The House

Copyright 2023, John Manimas Medeiros


            I love our house.  It has always provided me with a sense of comfort and serenity.  The world is tumultuous around us by comparison.  Denise and I watch the outside world from our windows and our television screens and our cell phone screens.  We listen to music and the news and stories about crime and human struggles.  The predominant struggle seems to be between one group of humans and another.  Our house is a dark red brick two story, the left half of a duplex built in 1888 in Albany, New York.  We live on a city street, Brown Street, but it is well-treed and remarkably quiet at night, even though there is a railroad track nearby and a police station only three blocks away.  There is a small park on the Mohawk River shore.  We like the closeness to the amenities of an urban community with nearby access to rural nature.  Denise treasures her cut crystal and holiday dinnerware arranged neatly in three antique hutches.  One of the hutches, with sides of curved glass, might be worth a lot in the antique market.

            The pandemic was hard for us, being old – retired – in the first place, and a bit fragile medically, but we got our vaccinations, maintained our social distancing, and did not get the virus.  At least we did not get the physical virus, but we got the damage caused by withdrawal from a previously healthy social life.  We became watchers, gazing at the world from our windows, like they were a movie screen.  In January this year there was a hell of a storm that dropped three feet of heavy wet snow overnight.  It was a back-threatening, heart-strainer to move that white mud.  We had to pay somebody to do half of a good job just to have a slush-filled path to our car, which was buried by the city plow.  Following exhaustion we got two unusually warm days that put six inches of water in the streets all clogged up with piles of dirty snow and snowy dirt.  It was neither white, nor Christmas.  I stood in the front room with the bay window and watched our neighbors walk wherever the snow-slush was the least dense, making curved paths on the sidewalks and in the streets, lifting their booted feet as though each foot weighed fifty pounds.

            In March we got a wind storm that broke records.  Gusts of eighty-five miles an hour.  Limbs down everywhere, cars damaged by falling branches, six adults and two children killed.  We watched this too, from our large sun-room windows in the rear addition.  Four trees, two oaks, had to be cut up and hauled away.  What a disaster.  A nice oasis of shade became ground zero for the pounding of the summer sun, which started in May.  Burning heat was followed by drenching thunder-storms, raindrops the size of a shot of whiskey.  We and our house were lucky, just a few feet from the rising water of the Mohawk River, but many of our neighbors closer to the river banks lost their homes.  We were reminded that floods don't mean your home gets washed like you clean your car at a car wash.  Flood waters are dirty, germy, mixed with oil, industrial chemicals, dead animals and waste, silt, blood and guts.  The Dale Cemetery was gouged out and only a few houses away our less fortunate neighbors found a broken coffin, and its centuries-old contents, scattered across their flower gardens.  They were told they had to leave everything and no house could legally be built there again. 

            In spite of all the bad weather and crazy politics, culture wars and global warming, we rarely had a power outage that lasted more than eight hours.  We are so grateful for our trusty refrigerator and freezer, and our well-stocked cupboard shelves – except for toilet paper back in June of 2020.  We could handle that.  Newspaper deliveries were not interrupted.  When I used that news, it seemed like the right thing to do with the news at the time.  It was a kind of reciprocation:  do to the news what the news is doing to you.

            I told Denise that my sense of comfort was dripping like sweat in July when we had an active shooter at the Walmart on Washington Avenue.  A tall well-dressed man pulled an automatic rifle out of what looked like a pile of shopping bags in his cart and started firing at the apples and oranges.  Then the people.  Just shoppers who happened to be there, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But why should one's local super store be the wrong place.  It should be as safe as a church.  But then again I guess it was as safe as a church.  Forty-three people who fell while running away were wounded.  Sixteen people were killed.  Only one was a personal friend of ours:  Madeline Comstock.  She was, a witness said, admiring a cantaloupe at the moment she was murdered.  All just a few blocks from our safe house.  While the police outside were making a plan, a burly teenager kept himself hidden behind the lingerie.  Then he came out with a baseball bat and stopped the shooter with a home run to the head.  Our newest local hero, name withheld.  We cannot see the Walmart itself from our windows, but we can see the lights over the parking lot, and the American flag over the Albany office of the state Motor Vehicle Department.  The flag was at half-mast for a month.  The entire city was shocked.  The Legislature announced prayers and concern that some people are mentally ill.  Denise said, "Yeah.  Some people are mentally ill, and some other people vote for them." 

            In September the tube and the papers screamed out the alarm and raised the big question  "Is it time for government do to something?" because a chunk of ice the size of Rhode Island and half a mile thick slid off Greenland into the North Atlantic.  Nearly everybody asked "Can that really happen?  How could that happen?"  It turns out the explanation is simple.  The ice does not melt only on the upper surface.  Melted water seeps through cracks in the ice and even creates large holes, like wells that reach down to the ground below.  Surface rivers of meltwater rush down into those wells.  Scenic blue falls.  The heat in the melted water as well as the heat of the solid rock below causes the development of a layer of water between the solid ground and the ice above.  When that layer of water gets thick enough and wide enough, it acts just like a giant sheet of poly film.  Just a faint slope downward to the shore is enough.  So that iceberg that covers the area of a small nation is still floating in the ocean, now in the mid-Atlantic.  And that ice is new ice, meaning it was not ice that was part of the ocean.  It is ice that was above the ocean on land.  And now that it is in the ocean, it is water added.  Wildly different calculations are being offered as to whether the buildlings of the Manhattan skyline can become an American Venice or will they have to be abandoned.  And the rising water will reach Miami too.  It is not a good year for real estate.  Denise and I are still grateful though.  We feel lucky.  Have not been drowned, shot, or frozen yet.  We still look out at the troubled world from our sun-room movie screen and our TV screen.  Makes us feel separated from reality.  Not sure that is a good thing. 

            Denise said, "I know why they call it 'Breaking News.'  Because everything is breaking."

            This month, November, our comfort and sense of safety has been badly fractured.  The Adirondacks had an awful drought this summer and the upstate forests are burning out of control.  These mountains are not easily reached, and the combination of conifers and deciduous trees are burning long and black.  We are breathing dust like the ash in the bottom of an old wood furnace.  The sky is a combination of dead gray and dog-piss yellow. 

            Our comical neighbor Dolores said "I was suffocating yesterday.  Coughed my brains out.  I used up a whole can of Fresh Breeze." 

            The entire outside world smells like a campfire being used to dry mud-wet socks.  I'm coughing, and I don't like it.  Denise is coughing.  We are too old for this.  I am starting to feel like our house is letting us down.  Are we still safe?  Really?  What happens next?  Should I tell you that the weather people say an enormous, unprecedented hurricane is taking shape off the west coast of Africa?  They are talking about setting up new definitions for a Category Six and a Category Seven.  I didn't sleep last night.  I still want to believe that the house keeps us safe and comfortable.  But I heard loud bangs last night.  Was it fireworks?  In November?  Who is celebrating?  What are they celebrating? 

Will I ever go for a walk again?  Where?  I need to go out the front door and cross the street and turn around to look at the front of our house.  It probably looks abandoned with the window boxes empty and our little tree island neglected.  We will have to let the police know we are still here – if the police are still here.


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