Some people swore that the house was haunted. Some people said it was just the wind. It rose out of the hill like a hunk of pale sky — the original blue still visible where a shutter had fallen off. A rabble of apple trees surrounded the house.
I lived in the Orchard Bright development, just below it. There was an apple tree in every yard. I suppose the developers wanted people to believe they had spared a tree for each of us from the original farm. The houses were clean and new. My own still smelled faintly of fresh paint. But the development had street names like Mountainview Road and Paradise Lake Lane. There were no mountains, and the lake was bottomed by concrete.
Scarlett lived up in the haunted house. I liked her because she smiled at me even when I didn’t deserve it. She let me kiss her as her mother patrolled the lower floors with a dust rag and vacuum. We sat upstairs on her bedroom rug, listening to the radio, adjusting the little knobs.
Scarlett told me that once, late at night, footsteps had marched back and forth in the attic above her bed. She said it was the ghost of something beautiful. That’s where some people said the guy hung himself. Some people said the guy was Scarlett’s father.
One night I snuck into Scarlett’s room. A half-moon was caught in the telephone wires. I told Scarlett I loved her. She told it back to me, but she said it with tears. Like love was a burden, like I was something she couldn’t get her arms around — a washing machine, a grand piano.
Some people said Scarlett slept around, that all you had to do was knock. Maybe that was true but I didn’t care. I figured she was searching for the guy who could rescue her, who could steal her away from that azure house, the house where her crazy father had died and where her mother kept prowling in search of dust.
Scarlett asked me how could I love her. I didn’t understand. That was like asking how apples knew it was time to leave the tree. They just did — when they were ripe, when the sky was closing in. But Scarlett wasn’t prone to accepting the irrefutable. She told me we were wrong for each other. She told me to stay the night.
I was crying now too. Nothing made sense. She was asking me to stay and telling me to leave. And yes, by “stay,” I mean to make love. And by “make love,” I mean for the first time. And by “the first time,” I mean to turn each other to shivers in a rickety house while her mother stayed up smoking with Johnny Carson, and the thud of raccoons or her father’s feet kept stumbling above us, as he tested the beams for strength.
Then we fell off the bed and broke a table. And the TV cut off below us and the pacing stopped, and her mother came screaming up the stairs. I climbed half-naked through her bedroom window, deeply in love, and ran down to my house in Orchard Bright, where the apple trees once were full of bees.
I stood on the back lawn, watching Scarlett’s house for some kind of sign, thinking she would wave from her window at the dark. She didn’t. And eventually the lights of that old blue house went out, one by one by one. Nothing was ever the same again after that.
Charles Rafferty has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as grants from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism. He is the author of four full-length collections of poetry: The Man on the Tower (which won the Arkansas Poetry Award — University of Arkansas Press, 1995), Where the Glories of April Lead (Mitki/Mitki Press, 2001), During the Beauty Shortage (M2 Press, 2005), and A Less Fabulous Infinity (Louisiana Literature Press, 2006). He has placed poems in The New Yorker, Oprah Magazine, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Quarterly West, Massachusetts Review, The Literary Review, Phoebe: The George Mason Review, DoubleTake, Poems & Plays, and Louisiana Literature. Rafferty’s work has also appeared in several anthologies, including American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon University Press), Rhyming Poems: A Contemporary Anthology (University of Evansville Press), and Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets (University of Evansville Press). Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College. By day, he works as an editor for a technology consulting firm. Rafferty lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, with his wife and two daughters.
Thanks for stopping by the Sonora Review Short Fiction Fortnight. Please stop by tomorrow for Lydia Shipp