It was one of those places that everyone cringed at when they drove by. Plastic coolers yawned across the front yard, displaying assortments of crushed beer cans and brown water that pooled in the bottoms. A corrugated tin shop slumped in the southeast corner of the property, its rusted grooves rolling behind endless piles of ancient tires that lined the drive like a tubular forest. Even the dogs looked spent, huddling under fir trees and limping depleted barks to passing cars.
A gnarled old man sat on the front stoop of a collapsing porch and lifted a tobacco stained finger whether people acknowledged it or not. He’d try to talk to you if given half a chance but his words were garbled and something in his voice made the skin creep. Mothers kept their children well back from that side of the street and urged them to walk faster.
Then, one day, a young girl showed up on the property in a long white nightdress with a doll under her arm. She was probably 5 or 6 by the size of her. She’d stand on the island in front of the disintegrating house and wave at anyone travelling by. Her smile was pure, the light behind her eyes, simple. Her body grew but her posture never changed.
Ten years later, she was still standing in the same place with the same doll and a larger dress. The old man had even fewer teeth but kept vigil over her and the place like a wizened raven surveying a battlefield.
Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses side-stepped them. Unofficially, it became known as the “Junk House”, which was appropriate because someone found out that it had been an actual junkyard for decades. No one from the county dared approach the property for fear of tetanus or rabies, so the profits of peoples’ rubbish multiplied unchecked, regardless of public health violations.
Eventually, it got out that the patriarch of the Junk House was ailing and that his daughter had moved in to get the place in order. Around that time, one of the neighbors stopped by out of morbid curiosity and got an afternoon of local history from the withering old man.
Turned out the place had been the last stop for provisions before pioneers reached the end of the Oregon Trail. The old man said the trees had been so thick in the farmer’s field across from him, that when they cleared it, the piles burned for over a year.
He jabbered on about the old pioneer families still in the area and the molestation that ran rampant amongst them. He did not omit names, not even in his own family.
No one thought to ask him his age, but he had to be over a hundred. The center of the house had been the original trading post and his family had built onto it for the last sixty years. The way he talked, it was clear there was an encyclopedia of land lore and gossip inside his head that would never be catalogued.
When he died, the lawn got cleaner and the house was painted. Shrubs were trimmed back and the tire piles dwindled to stumps. Everything was scrubbed and disinfected and while it didn’t sparkle, you no longer feared to inhale the air wafting from it.
The girl appeared on the island less frequently but when she did, she wore pants. And she still waved, as though there had never been dirty truths that no one cared to hear.
Image © Ryan Schude
Jaime writes because it’s the closest she can come to painting realistically. You can see her work in Dirty Chai, The Flexible Persona, FORTH magazine and the Madcap Review. She was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize and lives in Oregon City, OR with Danes, chickens and her entire immediate family.