, but like all the other residential streets off Cresthill, I'd never been down it. It was just one block of new brick houses, with driveways full of minivans and tricycles and basketball goals, and yards that were artificially green. At the end of it there was a sign that read "Pavement Ends," which it did, but then a dirt road continued on into a tunnel formed by cedar trees on either side. Benny had brought me there, to the end of the dirt road, after school.

"You have not seen titties," he said, kicking up a big chunk of sod.

"Have too. I've seen lots of titties. Lots of bush, too. I found a box of old copies of Penthouse that my dad left behind."

"I mean real titties, not pictures, dumbass."

A concrete patio jutted from the house, with shrubs and a crumbling cinderblock wall. The shrubs didn't look like they'd been trimmed in quite a while, the same way the bushes at our house looked now that Dad had moved out.

"The door feels like it's locked, but if you jiggle the knob you can get in," Benny offered.

"You've been inside?"

"Oh yeah, a bunch. It's abandoned, duh. I hang out there. I'm going to take Janice Freeman there," he said, squeezing handfuls of air. He didn't move any closer to the house, though.

"How did you find this place? Who lived there?"

"I don't know. Who cares? It's not that cool; it's just a place where you could take girls. Why do you care more about a house than about titties?"

I didn't have an answer. After a few more seconds of daydreaming, Benny turned and marched back up the dirt road, and I followed him.

· · · · · 

I couldn't stop thinking about the house, about what it was and who put it there. I wanted to get a closer look at it, so the next Saturday I told Mom I was going to Anne Shaw's house to a birthday party. Anne was the leader of the horsey girls. Instead of going to her house, I hiked to Lucio Street. As I walked down the paved part, I kept waiting for someone's parents to step out and ask me what I was doing there. When I got to the end of the street I tried to act casual before slipping quickly into the cedar lane. Even though it was a sunny day, once I wandered down the path to the clearing, it was dim.

The "No Trespassing" sign was still there, but the house had changed some. The points of the roof that soared into the air were held up by wooden posts on jacks; the jacks didn't look like they were supposed to be part of the house originally. Evidently someone was working on fixing it up. Also, the overhang had been patched. The roof was now intact, and the pine tree that had fallen on it was gone.

I pulled the sign down from the rusty nail, thinking that if it wasn't posted, no one could yell at me for being there. Not that I wanted to confront the owner or the renovators or anyone, certainly not Benny and Janice Freeman. Behind the sign, someone had carved a heart into the tree. The scars were from long ago. Inside the heart were the initials SL and EL. I tucked the sign under my arm and advanced on the house.

The concrete patio stuck out diagonally from one side of the house, one edge where the roof swooped up from the ground to mid-air. The cinderblock wall looked less crumbly than before, but there was still a big crack in it where it angled to enclose the patio space. I stashed the sign in the crack.

Slatted wooden benches were built onto the inside of the wall. I lay down on one, looking up at the roof. I imagined it as a huge glider; I imagined clambering up from one of the points that touched the ground to the middle of it and lifting off lazily into the clouds.

Suddenly there was a sound; it reminded me of a fire drill at school, but muffled. It was an old-fashioned phone, ringing inside the house. I thought about running inside and picking it up; I always like to answer the phone first at home, before Mom gets it. But then I thought: if someone's calling the house, that means the caller is expecting someone to be there to answer. I vaulted over the wall and ran up the hill and down the cedar-lined path. I did not look back.

· · · · · 

I went to the main library downtown to do some research. The local newspaper had a pretty decent Web site; I'd used it before for class projects. You could search their archives, but only articles written after 1990 were online. Older ones, you had to use the microfilm reader. Using microfilm was a cinch; the reference desk lady taught me how to do it. The hardest part was figuring out what to search for.

I tried "wing-shaped house" and "swooping-roof house" and some other variations, but nothing came up. What did I know about the place? Nothing, really. No facts—just the thing itself, and how it made me feel. I pictured going there with Benny, walking down the part of the street where all the new houses were.

I plugged in "Lucio Street" and "house" and got three hits. I went to the lady at the reference desk and asked for those editions on microfilm.

