What I Did with My Inheritance
I built spite houses beside all my siblings’ homes. Spite houses on corners and in alleys, spite houses to block scenic views and make parking impossible. Spite houses to plummet property values. Spite houses as symbols, as beacons, as signals, sending thoughts of me plundering into their skulls every morning when they rise fresh from the sheets, when they come home collapsing after work, when they wake in the middle of the night and aren’t sure why.
So many years cooped up in one place turns big families into bombs. My siblings scattered like shrapnel first chance they got. I go from one location to the next, from my eldest brother’s bungalow in Portland to my youngest sister’s townhouse in Chicago to my twin’s loft in Burlington. I have plenty of money leftover for direct flights. They never know when I’ll show. I hang out the windows of the spite houses I have cast like sagging shadows against their abodes and play the same song on my squeezebox continuously.
My favorite brother, the one only a year older, used to be able to see the ocean from his bedroom, but I bought the tiny plot of land adjacent to his and built a spite house. It’s a narrow four-stories, the ceilings too low, the rooms too narrow, but it obstructs sun and sea and the comfort of cross-breezes from his home. I am stuffing his life with stuffiness. Even though he is my favorite sibling, I play my squeezebox all day to bother him.
Even though he is my favorite sibling, I play my squeezebox all day to bother him.
When he is at work and I’m without anyone to bother, I go down to the waterfront. The first time I went, I met a woman there. She’s the type to not tell you when you have cilantro between your teeth, as though it were a kindness. Her thighs are tattooed, she insists, with the last line of every novel ever written. She sells books to sailors, to steamboat operators. They love to read, she says. One of them told her, The ocean is such a blank and endless page. He probably stole that, she says.
I tell her about the spite houses and one day she asks to see the one I built here, so I take her. We duck our heads so not to strike the ceiling. We are like matches in a matchbox. A single scrape and our hair might ignite. You must think I’m crazy, I say. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, she says, and unfolds her legs like pages. I kiss all the last lines. After, she takes a couple of books from the shelf and slips them into her bag. Fine by me—I don’t read much. The books are decoration. To make the spite house feel more like a spite home. I’m happy just to know how things end.
The books are decoration. To make the spite house feel more like a spite home.
Still naked, I go to the balcony and play “Poor Toothless Tooley” on my squeezebox, my nose smudging my brother’s window. His curtains are closed, but I know he hears me through the glass. She calls to me from bed, asks when I’ll stop, when is the revenge over, but I sing on: Ol’ Toothless Tooley, with a face like the moon.
The answer is never: I’m bobbing on a depthless sea of past transgressions. There are briny songs I must wring out. Shacks to shipwreck on the jagged rocks of their lives. They attempt to ignore my spiteful houses and songs, but inevitably they stomp out onto rotting porches and scream at me, ask me why, why when I was always the favorite child. I keep singing and squeeze-boxing. I think, Yes, it’s true, and look how you treated me because of it.
She understands. She envisions vengeance of her own. She catalogues the sailors’ catcalls and, when they return to port, counts the paper cuts on their fingers, wishes for a whetstone that could sharpen all the dull chapters they skip, draw a little more blood, needle at them when they pull crab traps up from the sea, when saltwater breaches the rusted hulls of their hands.
Next week, I’ll fly to my eldest sister’s landlocked home. I’ll squeeze songs at all hours of the night, not let her sticky children sleep. The woman from the waterfront and I will forget about each other, or we won’t and we’ll plot new revenges, designs to hurt each other, for leaving is a violence all its own, and so is waiting for someone to return.
Sam Martone is a writer. Find him at www.sammartone.com.
Illustration by Maya Beck.