The house was perched between two others that were dissimilar from it, though maybe not dissimilar enough to make it stand out to the regular passerby. The unit of three houses was in a similar predicament within the economy of the small town block. It was an ordinary rent house. From a distance, the flaws of flaky paint and bent or marred siding became indistinguishable. But as the sun ran across the sky and an observer began to notice its unique characteristics, the flaws became more apparent and glaring.
There was only one story and the layout of the house was an upside down ‘T’ where the front door split the horizontal bar of the layout. From the front, there was nothing to draw the eye, but, on the inside, the spaces were such to lend to the illusion (often felt with modest homes) of a larger interior in respect to the exterior. A sizable living room greeted those crossing the threshold of the front door while French doors drew the eyes to the dining room that shot off from the middle of the living room space. Another set of French doors beyond the dining room into the master bedroom giving the initial feeling of an infinite eternity of opened doors upon opened doors. Flanking the entrance to the dining room, they were doors beckoning an alternate path away from the infinite regression. One door led to a small bedroom to one side and other led to the entrance to another even smaller bedroom and which shared an opening to the kitchen as well. A peculiar layout to be sure, but houses from the fifties and sixties were often playful in layout, though not always practical. The only bathroom in the house was nestled on the far corner of the master bedroom and the hallway—between the kitchen and dining room.
The last tenants had moved out of the house in a rush at the certain realization that the rent and utilities may have been more taxing on their income than they first may have thought. As is often the case, uncertainty about income fuels the tensions of marriage and family life and it hadn’t been unusual to hear rumors from neighbors that arguments had been had and walls had found themselves in unjust fights and lost. Something about renting a house did violence to the concept of ownership. Tenants were not always mindful of the messes nor the destruction they left behind in their wake.
For every rental property that is taken for granted, there is a person or crew sent in to pick up the mess and restore the house to a point where another family or couple or college student could inhabit it for a time. One could say that their jobs depended on the consistency of human nature to take those rent houses for granted. At least that is how Noel chose to see it. He had grown up in a family of construction workers, handymen and tinkerers and had used that passed down knowledge to work his way through college doing odd jobs and working on rental property for various companies in the immediate area. People like Noel had no illusions about the constitution of human nature. The worst of the rent houses and apartments had damage, stains and types of messes that defied a coherent explanation. The best of them were still haunted by the unique shadows of their former residents with the random porno mag at the back of an upper shelf in a bedroom closet or a nest of condoms—hopefully unopened, but not always—inhabiting a bathroom drawer.
He had gotten to a point where he would envision the people that had lived there before. To the normal eye, a mess is just a mess. To someone who has lived their life cleaning up those messes, there is a distinct uniqueness to them, maybe even an order to them. Insights into people he would probably never know, nor would probably want to know. It was a type of observational game that helped Noel detach himself from the constant barrage of trash day in and day out and also gave him a less cynical outlook by setting out to give the former inhabitants a narrative so it would be harder to demonize them for leaving the house in such a state. For if there is any consistent observation that could be made about humanity, in general, from such work, it was people are absolutely fucking depraved. They are as shattered as the kicked out windowpane and as broken as the busted sheetrock.
Every tenant had a story. Noel sought to piece it together from the crime scene they left behind. It broke up the banality of his work.
So it happened that he was hired to get this particular rent house ready to go back on the market. His old beat up Ford Bronco pulled up into the narrow driveway on that Monday morning as the sun was rising to a new day. As was the routine, he walked up to the front door, opened the storm door and slid the key into the deadbolt and door knob and turned the knob preparing himself for the unique scents that would then become his first clue into the lives of those who had vanished from inside these walls.
The door swung open and there was a slight muggy heaviness with a sweet-sour quality to the air that at once mixed with the much less pungent air on the outside. As Noel walked in, his first view was a beaten up wooden floor with areas where the polyurethane had bubbled up from the wood from consistent wear and prolonged periods of damp heat. On top of the floor were strewn fast food sacks, side tables missing legs, a defeated-looking barcalounger, and piles of clothes in chaotic piles around the living room. Admittedly, as Noel took in the full view of the status of the house, he had already come to the conclusion that he had seen worse, in some cases much worse. One house took him near a week to just clear out the trash from the house.
As he moved from room to room, he took notes on what supplies and tools he would need to acquire to repair the house and his method of attack. He checked the plumbing to make sure the water was on and that there were no leaks that needed immediate attention. The places he always dreaded visiting were the closets. Closets tended to be the last places that people would clean out if they were vacating in a rush. It wouldn’t be unusual to find dirty cloths, smelly shoes and unknown waste particles. Noel had seen his first porn mag and gay porn mag cleaning up the various closets of vacated tenants. He also had seen used condoms, clothes with dog or cat shit or piss—on special occasions, a special concoction of both—and items that looked to nasty to even identify. Noel had seen a part of the lives of people laid bare before him. Not always pleasant, but very human.
However, what he saw as he opened up the only closet in the smaller bedroom was something alien to his experience. In any other context, but an empty house, it would have chilled a guest to their very bones. On the wood paneling that made up the walls of the interior of the closet was a message scrawled in the angular lettering expected from some kind of sharp-ish utensil. Noel took it in, snapped himself out from his initial shock which felt much longer than a few seconds, and took a couple of clumsy steps back from the closet. His skin went clammy and a shiver ran up his back and found its resolution in his shoulders.
In one word was hidden the chaos of the unknown darkness of human nature: