I leaned closer to the mirror, not really believing how deep and dark
the circles were. I smeared makeup under my eyes, attempting to disguise
the discoloration. With my hands up to my face, I couldn’t help but
notice the details. My nails were jagged, and dirty. The chorus of
calluses running across my palms had nearly grown together, forming
large, leathery appendages. Mottled bruises ran up and down my forearm,
mixed generously with cuts, scrapes and Band-Aids. “Jesus, girl.” I
said to my reflection. What the hell had happened to me, and how did it
get so bad?
I’d lost at least ten pounds and so had John—weight we could ill
afford to give. We hardly recognized ourselves anymore. John actually
looked worse than I did, since he wasn’t comfortable applying makeup.
We both avoided mirrors and calendars as much as possible. I shook my
head trying to remember the last four months and how the insanity had
Perhaps it had been the bitter cold blowing malcontent through chinks in
our walls. Or, maybe it was the moving into a new century and the
self-examination such a milestone brings. Whichever, the year or the
cold, January had found us edgy, unhappy and myopic in our view of each
other. We felt closed in by the prolixity of our neighbors and our own
incessant restlessness. Something needed to change.
We were living in our sixth house and still hadn’t found a place we
wanted to call home. The first few houses had been purchased with the
idea of remodeling and turning ordinary homes into places that would
make us proud. We’d sold them, and our dreams, for profit, forgetting
why we’d started such adventures. We’d bought bigger and better,
following society’s map for success. We’d always upgraded but kept
them carefully neutral in case something better came along. The current
address, despite having been recently built, was no exception.
Cautiously, carefully, we unfolded an old dream. We’d meant to protect
it, had folded it away for safekeeping, but like an old newspaper, its
edges were yellowed, brittle with eighteen years of lying dormant.
Homes for Sale booklets were stacked on the kitchen counter. The newest
one was splayed open on the table while John sat with elbows propped,
holding onto his forehead. It was nearly impossible to concentrate with
the noise and confusion.
We had seven children at the house--our own three and four additional
neighbor children we were watching for a sick friend. I was wild-eyed
and frazzled with trying to get kids, aged two to seventeen, fed,
showered and settled in for the evening.
“I can’t find my pillow,” someone complained. Was it Michael or my
friend’s son? Being nearly joined at the hip, their eight-year-old
voices and mannerisms were barely discernible.
“Who spilled Kool-Aid on my homework?” The girl, Aimee, glared
suspiciously at her brother and Michael.
Pulling at my sleeve, my chunky two-year old Spencer demanded attention,
“I need a ‘nack.”
The other two neighbor children, also toddlers, came running at the
prospect of food. Spencer wedged himself between them, and me
establishing his territory.
“Deanna! I could use some help down here!” I yelled up the
staircase, desperate to find my daughter. As one of the older teenagers
in the neighborhood, she pulled down a fortune in babysitting fees. She
watched these particular kids all the time. Surely she’d know what to
do, or at the very least, could come downstairs and help.
She bounded down the steps, long minky hair swinging around her
shoulders. She laughed at my expression. “Having some trouble there,
“Yeah. You could say that,” I answered while disengaging Spencer and
my friend’s baby from my legs.
Usually patient with his own children, John had less tolerance for
anyone else’s. The additional four and the constant noise were making
him crazy. “God, we have got to get out of this neighborhood. I swear
it’s something all the damn time!”
The phone rang. Once. Twice. Three times.
“Get the phone, John!” I called from the bathroom where I was
supervising teeth brushings. “Jeez! What’s your problem?”
“Hey, Rick!” I heard John’s greeting and knew he’d be involved
in yet another long conversation with our realtor. We’d spent almost
two months crisscrossing the county, looking for our dream house,
something old with acreage, something being sold “As Is” and needing
renovations. Rick, however, was losing patience with our picky
requirements and inability to commit.
“This one sounds pretty good, more like what you two have been looking
for. I haven’t seen it though,” Rick warned, erecting a quick
caution sign, as he listed dimensions and features.
“How old?” John asked, obviously surprised. He paused, listening.
“Free? Cool. That sounds more like it!”
I popped my head out of the bathroom, straining to hear the one-sided
conversation better. He sounded excited and my pulse quickened.
Because it was nearby, and, I suspect, because he was fed up with the
whole bedtime torture process, John announced, “I’m gonna drive out
and see this one. It’s not far from here and it sounds pretty good.
I’ll be back in a bit.” He aimed a kiss in my general direction,
“You’ve got the kids, right?”
