An old house in disrepair sits hulking and dark alongside the street on which we slowly drive.
A curve of unexpected black and white draws my attention, and I focus.
I notice, in one of those instants in which all the images coalesce and enter my brain in a single dump of information, the following details . . .
The body of the house is brown, but the paint is old enough that what might have once been a rich and earthy loam has now faded to the color of filth. The wooden-framed and multi-paned windows are silled in white paint that has been forced away in peeling chunks by the stubborn older green that lies below. Some of the windows are open, but no details of personal touches are evident within the house. There are no curtains and I am aware of no silhouettes of furniture or people within.
The door of the house is slightly ajar, but it’s not clear that this door isn’t always just slightly ajar.
This house’s signs of life are all outside.
There is a sagging front porch that plays host to a few faded deck chairs and a large dog bed in which there is a rounded black mass of what is perhaps dog. A small patch of front yard is lined on one side with tilted chain-link fence, and there are several bicycles tossed down within its boundaries. There is also a small empty plastic wading pool with one side crumpled inward and the abandoned skeleton of what might have been a Christmas tree.
Knocked from its post but lined up neatly with the sidewalk that runs in front of the house is a black metal mailbox. I wonder for a moment about the intentions of the person who placed the beheaded mailbox so carefully. I wonder about that person’s hopes, and from whom that person hopes to hear. I like the thought that this house still holds dreams, and that the words of another written on folded paper might fulfill those dreams.
I wonder if the person on the roof is the person waiting for those words.
A light rain is falling.
The steeply pitched roof is blanketed in aged wooden shingles that are darkening as they dampen in the rain. The shingles curl up at the edges as though they hope to catch and hold the rain should it start to fall in earnest. The first rain of the season, and the roof, like the yard below, is thirsty.
The house is two square stories, plus a triangular attic space with a small front-facing dormer window. It is through this open dormer window I assume the person on the roof has climbed.
With an umbrella.
The person on the roof is all sharp angles and jagged edges and is not obviously identifiable as male or female. My impression is of youth . . . a gray hooded sweatshirt over shorts over leggings of some sort . . . late teens, perhaps. Spikey hair, pale skin, tentative steps.
The umbrella is large and patterned in black and white, and the person holds it high in the air with two clenched fists.
It is not raining hard.
Only a few seconds have passed since I first noticed the unexpected high curve of the umbrella.
A few seconds in which I have tried to reconcile the person on the roof with the house’s apparent emptiness. Someone cares about the house enough to climb up onto the roof to check the integrity of the shingles; someone expects mail; someone bought that dog bed and feeds that perhaps dog. This house belongs to someone. Someone belongs here, even if that person is not supposed to be here.
This house is home to someone, in my imagination.
Someone who waits for news in the mail. Someone with hopes and dreams of something better. Someone who has stopped here on the way to something.
This house is a jumping-off point for someone.
What is that person doing on the steeply-pitched roof with that unwieldy umbrella?
I look back at the house as we drive slowly past, and from this angle, I see more explanation.
Two other spikey thin people are standing in the gravelly driveway that lines the left side of the house. These people wave and gesture at the person above with big encouraging scoops of their arms. On the ground between these two people is a queen-sized mattress, its sides exploded and surface ripped.
The person above steps closer to the edge of the roof, the umbrella held high.
I turn in my seat to the front of the car so as to not see what might come next.
We drive away.
Maj and Kallan have seen what I see, and they want to go back, “We want to see if he jumped! We want to see if the mattress was soft enough! We want to see if he breaks an arm! What if he floats? We want to see that! Go back! Go back! Go back!”
Mark continues driving down the road, and the house disappears from our view.
I turn to talk to the girls, “Sometimes, the imagined version is better than the reality.”
I crank the radio and we sing crazily to the next song that plays.
The mailman drives past us on the opposite side of the road, back toward the house with the too-low mailbox and the too-high umbrella.
I like the thought that the person on the roof waited to jump to something better.
I like the thought that the house still holds dreams, and that the words of another written on folded paper might fulfill those dreams.
I like the thought that the person on the roof is the person waiting for those words.
In my imagination, the house is a jumping-off point.
In my imagination, dreams come true.
And the boy floats.