, , , , , , , ,

by Sabrina Hicks

When a sold sign went up at the house across the street, I imagined the wrap-around porch sealed the deal. It sat high, fanning out like a skirt mid-waist, laced in evening light. With its peaked rooflines and scallop trim, the home reminded me of the kind little girls drew on stock paper with a lemon-yellow sun sliced high in the corner, complete with arching maples ready to drop a confetti of fall leaves for a perfect family portrait, or at least a good Facebook post.

There was even a niche for a porch-swing to be anchored, framing a view of the nearby pond. Maybe I’d hear the grating whine of chains over time, but it wouldn’t matter. It’d been on the market for over a year before selling, and before that, a rat-infested tear down with overgrown trees until a builder fixed it up.

When I met the couple, I commented on the porch.

“Yes, I can’t wait to get some outdoor furniture,” the man said, raking his hand through his shoe-polish-brown hair, a sharp contrast to his aging features.

“I plan to live on that porch,” the woman chimed in.

She was at least ten years his junior, with two small, pale girls hiding behind her like sullen ghosts. The couple had only met months ago, two divorcées, eager to begin a new life together. I watched the moving van unload her belongings, while she chased her small dogs around the front yard. Dogs I would later find crapping on my lawn, wandering the neighborhood with a skittishness that made it impossible to corral them home.

I watched, too, from my window the girls returning from school, locked out, slumped over on their driveway with tear-stained cheeks and nowhere to sit. I offered them shelter on cold days, fed them cookies and hot chocolate with my own children, who had been advised to walk the line of wary sympathizers. Helpful, but not intrusive. Friendly, but not too friendly.

But when they came to our door on a Saturday, asking to play, I said we had plans.

My kids didn’t object. “They’re nice, but strange,” they said, and I thought to myself perhaps this was a good lesson in knowing how to keep your distance.

It wasn’t long before a patrol car showed up, parked for hours in front of their house. I read my book, looking out the window with an uneasy feeling, creating different narratives as to what could be transpiring. It was three hours before their front door opened. The policeman paced the porch, as if he was looking for something.

Through my open window I heard him say, “Nice porch you have here. You should get some furniture to sit out on.”

“Yes,” the mother said, nodding. “I’ve been meaning to.”

I never saw the girls again, and two years later the porch is still empty.

Sabrina Hicks is a writer and poet living in Phoenix, Arizona. Her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest and various online publications. You can find her blog at sshicks.wordpress.com.