The first article was headlined "House of the Future?" It was just a small picture of the house under construction, with a blurb. Workmen in white overalls stood on the partially completed roof, putting down long strips of wood. It looked like a hardwood floor except it was a curving roof. The article was from February of 1959.

The caption read, "Workmen piece together the intricate roof on the new home of Ernesto and Sofia Lucio, designed by Mrs. Lucio herself. The young architect is looking to build a business, and hopes that this house will be the shape of things to come."

Another article, from 1960, was titled "Open House on Lucio Street." It was about how the Lucios let people come by their house to look at it inside and out, to see if they'd want to have a house designed by Ms. Lucio. The newspaper had sent a reporter and photographer, but evidently no one else in town bothered to show up.

The photo just showed one end of the house and part of the patio. On the patio stood a woman. Was it Sofia Lucio? She wore a polka-dotted scarf and big round sunglasses. She stood in profile, smoking a cigarette and staring off into the woods. She reminded me of Ms. Milford, my fifth-grade teacher. I had a crush on Ms. Milford all year long. The last day of classes, I told her how much I was going to miss her, and I gave her a hug. It was the high point of the fifth grade.

At first I didn't notice it, but then I could see in the picture that someone was sitting inside the house. There was a white sectional sofa in the open living area, and on it sat a hazy figure. It was a man, smoking a pipe and reading a magazine.

A final article was from 1964, titled "Landmark or Folly?"

The accompanying picture showed the house in its entirety, plunked down in the woods like an alien spacecraft.

"The structure is now owned by attorney Archie Lynch (who has no comment on his plans for the property); Ernesto and Sofia Lucio lived in this original-looking house for two years before moving back to California."

· · · · · 

I started thinking about 1959. It was one thing to study history in class, but another thing to imagine what people were really like back then, whether it was 1959 or 1599. I had photographs, but I wanted to know what it sounded like, what it felt like.

I went to the garage and pulled out Dad's crates of record albums. He'd left them there when he moved out, and Mom had left the turntable hooked to the stereo, though we hadn't listened to vinyl records in years. Dad had a special method of organizing his records and his books and CDs: first by genre, which was rock and country and jazz in this case, and then alphabetically within each genre. Dad was always really organized, and it drove Mom nuts.

I started flipping through the crates, pulling out records and turning them around to see the date when they were released. There weren't any records from 1959 in the rock or country crates, but finally in the jazz crate I found a record with a copyright date of 1959. I looked in the sleeve, but it was empty.

The record was called Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, and the empty sleeve made me want to hear it even more.

· · · · · 

The next Saturday was one of Dad's. He came to pick me up and he had a new car, a shiny yellow blob-shaped convertible. I watched Mom's house zoom away from view in the passenger mirror, just another brick box with fake white columns and fake black shutters and a boring roof, indistinguishable from all the other houses on my street.

I'd never ridden in a convertible before. The zooming starts, the stoplight idling—it all felt completely different with the world right out there so close you could touch it, yet far away at the same time.

"So, what do you think?" he asked, pointing at the bulbous hood of the car. Beneath it, the engine growled as he revved the accelerator.

"It's cool, Dad. Mom said you need another new car like you need a hole in the head."

"Ladies—ladies who aren't your mother—dig convertibles. Have you developed an eye for the ladies yet?"

It wasn't the first time Dad had asked me that question. I shrugged and leaned out further into the breeze.

He just laughed and said, "Don't worry, Eddie. You will. You'll meet some girl who gets your pecker hard." He reached over and jostled my knee when he said this.

I decided that I couldn't hear him because of the breeze whooshing in my ears.

We went to the mall, where Dad bought me some new jeans. We went to the nutrition center, where he bought two hundred dollars' worth of vitamins and powders and protein bars. The woman behind the counter wore a lab coat.

We also went to the music store. I wanted to buy a copy of the Kind of Blue record, and I'd brought some money I'd saved from Christmas.

When I pulled the CD out of the bin, Dad frowned.

"What do you want that for? It seems a little grown up for you."

"Um, it's for a school project."

"I thought kids your age were into her," he said, pointing at a Christina Aguilera poster. I rolled my eyes.

