• Helen Lapakko

The Corner House


The Corner House

By Helen Lapakko

One day I walk by a large sprawling house, carved out of stones and stucco. I see a man; he is stooped down on one knee, pulling weeds and picking up debris from the boulevard. He wears khaki pants and a plain white t-shirt with streaks of dirt and sweat. I’m not sure if he is the gardener or if he lives here. As I walk by him I make some mundane comment about such hard work on such a hot day. He responds that he is helping beautify the city. When he looks up I see adventure in his face. Then he looks away and he is again busy at work.

I can’t get him out of my mind, his gray-brown curly long hair, long for a man in his fifties. I can’t forget that feeling of strength, the masculine essence, and the sense of arrival. He has an aura of knowing. He’s so relaxed, so unassuming, so himself.

I walk by his house three times that week and there is no sign of him. But the fourth day I am rewarded. He walks out his front door and I watch as he walks down to the boulevard to examine the new grass coming up where he has cleaned out the weeds. He leaves the front door of his house wide open. I can see through the outer glass door; there is blue-and-white flowered wallpaper in the front hallway. I watch him turn and pick up some litter from his sidewalk and then retreat back into his house. I notice a window at the back of the house; through it I can see a rolltop desk and chair. I thrill at the thought of seeing him sitting in that chair, working. He must be a writer, I think. He inherited this house and spends his time writing and publishing big delicious books, serious intellectual ponderings.

A couple of weeks later I notice a woman in his yard, a gray woman, an old, withered, aged vision of a woman. It can’t be his wife; I think, jealously, she is too old. I start seeing her every time I go by, pulling weeds in the garden, hanging out the laundry, and walking their dog. I realize she belongs there; she must be his wife. I begin to like her. She has brown in her gray hair. She really doesn’t look that old. Her small frame is a contrast to his large one.

One day I see her hanging out the wash as he paints the garage door yellow. As I walk by the house watching them do their chores, I feel a pulling inside me. I imagine them inviting me in their house. We sit and have lunch, a meal of cold cuts, croissants, and fresh fruit with a dab of yogurt and mineral water with a twist. I sit at their dining room table and watch them eat. I see them look at each other as we talk. They invite me to spend the night in their beautiful home. They lead me to a bedroom with a fireplace, warm and glowing. In the room is a large four-poster bed with fluffy down pillows and a comforter in soft blues and whites to snuggle into. I throw back the comforter and climb into clean white sheets, soft as cotton to pull up over my body.

I trip over a crack in the sidewalk and look over my shoulder at them and their house as I pass. The woman is still hanging the wash. He is still painting the garage door yellow.

A few days later I walk by again and he comes out to get his mail. He stands there studying the assorted envelopes and magazines in his hands. He has on the same khaki pants and dirty white t-shirt with holes. In case he sees me, I pretend to study the house across the street, sneaking looks when I can. Suddenly I feel an urge to call out to him, invite him into a conversation. I want him to want to know me. Just as I am about to say something, he turns and goes back into the house.

A week goes by and I haven’t had a chance to go by the corner house. So in the evening, I drive by, just so I can see in those lighted windows. When I drive by, I see a light on in what must be the living room. I picture them sitting in their easy chairs, probably reading some new volume of literature they will discuss over dinner. I fantasize what it would be like to come to this house with my family. My husband, my son, and I would come over for dinner. We’d ring the doorbell, and they would answer. They would invite us in and take my little boy in their arms and kiss and hug him. They would let him know how special he is. As I drive away I feel a tear caught in the corner of my eye.

I walk by their house the next day, my heart is beating fast, and my stomach has butterflies. I know I just have to meet the people in this house. I stand across the street staring, trying to work up my courage to cross the street. I take a hesitant step off the curb and walk across the street and stand at the foot of the stairs leading to the sidewalk that goes to their front door. I take a deep breath, exhale, and slowly walk up the steps. The third step is cracked; little ants are running in and out with their food. When I get to the top of the stairs I stare at the front of this massive structure. I start down the sidewalk to the front door, it is just a few feet away; my feet feel like lead. I wonder if they’re looking out of the window and see me. I swallow, steel up my courage, throw my shoulders back, and walk directly up to the door. The inside door is standing open, showing the blue-and-white wallpaper; then I notice a black metal wall-hanging filled with pictures—their family. I see children smiling from the photos. Now I am standing at the door; the doorbell is inches from my hand. I hear faint music somewhere in the house. I reach my hand up, poised like a gun ready to fire. I hold it on the bell but I can’t push—what if they think I’m crazy or maybe they have noticed me too and have wondered who I was? Finally with all the courage I can muster I push the bell.

I hear footsteps approaching. I take a breath and ready myself. I can see him in the hall mirror. I panic, what am I going to say? Why should I tell him I’m here? How will I introduce myself? Then he is there, standing—no towering—over me, looking at me blankly like I am a total stranger. It shocks me—after all these weeks, I always picture him knowing me too. I can’t find my voice; I just stand there. He says, “Can I help you?” and waits. The silence is awkward. I blurt out, “You are not John Olson. I must have the wrong house.”

I turn and run so fast. I never look back. I am so embarrassed; tears are streaming down my cheeks. I am choking up with some emotion I can’t define.!

#HelenLapakko

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