Three Hundred-Mile House
Forrest Roth

She called him inside. Sometimes she'd call him in again. Had he seldom been welcomed by anyone, he would've left her younger when done. But not now from many looks of him on site. Limp, angry, worn -- he had them parceled up there in a lockbox without lock. Some screwbits. Wire cutters. Little gadgets for occasions not worth the advertising. This sure was the place. He wondered was she used to making mistakes just standing around on the threshold with those almost-sunburned toes. Poking out for this guest shoddy he couldn't bear asking anything of her -- except one name, naturally. All about her that leaned against him said Who was waiting for Who Else. That's who.

Deal. By noon. He held up the screen door: a contractual obligation they didn't dare breathe to speak. It had already been spoken. She christened the lightbulb on the porch his in-vocation -- which he considered his job fixing. He also thought she make-believed her word. Didn't let him bother. What was he waiting on then. Had out-vocation before her days upon moving here with promises. Could've been much longer. Still her wages of a maybe warm spell, staid comfortable, a few meals. Any other sort. Take or leave. He knew the decision of a man's ruin either way. A week ago finding motel stationery paper he'd written back to town about how he couldn't help himself but helping others, the Golden Rule, yes, sure sure, there'd be another, there's always another, he was getting along. Or getting along was what counted better.

That was her tour: a kitchen he guessed. The rest later. Later, he assured. Winking she seated at the dry sink with the brush of her hair. There hung piercing slips of a finger in his belt loop on his jeans when her tiredness started or startled him by crow stumbling outside on a branched bit, tethering its meal to single beak and kept alone. Otherwise nothing afforded a view. The floorboards chirped. When she stood up the hallway akimbo he could see her easier squinting. Then she could see he didn't believe her about being much. Was terrifying brought in with little short of a warning against and be beat to it. He didn't even know if she knew a father. Likely sent himself away long time after these rains kicked up and out though he had gotten burned on likely before. Just him looking for the switch again. Good property to settle away from the open. Sometimes they told him so in town following August.

These things to him took awhile because she liked them a tad ornery and anxious before coming. Kept strained peace but for the back of a hand once. The dresses always proved it, not a single rip needing a stitch. Certainly no buttonholes with a nosegay for her lone exception. There were few alterations with little extras inseam when weight slid off with his creativity, him thinking of bells, tiny melodic ones, that'd rush her from dining room crate and outside sucking in earliest air. For awhile it was the bed helping. He fidgeted with a handsome spring. Seemed on the other hand he didn't really hitch all the way from town to whip up breaky-fast. Had been a short order cook for a few months because the lie about Eggs Benedict. Watching her change he said, Cook you eggs ev'ry day but no sauces. It was fine. She ate them plain as could be. You sure how pretty I look, she asked around his shoulder, her freckles turning out too proud. He grumbled, We're eating here, fork in hand. Sunny-side ups from saddest coop he could expect. He reached for an empty pepper shaker if to shush her only. Breeze other way through windowpane like the big goner. A home's had enough, he thought less than careful.

Even at appreciable distance, empty tractor stood out waiting to stare at her holding his hand sweetly awkward. He wasn't surprised. He saw No Trespass had posted signs at its inconvenience. Gates still on arrival. Tilting signs she wanted to know was the warning really him. He shied away and set looking over. He'd realized a new community never too far, already entryway walls put up and out by the long road to town where he had walked in. He evaluated foundations laid, skeletons making shape, one story, two stories. There went the concrete of the future. Bobby Jo and Sara Jane would sure get their grassy set alright. She finally told him, Don't bother. She'd been around before and found their tools lying. Picked one up at a time and dropped each to see how far noise traveled from her in a house without walls. Soon a collection of hammers and nearly a thousand nails as near as he could count lined on her fireplace mantle, all the pointed ends pointing towards him. Welcome back, she explained happily for a change.

The wonder of trees had them hidden well-off and she slipped her hand below his waist holding it at the soft flush when she started hearing water instead. He grew impatient. Said her blessed be damned. But this terrible stream wouldn't let her go, not quite yet with drowsy sun on the line. She, in some circumlocution of her telling herself as if, remembered nearly drowning in it because as a child she thought it still enough to ankle through, her failing to see shadows in the rocks hide deeper spots. He was playing her to show it all -- if she really knew it so painful. She was asking for trouble. He'd been around horses before. In such a tussle there'd be one bruising foreshadowing others but he could've asked her not to take it to heart and that he couldn't go back until they had his bed made up. Privileges lurking about this world if he'd let them happen. She'd get them sooner with him in the mood for smarter.