"My twelve-year-old jazzbo," he said, snatching the CD away from me. The cover was a close-up of Miles Davis playing his trumpet as if he was praying: eyes closed and head bent down. He wore a suit and tie.

"You know, I love this record," Dad said, spinning the jewel case in his hands. "Used to have a copy, until your mother smashed it. I must've played it a thousand times. It never gets old."

He ended up buying two copies of the CD: one for himself, and one for me.

We had chicken tacos in the food court, and then he took me home and sped off in his new convertible.

At first I wasn't into the record. The trumpet sounded like he was hitting a lot of wrong notes. But I listened to it over and over anyway. I tried to listen to just one instrument at a time, to pick out the different things it did. The bass was slinky, like a big snake that pushed everything else along: the drums, the trumpet, the saxophones, the piano. I used my headphones so Mom wouldn't worry that I was playing the same record for the tenth and the twentieth and then the fortieth time.

I tried reading the booklet that came with the CD, but it wasn't any help in figuring out what was going on. The liner notes mentioned all these other records and other musicians I'd never heard of.

The photographs were different, though. Everyone wore nice clothes: button-down shirts and pressed trousers. Everyone had really short hair. White guys and African-American guys were smiling at each other, which seemed weird to me because I thought it was from the time when white people and African-Americans didn't like each other very much. I could imagine why guys who looked like that would make sounds like that. It fit. They all looked really excited to be making that record. Happy, even though the name of it was Kind of Blue.

I imagined the band setting up at the Lucio House, with the grand piano, music stands, and microphones all crowded into the living room. Ms. Lucio could explain the house to them, why she'd built it that way, how the roof curved even though it was made of straight pieces of wood. They could tell her all about jazz and improvisation, how the notes fit together even though at first it sounded like they shouldn't. She would smoke, and they would all drink cups of coffee, and then there'd be a jam session. Ms. Lucio would listen attentively, just as I listened. So would the man on the sofa with the pipe.

· · · · · 

When Dad moved out, one of the consolation prizes he gave me was a calling card number. I had used it to call Paul Sechrest, who was my best friend in fifth grade and then his family moved to Florida, but that was about it. I dug out the number from the cubbyhole on my desk. Mom was out with a friend, which meant a date, probably with that guy who owned a bug-killing business and talked only about golf. She'd been out with him once a week for the past couple months, and I was getting worried that I was going to have a sunburned stepdad who ran Poindexter's Exterminators. It was one more reason to stay distracted with school, and with the Lucio House.

I went online and looked for the phone number of anyone named Sofia Lucio in California. There was one listing, in a place called Barstow. I was surprised when it popped up on the computer screen. Surprised that she really existed, and that she was still alive.

I dialed the number before I thought of what I was going to ask. I just wanted to learn more about the house, more than what was in those clippings.

"Hello," creaked a voice at the other end.

"Hello, is this Ms. Lucio?"

"This is Lucio, yes. Who's calling?"

She had a Spanish accent. Not the way our Spanish teacher, Miss Dull, sounded, but the way the tapes of real Spanish people sounded.

"I'm Eddie," I said. "Eddie Herring. I was calling about your house."

"You sound too young, Eddie Herring, to be an insurance salesman. What do you want to know about my house?"

"Not where you live now. The one in North Carolina. The one that looks like a wing."

"Ah, yes." She paused for a few seconds, and I got worried that she was going to hang up on me. "It's actually a hyperbolic paraboloid. You should look that up. Would you like me to spell it?"

She spelled, and I wrote it down.

"Have you taken algebra yet? You'll learn about them in algebra, I am thinking."

"That's next year. I'm in the sixth grade and we're just doing geometry now."

"What interests you so much about that house? Why do you want to keep me from my movie? Pillow Talk is on. I love that one."

"Do you still own the place? Would it be okay if I went inside?" I blurted.

"I have not owned that house for forty years. That house was an experiment, or at least the first step of an experiment. And the experiment failed. I don't really think about it much anymore. I built that house in 1959. Do you want to know what 1959 was like, Eddie Herring? It was all Barbie dolls and pantyhose, that's what 1959 was like."

"Yes, ma'am." I wasn't sure what she was getting at. She paused again, and I tried to think of another way to get her permission to go in the house.

"It's like the house is getting newer, not older. When I first saw it, it was practically caved in. Then it was jacked up. Now it looks almost brand new."

"Is this a trick question, like which came first, the chicken salad or the egg salad? Maybe somebody bought it. Maybe they're trying to renovate, and good luck to them, you know? I hope they use nails and glue. Got to use both on that roof. It would take a special person to want to fix that place up."

"Why is it a failed experiment? I think it's beautiful."

"Sometimes beauty is recognized, and sometimes it rots in the woods. Do you know how many houses your little town—your little state—was ready for me to build? Exactly none more than the one I designed for myself. Even the people who wanted something more up-to-date, who didn't want just another phony colonial … they weren't going to pay me for a design.

"I don't know which was worse: being ignored and unable to get commissions, or being actively hated. There was this preacher, he was convinced that my house was a representation of Satan—the two points in the air being horns, the opposite ones on the ground representing hooves. He wrote a letter to the editor spelling it all out.

"You see, my husband and I had an agreement. He'd financed my schooling, and he financed that house. It was a design I'd worked up in my final year. It was going to be my showpiece, my stepping-stone. My husband gave me two years to establish my practice. Two years to show that I could make some money.

"The two years came and went. You can't say he wasn't supportive. But when the time was up, we moved back here. The only work I could find was drafting.

"As far as I know, the idiot lawyer who bought the place from us, he never occupied it. Every few years someone from your paper calls up to ask me if I know that my house of the future is falling to pieces, and isn't that so ironic, and how much would it cost in today's dollars to repair it."

She paused for a moment. I heard Mom's car pull into the driveway.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get carried away. I'm very glad you like my house. I have to go now. I've been feeling under the weather lately. Anything you need to know about that house, you can find in a book called Southern Building. Good-bye, Eddie Herring, and good luck with geometry."

"Good-bye," I said. She hung up. I wondered if someone really was renovating her house.

· · · · · 

Benny broke his leg in a football game, so he started hanging out with me and the horsey girls during recess. We would sit on the hill, sketchbooks on our laps, far down the right-field line of the kickball field. I had stopped sketching vampires and spaceships and instead I was trying to perfect drawing the Lucio House. It was tough to get the swooping wing shape and still make it look right, like there was a house underneath where human-sized people could live.

The girls brought out their colored markers and drew a camouflage design on Benny's cast as he sat there with us. The Army Club had been short-lived, but Benny's love for all things military abided. In addition to his combat boots—or boot, rather, now that one leg was covered in plaster—he'd added a set of dog tags to his daily costume.

He said they were his cousin's, and that his cousin had been in the Special Forces. The cousin had told him this story, about how when guys got killed in combat, they'd take the soldier's dog tags and jam the notch between his two front teeth and then stomp on it. It was so the body could be identified if they couldn't carry the corpse out, or if it was burned beyond recognition. I don't know if Benny made up the story, or if his cousin made it up, or if it was true. The horsey girls barely blinked when he told the story. They just kept drawing camouflage, and Benny kept trying to look down their shirts as they did so.

"Aren't you grossed out?" he asked.

"Why should we be?" said Anne. She was the leader of the horsey girls and pretty much the only one of them that ever spoke in complete sentences.

"Just think … crack!" Benny mimed shoving a dog tag up between his two front teeth.

"That's not gross," Anne carefully explained. "As you said, that's how they identify the body. What's gross is this: a guy who lives down the street from me, he was a Marine. He got out of the service last year. His family threw a big party, because his father and grandfather had been Marines, too. My dad made us all go. They sang this stupid song, over and over, about how when the Army and Navy guys get to heaven, they'll find it guarded by Marines.

"A couple weeks after the party, the guy died on the train tracks near downtown. This homeless woman who lived under the bridge, she saw it. She said that he just stood there next to the tracks, waiting for a train to come with his hands calmly folded behind him. At the last second he jumped in front of the train.

"That is gross."

· · · · · 

I decided I was going to get into the house whether I had Ms. Lucio's permission or not. If someone was fixing it up, then time was running out when I'd have free run of the place. I went back to the clearing. Whoever was working on the house did it when I wasn't there. I walked all around to look for signs of construction.

