“The Market” by Alena Hopkins

You want to sell your house. You love your house; in truth you are a little sad to be letting it go. But you want to move to a different neighborhood, rent a little apartment without a yard. You put it on the market the previous week, and in nine days no one has looked at your house.

It’s small, but distinguishable. The red brick stands out amongst the sea of grey and beige houses that fill the rest of the neighborhood. It sits on the corner lot with a long driveway lined by trees and shrubs. The park across the street has a large lake; during the summer it’s filled with hundreds of ducks and geese. In the fifties, when the house was built, it had been the show home for the new development. You can imagine how it must have looked to its first owners; imagine the years they spent building their lives in this house.

When you bought this house you had imagined your life here. But this house and this neighborhood had been a compromise. Still technically in the city (a must for you) but with a finished basement and a large yard (a must for him). You thought you would get married, thought you would have children. Thought they would grow up and you would grow old in this house. A year later you are alone in a three-bedroom house you can barely afford.

In nine days there have been no showings and no offers. When you put the house on the market you were counting on the fact that despite the bad economy houses have been selling in a matter of days. First time buyers have been scurrying to scoop up all the excess real estate before the considerable housing credit the government has been providing expires.

He had never really liked the house, and took every opportunity to point this out to you. He often referred to it as ‘The Money Pit’, a joke you never found particularly amusing. As a result he had little interest in caring for the house. After he left you began to erase all traces that he had ever been here. You spread out; filled in his half of the dresser and closet, took over his half of the bed. You painted the bathroom purple (the color he had once complained was too feminine), hung generic prints where the pictures of the two of you used to hang, filled in the empty spots on the shelves where his books used to sit. You made this house yours; you felt home. Gradually you are beginning to sense this fading.

Before putting it on the market you had to stow away all the mementos from your past you had proudly displayed throughout the house. There is no room for such things anymore, potential buyers want to imagine your house without you in it. All your memories fit into a small box; postcards from friends, photos of you and your sister as children, the framed picture of your mother taken when she was your age, standing on a cliff by the ocean. You tape up the box and put it on a shelf in the basement. Your house is now a blank canvas, left for anyone to recreate.

This particular morning you perform the same ritual you have for the past nine days. As you go about your routine you meticulously remove all traces of your existence. After brushing your teeth you unplug your electric toothbrush, wrap the cord around the base and hide it beneath the sink. You were forced to pull it from its hiding place the night before when the battery died mid-brush. You are irritated by the fact that you will probably forget to plug it in when you get home this evening and have another interrupted brushing later tonight.

Once you finish styling your hair you put your curling iron on the top shelf of your closet; the only place you can think to put it. Still hot from recent use you can’t return it to the wicker basket you usually store it in (since setting the house on fire wouldn’t do you any good). You used to leave it unplugged on the edge of your sink to cool, waiting until you returned from work to put it away. Now it must rest on the shelf with the cord dangling down among your dresses and coats, where his shirts used to hang. You wonder if this looks tacky, but decide if this bothers who ever looks at your house you don’t want them buying it any way. You don’t need anyone that uptight living in your house.

You check the sink for hairs that may have accumulated while you dried and curled. There are several, and for a moment you wonder if the stress is causing premature hair loss. You grab a piece of toilet paper, wet it, and run it across the white surface of the sink. You scan the bathroom for anything else you need to tend to. After putting the toilet seat down you shut off the light and turn your attention to the bedroom.

Previously the few things out of place would not have concerned you, but on this particular morning you considerer your bedroom a disaster zone. The aftermath of another restless night and rushed morning. The scarf you wore to dinner last night is carelessly strewn over the foot of the bed. A half empty glass of wine sits next to the tattered copy of The Great Gatsby you were re-reading in another fruitless attempt to lull yourself to sleep. Your laptop sits on the dresser with the cord dangling down and resting into a jumbled pile on the floor. The towels you used after your shower this morning are heaped in a mound on the disheveled bed.