Already getting flat with pent-up energy, he fooled her thinking magnetic waves made this planet -- any planet -- spin fast, pencil drawing a linewise course on the tabletop through a near-perfect circle and making dotted dashes in bending vectors like the circulation of strange woeful powers that no one, especially him, could explain so perfectly without the hesitation of many years' experience. When he was done it had its sense. Somewhere out a ways, he pointed blithely into relative space but starting to plot out stars, was the grandest stake pushing us -- who knew where we would go following it. And she moved to the very edge of the table.

After her her her it occurred to him she hadn't let him watch dawn creep up the length of how many miles it stayed away. A window faced in this direction and, in his head alone covered by bedsheets, a slightening fear of two other white houses that split the construction site horizon. Only because were there neighbors who watched them while together -- though he'd spied no one. She left the window open in full view of another window not far away with lace curtain across their movements buckling throwing each and other, the pane propped open with a cleaned tree branch, initials whittled into it. He'd studied the letters. He didn't ask about those. Too hot closing it, she whined, coercing agreement. No matter the distance this sun hadn't stayed far away enough for his liking her. He jammed the branch back into the pane, his thumb crossing a series of carved J's and M's. Not since arriving here did something fly in but wasn't as if he didn't watch for it day or night. Inbetween she slept quiet enough. He crawled back. He didn't close his eyes for amusing her.

Old well was safe racket she had going nowhere. Taps in the sink dried up -- he knew water rerouted for the new houses but humiliated for her he wouldn't say priority. He watched her carry that wooden pail with both hands by iron handle at her chest as though this would get special. Second childhood. She ran out to the field while she could. A group of stones covered by wooden planks nailed together. He scratched his head. Anything could fall through. If something did she didn't care, it was for imaginary flowers anyway. He thought he ought to help haul but decided not. He wanted more for her because this might save him explanation. Watched her lower the pail down by rope. It went real smooth. She called out to the water like a scared kitten under her sofa. Sadly taken by two prayerless hands.

The room in thirds had no door. She said to enter he needed to make one. He thought out outlay and design and loadbearing all the rest but couldn't come to any conclusion. Hadn't the saw either -- town hardware wouldn't let him buy. Windows pardoned next and not spoken of without her asking So good morning? this time. Lots of plans. She wanted a library of splinters.

She lit a candle, then the newer bedroom. Ran match to her fingertips. From it shadowlight reflected in boudoir mirror she stood in front if while he undressed self-consciously this time since she didn't watch him do so. He hung his jeans on the tip of a bedpost which he usually did whenever a bedpost loomed there prone to the moment.

She didn't begin at particular gesture. Followed slow-toting beetle on lace curtain with a glass eye in her right hand. He wanted to her to kill it and get started. Make you regret, she glanced at him, you'll never sleep sound again with anyone 'cept yourself. Turning back she squashed the beetle with her other hand streaking the curtain. He had to laugh. You've conjured me away now, he imagined himself crying sincere.

That faded crimson a body can leave in so many places and why not, why fucking not. Before her returning him a lain motley of scars didn't lessen what was building out there in spite of her. Just dirty under her fingernails. Broken flowerstems she wanted to pick green but nothing asked a touch. Then another sun rose. He felt one of his letters unsent grazing his forehead. Threat to some. Foreclosure to others. Wouldn't send post-haste and get involved. She'd find a place if not here. Probably came down between her and her hallway as it did sly. He craved recalling that how look.

Some stretch up the long road drew a softy. Always wore designer sunglasses, he'd noticed, and throwing his duffel in backseat told driver where he'd like to go but also willing if it wasn't the rightest destination. Driver responded in kind it wasn't the rightest destination so he had to listen to this guy on and off. There carried surly grandkids and inclement weather patterns and local politics and national politics that needed tending to before three hundred miles about dried up into a obligatory thank-you smile in the last few meters pulling in for gas. He gave the driver his remaining dollars. Yeah that's hello been said in these parts.

Siren down his street woke him too early before a shift, something resembling what he'd heard before elsewhere. Surprised him same sirens on the outside meant different things, tornadoes, fires, even the occasional air raid. He chuckled. That'd really straighten this town out. He got thirsty but decided staying that way meant not wanting to stumble in darkness to the sink for a glass. Meant staying. Easy hours pondering how rainfall in his room would turn him over instead. The sweetened relief and its approach more so. Because he kept never having to get up yet.