top of page

Summer-Fall '23

R. Tim Morris

I grew up here. I breathed here, in and out. Every scent and sound of it became a part of me. In some ways, its silhouette against the night sky was the shape of me, too. The house creaked in the silence between seasons to remind us of its presence. It rotted in places, but only in the spaces where it might serve to make us wonder, and never worry. The sun’s glow at dawn and at dusk had a way of adhering to the walls inside, as though pressed into its very fibers with an iron. Tiny pockets around every corner contained the smells of things unknown; these were scents caught somewhere between toadstools on the forest floor, not-yet-ripe cranberries, and years old newspapers.

More than anything, there was a sense inside the house––reported often by passing visitors and strangers, comments and presumptions about a certain feeling of belonging.

In my youth, I had girlfriends who asked about it. They wanted nothing more than to belong themselves, to step inside the house, but were just as quick to want to leave its presence, too. Kissing Stacy Fitzsimmons in the back of her car, she kept asking what the house was like. I remember trying to change the subject, saying it was nowhere near as fascinating as the endless stretch of stars in the big night sky above us, but she still kept volleying questions back to me about the house. I guess folks around here were just curious, as folks tend to be.

The house was left to me by my father. And before that, to him by his own father. It was passed along this same way for generations. Someone—one of us, way back when—had built it with his two hands.

Sitting atop a small mound of a hill, it was the original farmhouse on this land. There was no farm now, not even fence posts. Not a trace, just a grassy field. Some forever-echoing hoots from long-gone barn owls. The grass grew to just such a length that when the fragrance of the far away sea blew inland it hit one at the most pleasing of angles. A few more homes have been constructed over the years, though—whether by county bylaws or sheer intent—they kept their distance.

Not sure what else I could say about it, really.

This morning, my wife left me. Luna made it abundantly clear where it was she was going, but I may have missed why she was ever leaving in the first place. Her space in the house had only been filling the space left by my second wife, and before that, the same space left behind by my first.

My mother left my father, too. Because that seems to be how things go in our world. My grandmother likely would have left my grandfather, if she hadn’t died before she got the chance. I guess I’d always just assumed my great and great-great grandmothers left their men, too. One of those men, who built this house.

I spent the rest of my morning on the front porch steps, a cup of cold, unsipped coffee cradled in my hands. I was unsuccessful in trying to piece together the reasons for why people leave one another. Complacency? Uncertainty? Could it have been my own uncertain place in this world which prompted my girlfriends and wives to ever leave me? Were the empty spaces in the house not filling as completely as they once had?

Perhaps it was the house itself?

Would anything have been different if no one ever left? If just one of them had decided to stay, instead.

Dry grass rattling from the sudden breeze shook me free of my thoughts. From deep within the field before me, I thought I caught the movement of a figure. Dark like a shadow. I looked over my shoulder, back to the front door.

When I moved back into the house from the city, my father—on one of his last dying breaths—said I’d never get used to the place. “It seems to find a way to keep you guessing,” he told me. Sara—my first wife—on the other hand, was quick to say how easily it felt like home. “There’s a naturalness about it,” she told me as we spread the clean sheets over my father’s old bed. She enjoyed the snap the crisp linens made when she shook them through the stale air above the bed. Sometimes Sara wanted nothing more from her afternoon than to sit outside in her cobalt blue Adirondack chair and watch the bedsheets catch the wind along the clothesline, flickering in and out of reality. It seemed that one minute she was lost in those sheets on the line and the next she was gone, too, out of reality herself.

Laurel was the same way in how she would put a coat of paint on a wall and then stare at it for longer than it took the paint to dry. She painted the exterior of the house coffee bean brown; she painted it one dark color after another, greens and browns and even maroon. She painted over the blue Adirondack chair, too, but it was choosing the right color for the house that inspired her more. “You paint it white and all you’ll ever see is the dirt,” she told me. “You only ever see what you should never want to see,” was what Laurel said the morning she left me.

But Laurel’s space was soon filled with that of Luna’s. Luna had been with me at the house longer than the first two, but it really hadn’t felt like it. “Time was never something you could keep very well,” she told me. She called this out to me from the long grass right over there, the rising sun’s rays caught on her lips. Her lips had the most incredible redness to them, like blood within a sparkling glass vial. That was this morning.

Or, at least, I remembered it like it was this morning.