I just nodded and rolled my eyes. It’s not as if he’d been involved.
It was 9:30 p.m., everyone was late for bed, and I was too harried to
argue. An hour later, with the house finally, blessedly quiet, John
“Oh my God, hon. This is it. It’s awesome!” He gushed before the
kitchen door clicked close. “You’ve got to go see it now!”
“Hello?” my voice dripped sarcasm, “We have seven kids here. I
just got them to sleep. I can’t leave. What if their mom calls?”
“I’ll stay here and watch them. Just go!”
I knew the house had to be quite something if he was willing to
supervise all of those kids, even if they were sleeping. His excitement
was contagious though, and I was hurriedly looking through a mountain of
coats trying to find mine. John was attempting to draw me a map but
having difficulty. He kept jumping up from the table and running hands
nervously through his blue-black hair. He was describing things about
the house in between bursts of energy.
Having found my coat, I was head-first in the closet, searching for
“There’s a porch too. You’ll love that, I bet.”
“What?” I backed out, trying to hear his muffled speech, and caught
my hair on someone’s Velcro strap.
“Why don’t we wake up Deanna? She can watch the kids and I can go
“Ha!” I spun around and pointed playfully at him, “I knew you
wouldn’t stay with the kids.” I was still stuck to the Velcro and
trying to remove my long, blond hair a strand at a time.
He tried to help, “No, seriously, I just want to see what you think
when you see it.”
Deanna was summoned grumpily from her warm bed. “I just fell
asleep,” she complained on a yawn. We set her up on the couch, tossed
the remote in her general direction and ran out the door before she
could ask too many questions.
John pulled into the driveway, picking out sections of the house with
the beams of the headlights. My breath caught, and I knew that house was
the one I’d always tried to find.
Trying to be statuesque, despite leaning slightly toward the back yard,
it seemed solid, dependable, and just large enough to be comfortable.
Sitting in the middle of the property, it emanated a sense of pride;
sure of its place in the world, even if everyone else had forgotten. Not
understanding the nuances, I finally, in all our married life, saw
myself at home. I looked at John to gauge his reaction.
Catching my glance, he asked, “It’s great, isn’t it?” He looked
like a little boy, eager and ready to play. I nodded, strained against
the seatbelt, and squeezed him into a hug. The gesture was awkward and
rusty, and I wondered at how we’d grown apart, not talking, not
touching. Maybe this house, this venture would infuse new life into our
In the dark and frozen mix, John and I held hands as we crept up to the
house and peered through her windows. With noses pressed against the
grime, we saw past the large piles of junk in the foyer and began to
toss around our dreams enthusiastically. “Oh my God, there’s a
curved staircase! The boys will love it!” I envisioned them sliding
down the rail. I squinted against the darkness, trying to see beyond the
foyer to the rooms on either side.
John grinned beside me. “We could have this cleaned up in no time.”
We gave each other high-fives and our pact was sealed. The house came
with just enough acreage to make it interesting, boasted a pond and
“free gas.” It was too good to be true and, hugging each other, we
turned circles of excitement on the old porch.
In doing so, we woke The Old Woman that the house had become. Sleep had
become a welcome companion. There, she could dream of happier times.
Opening tired eyes, she grunted in surprise to find strangers glorifying
her. Catching pieces of our enthusiasm, she tried on a slow and creaky
smile. As she watched, she caught strains from a long-ago waltz and
remembered being dressed beautifully and twirling to music and laughter.
She sighed at the memory, afraid to give in to such longings. She’d
waited so long, dismayed to feel herself drooping and decaying. Over the
years, she’d opened her doors to many strangers, only to have them
walk away, unwilling to bring her back to life. I think I might like to
dance once more. She listened more intently.
“I want to see more!” I shoved against the door, noticing it
wasn’t quite closed.
John stopped me. “It’s too dark. Someone might see us and call the
cops. We’ll come back and see it tomorrow.” He was already pulling
me toward the car.
I followed him reluctantly; my head turned backwards trying to see every
detail. We drove like idiots back to the neighborhood, talking excitedly
and interrupting one another. Not noticing the late hour, we called Rick
and made an appointment to see the old house first thing in the morning.
Hearing our enthusiasm, Rick cleared sleep from his voice and readily
Unable to close our eyes, John and I tangled into one another, laughing
and unencumbered by the mundane any longer.
Excerpted from "Echoes In The Walls" by Katrina Morgan. Copyright © 2011 by Katrina Morgan. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.