The wooden supports and jacks were gone from the tips of the roof--now they were airborne all by themselves, held up by nothing at all. Just like in the pictures I'd found, but ten times as impressive in real life.

Crossing the patio, I noticed that the cinderblock wall was no longer cracked. It was patched up so well it looked as if it had just been built, and I guessed that the old "No Trespassing" sign was now sealed up forever, like a time capsule.

After checking all around the house and listening for the sound of anyone walking or driving up the path, I decided it was time to go in.

The door was a dark red panel set into the glass wall at the far end of the house. I walked to it and grabbed the spherical knob. When I just tried to turn it, it wouldn't give, but after jiggling it up and down a few times, something clicked and I could open the door. I walked into the empty house, closing the door behind me. If someone showed up, I could just hide in a closet.

Inside it smelled bad, like the bathroom in the basement that Mom always forgets to clean. To the left was the open living area that looked out onto the patio. To the right was the kitchen. The living room still had a big white sectional couch in the middle of a stone floor, and a coffee table. Some random objects were scattered around: an empty ceramic planter, a wadded-up brown paper bag, a dirty pink towel. There was a well-preserved copy of a magazine called House and Home from 1960. A picture of the Lucio House was on the cover.

I paced around the living room, listening to the slap of my sneakers against the stone floor. The roof was as beautiful from the inside as it was from the outside, the stripes of pale wood curving up to a point at one end of the living room. It felt safe, but not enclosed, because of the glass walls.

An old black dial telephone was sitting on a three-legged wooden table next to the sofa. Its cord snaked down to a jack set in the floor. I spun the dial the way I'd seen it done in old movies, then I picked up the receiver. The dial tone blared in my ear.

I put it back down, but just as I lowered it into the cradle, the phone rang. I jumped. I wasn't sure what to do—maybe it was the current owner, trying to reach one of the renovators. That didn't make sense, though—didn't all those guys use cell phones? I swiped the receiver up and said hello.

"Hello," a voice said. "Who are you?" It was the voice of an old man with a Spanish accent.

"I'm Eddie," I said.

"Well, then. Do you like the house, Eddie?"

"Yeah, it's great. I hope I'm not in trouble being here."

"No, not really. I hope I'm not in trouble for calling you."

"I wish it didn't smell so bad." I was beginning to think that the man on the other end of the line was in the house, too, sitting in one of the enclosed bedrooms. Just like in a scary story, he'd come popping out. Because maybe he was a psychokiller. Or maybe the whole thing was a prank set up by Benny. I turned to face the kitchen and the hallway to the rooms beyond, pressing my back against the glass wall.

"That's the smell of history, little friend. What does this house say to you?"

"Huh? I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean," I said.

"How does this house make you feel? What does it make you think of?"

"I don't know. Like, happy? It's like a surprise. A present that you didn't know you were going to get. I don't know of any other places like this. In the third grade we studied local history, but all we did was look at the old Moravian cemetery and the abandoned cotton mills downtown, and some churches."

"I'm glad it makes you happy. It didn't make me very happy," he said, and his voice got mean. "This house is a dead end. It's a mirror that casts no reflection. The smell in your lungs, that's the smell of failure. I can smell it from here, and I'm a long way away. So I advise you to leave before the stench rubs off on you."

The receiver clicked back to a dial tone. I put the phone down and, keeping my eye on the rear hallway, left the house. Not running, but walking as quickly as I could.

· · · · · 

I found Southern Building at the library. It didn't look as if it got checked out very often. There were a lot of pictures of houses, schools, and office buildings from the fifties. Most of them were in Florida, and even more of them were boxy, with flat roofs. The office buildings were all glass and concrete; when I thought about it, the public library I was sitting in could've been in the book. It was also a concrete block building, the only exterior decoration being stainless steel lettering that proclaimed: "PUBLIC LIBRARY."

There was a whole chapter on parking decks, as if parking decks were such a big deal. But back on page 152 there was the Lucio House, with a half-page of text underneath about it being "brilliantly significant in an area not noted for embracing the more daring elements of modernism" and how it was "inspired by the impact of constructivist sculpture on the young female architect Lucio." Whatever constructivist sculpture was.

