In the House on Glenshaw Street
In the Front Parlor
Later that afternoon, and after an exhaustive visit to the Lanes, they returned to the empty house. Because there were no furnishings, they built their tent in the parlor, where sunlight drew inscrutable arabesques on the rosewood floor, carpeted in dust as fine as a spider’s pelt. It had taken some time to unroll the Persian tapestries and arrange them on the, peaked whalebone scaffolding, folding them to vent the smoke of their cooking fire. But in the end, the effort was worth it, even as beads of sweat gleamed on Otávio’s shoulders, and dampened the sandpaper stubble, itching along his jaw. He’d stripped down to his purple loincloth and sat in a posture of meditation as Cochran dabbed at his sheen with complicated braids of Spanish moss.
Beyond the parlor window, and visible through the tent flap, a bolide flared; Otávio watched the meteor’s passage: an incendiary flash, trailing smoke, feathers, and omens in its wake.
Cochran’s fingers reminded Otávio of pecan shells: buffed. “I was thinking,” he said quietly. “About that woman in Rio de Janeiro; the one with the cockroach.”
“I remember,” Cochran said.
“Do you think it really happened?” he asked, examining his palm, chilled at what his fingers implied.
“You’re from there,” Cochran said, ceasing his ministrations and settling beside him. “You know more about it than I do.”
“Has anyone done that in English?”
“Accidentally.” Cochran shrugged. “If ever.”
The Lanes were overgrown with floral reprobates, fugitives from pompous gardens now wild, thorny, and aggressively-colonial. They’d stepped along a pink-gravel trail; now, Cochran picked a limp, white petal from between Otávio’s naked toes. “Anemone nemorosa,” he said, placing the wilting petal into his mouth, leavening it—Otávio knew—just a little. “Seus dedos são como caramelo,” he said, gently. “Eles sabor como o mar.”
In the Attic
They found a woman upstairs, naked and as pale as unleavened alabaster: she was, Otávio thought, a runway model or an aging actress, angular and Italilianate. Bats, Cochran said, had built a rookery in her ribcage. She sat like a yogi on the hardwood floor, her hands in her lap.
“I was shy as a child,” she told them, softly. “And then I ran away.”
And when Otávio pressed his ear to her open mouth, he could hear the sigh of wind, surf and terns: the seaside as he’d listened it—once—in the shell of a nautilis.
Sunset was a shaved peach, enflamed; glowering blades of waning light angled through the window, across the rosewood floor, and fell into the clefts between Otávio’s toes.
Otávio had grown accustomed to the dust and the acrid redolence of charcoal and earwigs in the upper rooms. The cellar was a bleak world of limestone, silverfish, and a dusty bottle of dandelion vinegar under the wooden stairs.
The home’s previous owners had divided the cellar into a honeycomb labyrinth, and in one barren cell—lit by the candelabrum that Cochran held—a neat row of bulbous, clay jars lined one wall; their open mouths stuffed with straw.
“What’s in them?” Otávio asked.
Cochran shrugged. Candle-light jostled. “Larvae,” he said.
A doorless threshold led into another cell, its far wall a sheet of thick glass.
There’s an aquarium, Cochran had said, offering to show it.
But there were no fish inside, no anemones, and certainly no amoebas: only a massive tube of boneless flesh crammed into the tight, angular space, folded, and refolded upon itself in flabby convolutions. It was bloated and throbbing with energetic fermentation; he could hear the faint, perpetual gurgle. Intestines, Otávio knew, alive and processing whatever it was that old houses consumed at this time of year.
Otávio pressed his ear against the warm glass wall and listened to the rumbling throb of architectural metabolism.
The ancient stone floor was cold and gritty underfoot. After a moment, Otávio pulled his ear away from the glass and the grumbles behind it.
“Heirlooms,” Cochran shrugged. “Sometimes, they’re a burden,” he said, sliding one arm across Otávio’s shoulders, as Otávio leaned close, sidling one arm around Cochran’s waist.
J.C. Howell was born in Chicago and has lived in the Czech Republic and Germany. Previous works have appeared in small (out of print) Chicago-local journals and chapbook-anthologies. Recent works have appeared in A Quiet Courage, 1:100, and Café Irreal.