I decided to go back inside the house, intent on returning my cold coffee to the kitchen sink. A brown ring was quickly becoming a permanent stain on the inside of the cup. On my way towards the kitchen, however, I stopped. I’d never spotted it before, but there was an edge of wallpaper peeling away from the wall in the foyer. Placing my cup on the hardwood floor, I tried to press the wallpaper back into place. I dipped a finger into the coffee, hoping its wetness might help the paper adhere to the wall, to give the glue new life, but it still refused to lay flat. Now it had the bruised stain from the black coffee on it, too.

I pulled the wallpaper away a little further, and then with sudden reckless abandon, I peeled the entire strip off, tossing it to the floor like ticker tape long after a parade.

There was a part of me that felt terrible about tearing the wallpaper, and it was the same part of me that sensed someone else. There was a woman in the hall. Nothing more than a shadow at first, but it didn’t take her long to step into view. It was my grandmother.


My grandmother who died and never left.

She didn’t say a word to me. Instead, I found myself recalling everything she ever said. Every life lesson and special recipe and cheap family secret she ever shared with me. But it was like opening a box of costume jewelry and not knowing what to do with any of it.

I’ll admit, I fully expected her to walk through the wall right then, but when she actually did it still left me shaken. Behind that wall was the staircase that led down to the cellar. And the door to the cellar had been closed for I don’t know how long. Neither Sara nor Laurel nor Luna ever needed to go down there. I used to play down in the cellar when I was a kid, but my father said it wasn’t safe on account of the rodents. How they’d found their way in there and never found their way back out. I remember telling him rodents were smarter than that, but I never quite believed myself.

I tried the door, but the warped wooden frame and the years of uncertainty had sealed it tight.

I opened the coat closet next to me. Inside, behind Luna’s many umbrellas and Laurel’s birdcage and Sara’s favorite pair of worn-out boots was my father’s toolbox. I took out one of his hammers and attempted to pry the cellar door open with the sharp end of it. Failing that, I swung the hammer into the cellar door. I felt weak immediately, but I used what strength I had left to smash the door apart.

I smashed it because, Why did they all have to leave me? I destroyed the door because, What do I have to leave behind? What have I got left?

I pulled what was left of the door from its rusted hinges and walked into the darkness. Not a single wooden step creaked as I descended the staircase. It was cool and dank. I flicked the light switch on, and there was an unsteady buzzing sound for a few long seconds before the single light in the cellar crackled and blinked to life. The far end of the room was caved in—nothing more than a mound of dirt and some large brown rocks, though the house above it, as far as I could tell, had never shown signs of giving way.

There wasn’t much in the cellar, really. A few plastic jerry cans of old gasoline my father and his father kept just in case. Some busted and rotted vegetable boxes on a crooked wooden shelf. Some rat droppings sunken into the floor.

Beside me, it looked like there was writing on the wall, scratched with charcoal. 


I couldn’t read the words. Some appeared to be made up of letters and pictures, almost like hieroglyphs, though I couldn’t tell what they might have been pictures of. There was no telling how archaic the language might have been, or how long it must have been there.


They spoke to me though. In my head, as I looked at the black etchings on the wall, the words spoke to me.

“Can you sense it?” they asked.

I leaned in closer, and licked some dust and dirt from my fingertip. I could still taste the coffee from when I dipped my finger into the cup earlier. “Sense what—?”

“The sense of what is missing. The sense of what is still left.”

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about senses or feelings. Why else would I be left so perplexed when it came to the reasons for my continued abandonment? It’d only ever been because that seemed to be how things go in our world.

Suddenly, the lone light bulb burst, and the cellar went dark. Dark, until the fire started. It must have been a spark from the light exploding, igniting the gasoline, that started the fire.

The fire department never even came to the house. I supposed the county and our distant neighbors felt it was just as well. No matter, I wouldn’t have been there anyway. I was gone long before the first wall came down. Before the black smoke choked the sky.

Before the first flame even flickered to life.

What was really left?

R. Tim Morris is the author of five novels, who edited and published a collection of short stories in 2020 (“More Time: A Brief Anthology of Indie Author Short Fiction”). His fifth novel, "The Lost Memories of Oceans" was released in September 2022 with Fractured Mirror Publishing. Other works of his short fiction have been published with Sans.PressLouisiana LiteratureRoi Fainéant Press, and Emerge Literary Journal.

bottom of page