One summer day they grew tired of their perfect children, the boy and girl, eight and ten, the boy with the perfect baseball pitch and the girl pitch perfect. And the friendly features with freckles, constellations of angels. How could the couple, Dan and Jane, complain? They had a big home; they were getting rich "flipping" houses, the first couple to do it around here.
They arranged a couple weeks off; her parents would keep the kids. Her mother, Dot, expressed concern about their marriage. "Nothing is wrong," Jane assured her mother. "Everything is too good," she should have said. The fact was, Dan and Jane wanted to live in some of the houses they were flipping. People had recently died in a couple, and in one there was a murder-suicide.
They brought cell phones, but it was agreed their use be limited to emergencies. And no newspapers. No computers. Jane brought Sylvia Plath. Dan brought a notebook.
The first house had belonged to the Wrights. Fifty-somethings, they had let themselves go, had taken to the road in a rusted SUV, destination Florida. Dan and Jane auctioned their hoards and filled dumpsters. The rancher was mouse infested, but rather than risk poisoning stray cats, Dan bought collections of metal live traps. He caught thirty the first night. He and Jane lay close together on the living room rug in the dark and listened to the scratching. Jane flicked her tiny light and said, "How do we know that the bell jar, stifling, will not descend again?" In the morning Dan drove the mice to the lake and opened the trap. They jumped all over the place. He took a deep breath, and said, "...and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am."
Todd McKay had died in his sleep a young man. He'd returned from fishing the creek in a storm, a line of brown trout strung over him. He lay on his bed after cooking fresh trout and never woke up. Some say the fish were electric. Dan kept the fishing pole. The cottage had three rooms, a wood stove, gas lamps. Their own storm was coming, and Jane dug the worms, a fearless girl with graves and slime. They waited out the lightning in the tiny shed and emerged when the stream was bustling with dark prey. They cooked four browns over wood, troubled now that they planned two more bedrooms, another bath, and a modern kitchen. At bedtime they drank wine and looked at stars through the rough skylight while lying on the pine floor. Jane quoted Sylvia, "'It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative — whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.'" More storms lit the night, and their hearts collided with alternating joy and fear, but they did not die.
There was the house tumbling with illegals, carnival workers, waving goodbye, fifty feet of balloon animals and stuffed tigers and costumes in trailer. Jane refused to sleep there; she feared the ghosts of clowns.
And Jan's salon was closing, paint peeling, a moldy smell. Jane and Dan chopped and clipped each other: they had met in stylist school. They colored blond; what would the children think? They slept on the love seat, dreaming plans for a new salon or perhaps an ice cream parlor. They could build a new, modest town. In the sun-swept morning they made love and Jane read, "'Kiss me and you will see how important I am.'" Dan wrote whatever she said in his notebook.
The worst place was where Mary Jane had shot her two kids and then herself. There was no note. She was a cub scout leader. Could she have known how bad the world was destined to be? Dan and Jane had gotten the house cheap. Now they spent two days there, brave souls. But at one point, Jane had to call her daughter and have her sing a song for her. "Where are you, mom?" "We're at one of our houses. I just need to hear your voice."
Dan took dictation from his wife, Sylvia channeled through: "'If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I'm neurotic as hell.'"
They slept in a corner, the first night hearing the steps and the voices. In the morning Jane drew a bath, where Mary Jane had been found. Again, Dan took notes: "'There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them.'" The next night they heard the two quick shots, and finally the third. Dan wrote, '"The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it.'" They would have to spend the longest on this house. It would be hard to give up. Jane spoke in her own words, "Here we are experts on dying. We can do it over and over. We can return to our real, perfect lives."
Driving home, Jane read, "What I want back is what I was." They didn't know if they could get it back.
"Mom!" said Whitney. "What did you guys do to your hair? It's crazy."
"We just needed a change."
But they realized they were in over their heads, not merely in charge of flipping properties, but of flipping some in their graves.
Gary Moshimer lives with the Amish. Their horses smile at him, knowing that he has stuff in Pank, Smokelong Quarterly, Frigg, Monkeybicycle, Eclectica and many other places.