Posted by: Maryann McCullough | July 27, 2011

Story for August 2011


 Maryann McCullough

In the early morning hours, the cars and pickups began to arrive, creating a near traffic jam on a quiet residential street in north central Phoenix. All the vehicles were jockeying for a good parking position for the house sale – an everything-in-the-house-is-for-sale sale.

Never one to pass up a bargain, I walked down to the corner and over one block to see what treasures might be found. The writer in me was intrigued as well. What was the story? You can learn a lot about the lives of the owners as you search the tables and boxes filled with items for sale. So, as I looked around, I did some surmising about the owners.

 On the bookshelves I counted ten cookbooks on Chinese cuisine and the collection of hats (two chairs piled high) which would create a fantasy world for any little girl. As for the owner, I concluded she was fair skinned and a gourmet cook. I assumed someone was elderly, perhaps frail as there were two walkers for sale. I figured he was a builder due to all the blueprints and dozens of boxes of light fixtures. The car seat and the stroller appeared new a strange juxtaposition to those walkers. A large cardboard box containing boxes of cereal and crackers rested unembarrassed between a beautiful pair of matching burgundy leather chairs.

 All my imagining and surmising generated more questions than answers and so I asked the woman who appeared to be in charge, “I’m writing a story about leaving a home. Can you tell me the story here?”

 She paused in her sweeping of the kitchen floor. “It’s a sad story. Are you sure you want to hear?”

 “Yes, if you don’t mind.”

 “Richard and Sharon were a May/December marriage,” the woman said as she set aside her broom. “He was more than twenty years her senior. He was a developer, but even more, an authority on construction law frequently called to testify in disputes between clients and builders.  They built this as a spec house themselves about ten years ago, only to fall in love with it and make it their home.  Last year when Sharon was forty she at last conceived and later gave birth to their first child, a little boy. That son Richard Jr. died later that day.

 “Like many, Richard was overextended and adversely affected by the banks, mortgage, real estate thing, but was continuing to make negotiated payments on their home. Last week he had one of his workers and his little girl over to swim and have a barbecue.  While preparing the steaks, Richard slipped on a dog toy and broke his femur.  With the Labor Day weekend, the surgery was put off until Wednesday. When the staff went to prep him for the operation, they found him dead in his hospital bed. He went in with a broken bone and he died. And would you believe that very afternoon, the bank delivered a foreclosure notice. Those bastards! They took his money even though they planned to foreclose on him all along.”

 I was trying to process all the pain contained in two minutes of speech. But there was more.

 “With money so tight, Richard had not made his insurance payments and so his wife, his widow, has nothing left. In a matter of a few short days, she had lost her husband, her security and her home.”

 I asked about the widow and learned she was wisely secluded in a back bedroom of that home, choosing not to witness as bargain hunters and scavengers pick through the remnants of the life she had.

 I feel such pain for this woman whose face I wouldn’t know but whose story has filled me with an understanding of the word “empty.” House, womb, bank account, heart, bed – so many empty things.

 The foreclosure is forcing her to leave, at a time not of her choosing. But I am told she would likely move in any case. The place and the persons have become woven together over time and the home without the husband will feel too incomplete; memories hanging too close to the surface there.

 Tomorrow is Sunday and Sharon will leave for the last time, the house that she and her husband built. The door is closing on a chapter (a big chapter) of her life. I can only hope the one that is opening will help to fill the many empty spaces that now permeate her life.



  1. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful story, Maryann. I felt it.

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