The copyright date of the book was 1960. So when it was written, she'd just finished the house. She hadn't yet moved back to California.

I thought of looking her up in the Barstow paper to see if I could find anything about her life, especially the time since she'd moved back there. It just didn't make sense that she was brilliantly significant but that she ended up having to move away and give up architecture. I checked on-line, and the Barstow paper didn't have free access to their archives, which only went back to 1992 anyway.

I did read through today's edition. There were stories about golf courses and robberies, about fossil discoveries and special education teachers. There were also obituaries, and maybe Ms. Lucio was sicker than she had let on, because one of them was for her.

The text mentioned the time and place for visitation and funeral services. It did not mention any surviving family members, and it did not mention architecture.

· · · · · 

Benny's cast wasn't off yet, but after the day he told the dog-tag story, he had decided to sit on the kickball sidelines rather than with me and the horsey girls. They hadn't even finished the camouflage design. I was still working on perfecting my house sketches, and I was getting a lot better at it. I could reproduce all of the photos I'd seen from memory. I also started drawing the pictures from the Kind of Blue booklet. I wasn't very good at drawing people, though.

"Does it bother you that everyone thinks you're a pussy?" Anne asked, looking up from her pad. She turned to the other girls. "Pussy, that is the word they use, right?" The other horsey girls nodded solemnly.

"Who said that?"

"Benny did. He said because you hang out with us instead of playing kickball, everyone thinks you're a pussy."

It felt like a pop quiz. Anne was goofing; she was about to crack up. Except she didn't. She just waited for me to respond.

"I don't think everyone thinks I'm a pussy." It felt weird to be saying the word "pussy" to a girl. "Do you think I'm a pussy?"

It was a word, like titties, that just sounded funnier the more you said it.

"I don't think you're a pussy," Anne said. "Do you think he's a pussy?" The horsey girls all shook their heads.

"Now, Benny. He's a pussy."

We all cracked up at that.

"What's that you keep drawing?" Anne asked.

"It's this house, the Lucio House. It's really cool."

"I thought it was just another spaceship."

"Do you want to go there sometime? It's not far away."

Anne smirked and nodded.

"You're not going to take your pants off, are you?" she asked.

"No, I'm not going to take my pants off. I'm going to show you the house. We can go after school someday."

"Okay. As long as you keep your pants on."

· · · · · 

I had surprised myself when I asked Anne to go with me to the house, and she surprised me even more by saying yes. But for the next few days, Anne always seemed to have other plans after school. The old guy on the phone was kind of spooky, but I wanted to finalize my investigations. If someone was going to move in, I wanted to make sure I'd seen it all before it was lost to me forever.

Inside it didn't smell bad anymore. It seemed brighter. I walked into the small kitchen, where there was just enough room to stand in the middle of a space surrounded by a stove, sink, refrigerator, and chopping block. All of the appliances were shiny and white, but they weren't really new: the stove didn't have a digital clock, and the refrigerator didn't have an icemaker. Beyond the kitchen, an archway opened onto the hall. There were two bedrooms and a bathroom, all empty. Wooden floors in the bedrooms, white tile in the bathroom.

I went back and plopped on the sofa, just like I lived there. The phone rang and I picked it up without thinking.


"I wasn't a bad man, Eddie." It was the old man. "Do you believe that?"

"Yeah," I said, even though I wasn't exactly sure what he was asking me to believe.

"I tried. I tried and she tried and we failed. Do you know she never spoke of the house again, never spoke of architecture at all? We had money, we had friends; I tried to move on with life, but there was a silent cancer of failure eating away at her. She couldn't accept reality.

"And now it's all over. She could come back to me, but for this place, this last piece of evidence. I can feel it again, like a thorn in my side. I know that she can feel it, too. That's why I need to ask you this: can you do me a favor?"

"Um, okay."

"Do you have any matches, Eddie?"

"No, but I can get some."

"Good. Get some matches, and some rags and newspaper. Maybe gasoline, too."


"To burn the house down, of course."

"No! I'm not going to burn this house down."

"I loved that house. I loved her, and I loved that house—why is that hard to understand? I gave it a chance. But those days are gone, never to return."

The man's voice got angrier.

