Rain fell slowly the day I broke into a house. It hung in the air and when a wind blew across the sandy, winter dunescape whisps of water billowed listlessly through the stunted pines. Cape Cod emptied out on days like this. People fled the cold that draped from the end of March like a wet sheet.
I was the only one on the road. I wasn’t a native in this landscape. I wasn’t even supposed to be there at all. I should have been away by then, but plans were altered and choices were made and I hadn’t found a job and so I discovered the addictive melancholy of an aimless drive.
The old road, one of the oldest in the country, a native people’s trail long before it was a road; 6A snaked down the center of the cape like a wide river. From it many tributaries flowed to the sea and it was on one of these that I found myself aimlessly driving. I watched the large, traditional, cedar houses pass by on either side. Only a few looked occupied. Empty and washed out in the fog and rain, they waited for their summer families to fill them.
As I drove, wondering who had painted the single yellow line on the tributary road, I noticed one house in particular. It had a flat roof, not good for winter weather, and large windows tinted brown. An exposed metal frame supported an open deck that snaked around the second floor. It was a modern structure floating in a sea of old trees, old homes and old routes. It had resolve.
I immediately shunned the structure for its clear determination to be different and drove on, but as the seconds passed I couldn’t get the image of it to leave my head. It was there alone, clearly marked with so much distinction. The car slowed almost on its own. My foot let off the gas and I came to a stop. For some time I sat in the middle of the road unable to wipe the vision from my mind. As I imagined the interior, I found myself being physically drawn beyond the tinted windows. Perhaps there was something to be found if I went back.
I looked in the rear view mirror and saw no one. I briefly wondered if I was the only human out in the rain and cold. I turned the car around and creeped back toward the modern house. Squinting through the hazy windshield, I marked it among the gnarled trees. I came to the driveway and without hesitation I turned in.
There were no cars parked outside. A small, tarp-covered dinghy littered with pine needles blocked the entrance to the garage like the owners had left it there knowing they wouldn’t be back to use the house for some time. I stepped out of my car and stood briefly in the rain with the door open. Then as quietly as I could, I walked beneath the lea of the encircling deck. The house was built into a slope and as I snuck around one corner a lower level revealed itself above the ground. There was no spectacular view in the back. Trees and sand and tufts of grass blocked the sea, but the rumble of waves meandered its way up the hill. The rrushh, rrushh, rrushh was distant but firmly present.
I noticed an entrance and when I peeked through the untinted squares of door glass, I could see it led to a furnished basement. A couch and a rowing machine with white sheets draped over them faced a flatscreen TV mounted to the wall. I tried the door knob but it was locked. I hadn’t intended to break into the house, even when I parked in the driveway I’d been without intention, but once I felt the stiff no of the locked door, I became overwhelmed with the need to get inside; to break down the barrier that separated me from something so definite.
I looked around on the ground and lifted the wet doormat and moved a small rabbit statuette. I found nothing. I turned over a few flag stones but I found only centipedes and worms. I returned quickly to the door and felt along the frame and the key was there, balanced at the top and slightly visible once I knew where to look. I stepped inside.
When I closed the door behind me the distant waves disappeared and I was met by complete silence. Why I didn’t expect the silence I have no idea now, thinking back on it, but it struck me as strange at the time. A house without sound or indication of current life was uncanny, not a house at all but a sculpture of a house, an architect's impression of a house. For some reason the silence encouraged me to be quiet as well. As I padded past the covered sofa and exercise equipment I was hyper conscious of the scuff sound my shoes made.
Up the stairs and onto the first floor and through the kitchen and into the dining room and across a library and up more stairs, wide spiral stairs that appeared to be hung from thick metal cabling, and past a large bathroom and finally into a bedroom. The bed wasn’t made up. The comforter was ruffled and turned over like someone had slipped out and never returned. I took off my shoes and slid under the covers. It was a comfortable bed. I could sleep in a bed like that in the dim of a cloudy day and probably never wake up. The ceiling of the room was painted white but down the middle in a line, as if to divide the room symbolically, hundreds of mika shards had been embedded into the plaster. They glinted faintly like wax paper.
I closed my eyes and tried to listen for the sounds of the waves outside, but I still heard nothing. It was then that the sense of isolation began to weigh on me. Outside, driving through the rain on that empty road I’d been alone, but in that bedroom I was isolated. The difference could not have been more stark and I flung the cover away. I needed to find some indication of specificity; of the people who lived in that house. I needed to find a family photo or a birthday card or a half finished journal. I opened the drawers in the bedside table but they were empty. I went to the closet and found it filled with bed linens but nothing more.
Downstairs in the dining room, the walls were filled with nothing pictures; bland watercolors of the cape cod beaches in summer, soft grasses and softer yellow dunes without people, a wooden deck chair set against the sky in silhouette, a sunset over calm waters. In the library, books were shelved neatly away. They didn’t look read. They didn’t look sought after or referenced. They weren’t ready for use. They were ornamental. Where are the individuals? I asked myself over and over. Why don’t they leave themselves behind? The living room had everything I expected it would and still not a sign of life, no half finished puzzles, toddler’s art projects, laptops still open, boxes of snacks, nothing. I swiftly marched into the kitchen and there, finally, I found something specific. Something that meant people existed not as copies but individuals. I found a note. I couldn’t see what it said from across the room. It was an ordinary yellow sticky on the refrigerator. I rounded the counter island to get a better look. “Eggs,” was all it said. My frustration erupted out of me.
“Don’t you live!” I shouted suddenly, startling myself. “No,” the silence answered. “I don’t live. I’m a house.”
I couldn’t fit this state of unliving with my original impression of firm resolve. They were incongruous. How could it show such, such… I couldn’t find the word, or even the idea. This house was a straight path in the twisted forest. It was different from other houses. Its roof was flat and not good for New England weather and it’s windows were tinted brown. It was a house that stood for something, a way of being, a way of seeing the world, a way forward. How could it then be so lifeless inside? It’s a trailblazer for christ’s sake!
“But not a trail for me,” I said quietly.
“No,” the silence replied.
Over the following moments while I stood in that crumbless kitchen, my brief burst of energy seeped away and disappeared. Finally I left to retrieve my shoes from the upstairs bedroom. I returned to the basement and exited the way I’d entered. I replaced the key where I’d found it and got back in the car.
The spicy grilled-cheese takeaway smell of my leftover lunch still hovered around the passenger seat. When I turned the key, music purred from the car’s speakers. It was Debussy and it was quiet and calm, but it wasn’t silent. As I drove away listening, I watched the single yellow line painted down the center of the road and I noticed its occasional crookedness. I noticed the worker that had been there. I picked up speed and headed back to 6A, the trail of the native people, the road before roads and through the blur of the crooked pines I found the door to my old dream. I reentered; relieved to be directionless again.