You rush around, stuffing things in drawers, hanging up your scarf and wet towels. You make the bed and check the closet (potential buyers will look everywhere; you can’t have yesterdays bra resting on top of your hamper). You open the blinds and quickly wipe down your dresser and nightstands to remove any dust and cat hair that may have accumulated since yesterday. As you turn on all three lights in your bedroom you try to forget how much energy you are wasting, not to mention how expensive your next electric bill will be. You grab the glass of wine and head to the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen your stomach begins to growl, but you quickly realize you have very little food in the house. You’ll have to skip breakfast again, having not quite figured out how to grocery shop for just one. You decide even if you had something to make you wouldn’t have time to clean up the mess you would inevitable create. You dump the wine in the sink, put the empty glass in the dishwasher and turn on all the lights in the kitchen, dining room and living room. You pick up yesterday’s coat from the back of a chair and hang it in the hall closet, put away the tennis shoes you wore earlier this morning to take out the trash.

You walk through the remaining rooms of your house; you open blinds, turn on lights. Since he left you barely come in these rooms, there isn’t much trace of life in here now. You shove yesterday’s mail into your desk drawer and make a mental note to actually look through it when you get home. The pile is getting pretty big, most of it his. You’ll have to ask him to change his address again.

Feeling satisfied your house looks presentable you grab your purse and keys and head out the door. As you start up the car you realize you forgot to clean out the liter box again. You’ve never been very good at remembering to do this. He hated that about you. Leaving the keys in the ignition you run back inside, grab a plastic shopping bag and sift out the clumps of cat shit. You throw the bag into the trash can next to the garage, jump back into your car, and head off to work.

You are now running late, as you have everyday for the past nine days. As you drive you start to feel annoyed that you continue to do this daily, all in the hopes that today someone will actually look at your house. Someone will walk in and notice immediately what an open and bright house you have; how clean the bathroom is; how your house smells nothing like a neglected liter box. Someone will fall in love with your house, will let you move to your little apartment; let you move away from your past life.

A story comes on the radio about the government incentive, set to expire today. They interview all the exhausted real estate agents and the excited new home owners. They talk about the frenzy of potential buyers clambering to find houses, the mad dash to file all the proper paperwork in time, the positive economic boost. They go on to speculate once the credit expires that housing prices will fall, the market will likely freeze up again. As the story continues you feel yourself becoming more and more infuriated. You shut off the radio and drive in silence the rest of the way. It’s also at this moment you realize you forgot to put on deodorant.

Once at work your anger turns to desperation as you grasp that all this effort has been in vain. Painting your bathroom, removing your photos, vigorously cleaning everyday. It’s all been for nothing. And there is no end in sight; your state of limbo will continue. You won’t be moving to your little apartment in a different neighborhood. It seems you can’t escape your past after all.

You pull out your checkbook, write another mortgage payment you can’t afford, and accept your fate. And no one has looked at your house.

Posted January 9th, 2011


4 Responses to “The Market” by Alena Hopkins

  1. clair says:

    Alena, I love the satisfying and evocative details you choose to include. When consuming media I tend to seek out these sorts of insights. Well done!

  2. diane says:

    I say a very brave first attempt. Great starting point, great foundation, however, the second-person POV is distracting. There are other ways to fully immerse the reader inside of a scenario without using it. There is too much use of the word “yesterday” in the paragraphs towards the end, and more evocative details to pull the reader in could be included. Why is forgetting to put on deodorant essential to the story? How do you realize that you forgot it? From turning off the radio , or from a pungent odor lurking about your car as you shift about its silence? Just tips to help improvement.

  3. Brian McElmurry says:

    Alena, I really enjoyed this. I really liked the second-person perspective, and the little details and annoyances, especially the little bits of reflection on the past relationship and the hopes and dream when moving into the house. The story feels real and has the contradictory elements and half sad/half happy elements that life really has. Have you read Lorrie Moore? She writes in a second-person with a how-to flair. I just read most of “Self-Help.” I bet you’d like it. Keep ’em coming… Oh and the radio bit at the end really tied it together!

  4. Alena Hopkins says:

    Thank you all so much for the feedback. I realize the use of second person was risky, and some will inevitably find it to be off putting. At the time I began the story I had recently read a few pieces in the second person and found myself oddly engrossed by the technique. So I thought I would give it a go, in truth I found it be a blast!

    As for the moment when the character realizes she forgot to put on deodorant; the purpose was to portray a tiny oversight in an already over stressed psyche that pushes one over the edge. Who hasn’t had that moment where the smallest problem becomes enormous in the midst of an already stressful situation?

    None the less I really appreciate the input, and thank you for taking the time to read my story! And Brian, thanks for the suggestion to read Lorrie Moore, I have not heard of her but look forward to reading some of her work.

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