House

I asked a builder to build me a house.

He came to my home and we drank tea at the kitchen table in front of the glowing coal fire and talked about what I wanted.

‘I want you to build me a creepy house on a hill,’ I said. ‘You know the sort: creaky floorboards, buckets dotted around the place to catch drips from the leaking roof, dusty cobwebs hanging from the light-fittings, white-sheets covering the furniture in a long-forgotten living-room, that kind of thing.’

He nodded but I could tell he thought I was nuts.

‘What I really want is a house that holds a dark secret. Do you know what I mean? I want a house where something terrible happened to someone. The kind of place with broken windows so the wind can whisper down the hallway. The kind of house that children dare each other to enter on dark gloomy days. The kind of house that oozes negative energy because of the terrible deed that took place there on a cold, rainy day.’

‘That’s all very poetic,’ he said, sucking on his pipe. ‘But I am a builder and need more details than creepy house and dusty blankets.’  He wanted to know the colour of the doors, the style of kitchen cupboards, the shape of the skirting boards, the thickness of the architraves, the height of the ceilings, the thickness of the new glass, the type of hinges I wanted on the front door, down to the type of nails used in the floor.

‘You can’t build a house unless you have every detail,’ he said. His pipe smoke smelled sickly-sweet.

‘Nonsense,’ I said. ‘You just need a few details here and there and a good dollop of imagination.’

‘But what if I imagine a different house to yours,’ he said.

‘That would be fine,’ I said. ‘What matters is not what the house looks like but what happens in it.’

He cocked his head and his eyes narrowed. ‘And what does happen?’

That’s when I took out the gun from my pocket. I pointed it at his face and his eyes turned large like plates. ‘What the hell are you doing?’

Outside the wind picked up and rattled the windows. The rain that pelted off the corrugated roof sounded like a parade of tiny military drummers.

I stood up and used the gun to smash several of the small panes. I felt the cold wind enter the house and pass over my hands and cheeks. I sat back down and smiled at him. He had no idea what was going on. Not even when I asked if he had ever met my wife.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I have never met your wife.’

‘Don’t lie to me,’ I said. ‘She told me everything.’

‘Let me meet her then,’ he demanded. ‘I want to talk to her.’

‘She can’t talk,’ I said. ‘But you will meet her very shortly.’

‘Where is she?’

‘In the cellar.’

I pulled back the hammer and he held up his hands. He begged me not to shoot. He cried and told me there had been a mistake. He repeated over and over that he had never met my wife let alone had an affair with her.

‘Tell me her name,’ he said. ‘Please tell me her name.’

When I told him my wife’s name I saw the recognition in his eyes. I saw memories of candlelit dinners and passionate encounters in hotel rooms under the name of Mr and Mrs Smith. I saw writhing sweat-soaked bodies. I saw my wife with her eyes closed and her mouth agape as she let out the last of a powerful orgasm. Beyond that though I saw his guilt. And at that moment I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew.

And it was the sweetest moment of my life.

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