Starter House

Marc Sheehan

Marc Sheehan

Starter House was accepted as part of the MSU Library's Short Edition call for submissions around the theme of "Home" and in partnership with the MSU Broad Art Museum's fall 2021 exhibition "Where We Dwell." Marc J. Sheehan has published four poetry collections. Paper Nautilus recently released his flash fiction chapbook, “The Civil War War.” He lives in Grand Haven, Michigan.

I don't remember ordering a house. I'm pretty sure I didn't order one. That's not the kind of thing a person forgets.

My first thought was the post office must not be happy, since it took two of their semis to deliver all the wood, roofing, siding, nails, etc. Also, a whole cancellation of mail carriers driving their vans followed the semis to help unload. Maybe the postal service had to delay delivery of junk mail in the rural route because of this. Maybe people had to wait to receive the usual appeals to conquer obscure diseases, and circulars advertising the absolutely, positively final chance for one week only at this remarkable price! to arrive.

But the house. As I said, I'm pretty sure I didn't order it, which I told the mail carrier slash semi-driver who held out a clipboard with a receipt for me to sign. His fellow mail carriers, looking sweaty and cramped in their uniforms, began unloading the wood, roofing, siding, nails, etc.

"You're...wait a minute, I have your name here somewhere," he said. While he was fumbling with the paperwork, I noticed the tin mailbox nailed to a wooden post at the end of the crushed stone driveway. My name, which the mail carrier/semi-driver was still looking for, was there on the box in lettering so crude it appeared I had painted it myself – so how could I argue?

That was all there was – a driveway with a cement foundation slab sprouting electrical and water connections. It seemed as though I should have had a house already, or at least an apartment, but I was beginning to doubt my memory what with the whole forgetting I'd ordered all this wood, roofing, siding, nails, etc., so I sat on a stack of shingles as postal workers unloaded everything then got back into their vehicles and drove off.

That first night I made a crude tent using plastic sheeting. I ate a dinner of beans and rice that came in a vacuum-sealed pouch. There was a whole crate of these ready-to-eat dinners and boxes of powdered milk, as though the house was intended for construction in the wilderness.

The next day I considered sending everything back, but I didn't have a return address.

It took a long time just to complete the framing-in. Once I did, I wandered like a ghost through rooms delineated from each other only by 2x4s and considered how much closer to completion I had come, and how much further I had to go.

My favorite memory of that time was the first night I slept in the house.

I had managed to complete the sub-flooring for the attic, then tied large sheets of Mylar over the rafters. After a dinner of macaroni and cheese and instant pudding, I climbed up to the crawlspace and pulled the ladder in after me. The setting sunlight hit the blue Mylar, turning my embryonic enclosure azure. A light breeze luffed the sheeting, and I was lulled to sleep as if by the sound of sails on some improbable inland schooner.

I finished the roughing-in. I now had actual doors and windows rather than sheets of plywood, although Tyvek still wrapped the house and the yard was either dirt or mud, depending on the weather.

That's when the recalls began. First it was the drywall, which could emit noxious fumes under the right conditions. Then the wood flooring was recalled for having high levels of Formaldehyde. Next the shingles, which were, apparently, little more than pressed cardboard. So, I tore out walls, ripped up floors, and pried off the shingles, putting the detritus in a large dumpster the company provided along with their apologies. Because I hadn't yet received a bill for anything, I didn't see how I could complain.

Delivery trucks arrived carrying pallets of supposedly non-defective materials. I was certain that one day along with the new drywall, flooring, and shingles, there would be a wife and children. I felt conflicted about this. While I built, un-built, and re-built, other houses cropped up with professional efficiency on adjacent fields. Children, who I saw as they pedaled past on their bikes, blossomed faster than time-elapse flowers.

Didn't I, too, want a family, to make this a home rather than just a house? But then, what if a nuclear unit arrived only to be recalled? So, each time a truck left without delivering anything other than what I'd been notified to expect, I felt relieved. Sort of.

Because I'd put in so much extra work, I didn't build the guest bedroom and a half-bath, chopped the garage from a two-car down to one, and downsized the dining room to a breakfast nook. I didn't have a choice. The company scrimped on the replacement material and what did arrive wasn't cut correctly – they might have switched to the metric system, I'm not sure. Besides, the blueprints were translated poorly from some other language. Imagine pedaled as petaled; imagine solitude as loneliness.

Weeds, although not actual grass, grow in the yard.

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