by Sharon Boyle

DOG WAS THE first to disappear.

They sat on Sofa, staring at the ceiling, eyes wide, ears pricked at the sounds: creaking, scrabbling, a short bark, whimpering, and finally a bristling silence.

‘What the hell?’ Dad.

‘Get up there.’ Mum.

Dad was reluctant but knew the male of the house must be plucky. Next thing he was climbing the stairs, clutching the rickety bannister with one hand and in the other, a bread knife. He pushed Boy’s bedroom door open with a finger. Slow-release sigh and lowering of knife. ‘Come and see.’

Mum and Kids drummed up the stairs. Son’s Bed was broken: slumped middle, twisted duvet, tilted headboard.

‘Where’s Dog?’ Son.

They checked the room but the only trace of Dog was its red collar, found at the foot of Son’s Bed.

Dog, they deduced, had been sleeping on Son’s Bed, dreamt up a nightmare and panicked itself out an open window.

Mum’s mouth puckered. ‘I hate this house. It’s all haywire.’

As if in answer, House’s fabric shifted a fraction causing slivers of cinder-block to split and spill between the walls.

Dad sighed. ‘Not haywire. Just needs a bucket-load of TLC.’

His words convinced nobody, not even himself. House was dingier, drabber and seemed smaller than when he was a boy. It was as if, over the years, the ceilings had sunk and the walls had inched closer together.

House had been passed down to Dad and Family after Grandma was eaten up by cancer and Grandad’s miserable heart kaputted. House was full of Grandparent furniture and knick-knacks. Like those plastic flowers Grandma displayed on Mantelpiece after Grandad had bellowed, ‘Woman, fresh flowers go for my throat.’ Grandad never called a person by their name, not when he could yell, ‘Woman, quit it with that lawn mower! I’m watching fecking football.’ Dad’s childhood had been riddled with, ‘Woman, do this. Kids, do that,’ till one day he couldn’t remember what to call himself or anyone else.

During dinner, Son, elbows on Table, shrieked and leapt back clutching his shin. ‘She kicked me.’

Daughter denied it and true enough the square bruising and splinters on Son’s shin didn’t look human-made. Dad checked Table and found one of the legs standing skewed. It must’ve grazed Son as it buckled. Dad would buy a new table. Shame, for he remembered Grandma serving Sunday lunch on it: the house-proud way she lifted the tureen lid with a flourish; the way she shared out potatoes; the way she nudged elbows that strayed onto the surface; the way she pursed her lips when he and his brother’s fought over portions; the way she swallowed hurt words when Grandad chucked Childhood Dog bits of best roast.

Mum was lying on Sofa, outdoor shoes on a cushion, when the room seemed to shiver. She slipped into Sofa’s middle. ‘Bloody subsidence.’ But when she cast round, she realised the only thing moving was Sofa. Quick mind-flick to Table and Bed and she screamed a lungbuster.

A chewed stiletto was all that was left by the time Dad charged in.

Dad and Kids sussed House must be sold quickly. Not quick enough though. Two days later they were simultaneously consumed—Daughter by Electric Fire, Son by Oven, but the messiest was Dad who’d been run over and shredded by Lawn Mower.

Removal Men flung the furniture and white goods into a van, covering their noses against the reek of rancid meat and shaking their heads over the general ruination. They agreed that some folk didn’t deserve houses.

After they left, House gave a slow-release creak of timbers, stretched out its walls and settled into a contented peace. Its windows winked at the half-mown lawn and its front door swung wide to welcome the scent of fresh flowers.

House was patient. House would wait for a tender, loving and caring family to move in. House would then call herself a home.

oOo

Sharon Boyle lives in East Lothian, Scotland and writes at a messy dining-table which does not attack the house occupants. She has had a number of short stories and flash pieces published on-line and in magazines, including Reflex Fiction, Retreat West, Cranked Anvil and Ellipsis Zine. She tweets as @SharonBoyle50 and has a sporadic blog at https://boyleblethers.wordpress.com/.