"This is a dead end, Eddie. You have to grow up. You have to accept reality."

I started crying, partly because I thought he was right. It was the exact thing that Dad had said when he moved out—I had to grow up and face the reality that he and Mom were split up and that they'd never be together again.

I yanked the cord out of the jack and tossed the phone across the room. It clattered against the stone floor without breaking. I wiped my tears on my sleeve and left the house.

· · · · · 

I ran home and went straight to my room. I pulled out my sketchbook and tore out all of the pages where I'd drawn the house and where I'd drawn the jazz pictures. I shredded them to tiny bits and threw the bits away.

It was just another fantasy lurking in the back of my mind—that one day I'd live in the Lucio House. Like the fantasy I shared with all my classmates, that we'd grow up to be rich or famous or both, all of us doctors and actors and Presidents of the United States. When, if you thought about it, we'd mostly just end up as plumbers and insurance salesmen and maybe if we were lucky we'd own an insect extermination business like the guy Mom dated. Those other fantasies would never happen, the same way that Mom and Dad would never get back together.

The Kind of Blue CD sat on my desk. I picked it up to toss it into the trash, too just another object from the past. On the back of the CD, Miles Davis walks away from the camera, his head bowed, deep in thought.

I pulled the disc out, popped it into my stereo for one last listen, and closed my eyes.

The slow piano meanderings of "So What" started up. I always thought of it with a question mark: "So What?" A musical question that Miles Davis and the other guys were asking me. Then the rest of the band started playing, following the piano line. Soon enough, Miles Davis was taking the first solo. He and the piano kept hitting those notes that had sounded so wrong to me at first, but which now were old friends.

I listened to the whole album again, just once through, and by the end of it I knew something:

I could grow up and face reality, but I could also make my own future, too.

I called Anne on her cell phone and told her—I insisted—that it was time she saw the house from my sketchbook.

· · · · · 

Anne snuck out and met me on Cresthill, clopping up to me where I waited at the stop sign on the corner of Lucio Street.

"Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.

"What does that have to do with the house from your sketchbook?"

"I'm not sure. But do you?"

We turned and started walking down Lucio. Anne pulled her hair back behind her ears.

"I guess I want to be something interesting. Something different."

"Like, you want to own a horse farm?"

"Oh, no way. You have to be rich to own a horse farm."

"What about being a jockey?"

"I'm too tall to be a jockey. I always want to ride horses, yeah. I don't know, maybe I could be a vet? But no matter what I do for a living, I always want to ride horses."

As I walked down the cedar lane with her, I reached over and took her hand. She gave me a look, as if to say: that's okay, but nothing more.

"C'mon, slowpoke," I said, and picked up the pace.

We walked into the clearing, past the maple tree, where the bark was smooth and unscarred.

Anne was silent at first, and I wondered if she didn't understand what I saw in the house.

Then she said, "Wow, it's beautiful. It looks kind of like a saddle, do you see that?" I nodded. Then she was tugging me, walking down the hill to get a closer look. We walked around the house in awe at how the soaring peaks hovered over the glassed-in structure beneath. We circled around to the patio, and I showed her the trick of lying on the wooden benches and looking up at the roof, the way it contrasted with the deep blue sky, so near and so far away at the same time.

I heard a noise: the motor of a car. Anne and I peeped over the edge of the patio wall. A red and white convertible chugged up the drive and stopped next to the maple tree. A lady got out and stood on the rise, surveying the house from tip to tip. She wore black trousers and a white shirt, with a polka-dotted scarf and big round sunglasses. She lit up a cigarette. It was Sofia Lucio, looking exactly as she did in that old newspaper picture.

"Hello there, children," she said, with a heavy accent. "Come here, come here."

I looked at Anne and raised my eyebrows to indicate that I thought it was okay. We vaulted the wall and walked up the hill to the lady and her car.

"It's great to be back. Could you give me a hand with my things?"

She tossed the cigarette butt on to the ground and walked around to pop the trunk of the convertible. The glowing cigarette landed in a pile of dry leaves. I walked over and stepped on it, making sure that it was extinguished, before running to help her.

The End


© 2003 Richard Butner and SCIFI.COM.