Empty Houses, Part I (Opioids)


The little pink house with the limestone wraparound porch has a wreath of fake flowers that’s been lolling around by the front door for months. There’s also a wooden cutout of a Canada goose with the words, “Welcome to our Home” scrawled on its belly, and a metal star made in China leaning against the wall.

The owners kicked out the renters a few years ago. The man was on disability; he ended up having a stroke and after he came back from the hospital, we didn’t see him outside. The woman walked on certain days down to the food pantry with a hand cart. She ducked down there, head low. But when she could, she’d carve up a watermelon and come over to share. She was salt of the earth. She was kind. We brought her eggs and produce from our garden when we could. She would sit outside on the porch swing staring into space, smoking a ciggie. She died not long after they kicked her out. I don’t know what happened to her husband or her son, who was a veteran and drove a semi for a living.

They kicked out the renters and the place stood empty for a year. They put the house on the market, charging a laughable amount. Then a more reasonable amount. No one bought it. Then the realtor signs disappeared. At least they mowed the grass.

One evening, the dark house lit up. A dumpster appeared, along with a tatoo-armed, lean couple. The guy was friendly, the girl listless. He always smiled and waved. She never smiled.

Over the next few weeks, they cleared about a bunch of stuff. They tore down the dropped ceilings. They ripped up the seedy carpet. They took the cabinets out and threw them in the dumpster. Soon it was all hauled away.

Then bit by bit, the house went to hell. First, the guy disappeared. Then the gal would go out onto the porch in the middle of the night, pacing, snarling into her phone. She smoked cigarette after cigarette on the porch swing. Her stare was empty. At least she or whoever else was there mowed the lawn.

The strangers started knocking on our door. There was a dumpy brunette who looked worse for wear. She didn’t believe that “Josh” wasn’t inside our house, waiting for her. A wiry, leathery lady rolled up in a black SUV with blacked-out window and skulls across the back. She insisted in a frenzy that we were hiding “Josh.” People came and parked, stayed all night, then disappeared early. The gal came to the door and greeted a package delivery topless. She had no car. We had no idea how she ate. Maybe she bought stuff at the convenience store, the only shop in town.

It was obvious: Fucking “Josh” or whoever he was was dealing, and they couldn’t even get the description of the house right. Lazy motherfuckers. I looked at their house with hatred, every morning.

My husband would watch the house. It became an obsession. He tracked down the criminal record of the guy, his court history. We learned he was in jail, with a high bail, thanks to a run in with a sheriff in another county. He had done time in federal prison as part of a heroin smuggling ring.

The users started shooting up in the rural parking lot across from the little pink house. Our neighbors were on edge. One complained someone had stolen a ladder from his garage. The sheriff got reports, but there was only so much they could do, without a warrant or a wellness check excuse to knock on the door.

One day, the gal put out a cardboard sign. It said “Yard Sale” in ballpoint pen. She sat there, waiting, with a table full of random stuff. Useless belongings. She sat on the porch smoking all day. No one stopped. I don’t know if she sold anything. The laundry line she hung up to display clothes and the safe she moved outside are still there.

She disappeared. We felt relief.

Then the Yeti moved in. He was tall and hairy–hence the nickname–and seemed prone to arts and crafts. He was out at random hours, spray painting a headboard, doing fuck all on the porch. He only wore baggy shorts. He covered up the window in the front door with those mandalas you make by putting a pen in a rotating plastic wheel.

More cars came, more often. They’d show up after dark. Never the same car. The lights would stay on all night. Then they’d leave by 9 AM. I never saw the people come or go. They had gotten wise and started using the back door.

A month or so of this, and the guy’s family showed up. They nailed boards over the front door. They said the guy had been in a bad auto accident. They didn’t mention jail. They told the neighbors to call the sheriff if someone tried to go in the house.

The house went dark again.

It’s stayed that way. It’s empty.

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