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Image by Ali Kazal
‘What Pixie said to the house and what the house said back’
The house was tucked away in a forest far from prying eyes. No neighbours. No through traffic. No way for Rolfe to find her here. Yes, it was run-down, hadn’t been lived in for a decade or two, needed a good coat of paint, new glass in some of the windows, rat corpses and squatters’ junk removed, but Pixie had never been short of energy. She would weed the garden and plant flowers and a vegetable patch. There was space for her two German Shepherds to roam. She would get some chickens. A goat. A few sheep. She would take up spinning and weaving again. And painting. Landscapes. Abstracts. It had been so long since she’d done anything creative. The little room at the back of the house would be perfect for a studio. Tonight she’d ring the real estate agent.
The house was hers. She sang as she painted walls and doors, repaired broken windows, cut the grass, dug the soil, and planted violets and vegetables. At night she lay in bed listening to the wind in the trees, her dogs’ steady breathing, the quiet hum of the house. As her bruises faded and the swelling around her eyes subsided, and the bald patch on her head grew hair again, she heard the house whisper. About children playing in the garden. About someone dying too soon. About sadness swamping love and laughter. About years of empty rooms. After hearing the whispers, Pixie added her own. She felt the house wrap itself around her.
When she had completed her woven rugs and landscapes she exhibited them in an art gallery in the nearest town. The local newspaper published photographs. Published an article with the names of all the artists. Rolfe, far away in another city, heard from a friend about the exhibition, the photographs, the artists. He made enquiries. Traced the house. Appeared one day in Pixie’s garden. Repeated his apologies, his promises to change.
The house watched Pixie saying no. Watched Rolfe’s face. Watched him seize Pixie’s arm and drag her through the trees. But the house knew something about trees that Rolfe did not know. Knew how their roots could grab and grip and trip and bring a grown man down. Knew that Rolfe had forgotten Pixie had two dogs. Knew that the dogs had not forgotten Rolfe. At the sound of his voice they flew out the door, legs pumping, teeth bared, hackles high.
That night Pixie gave her statement to the police and watched the paramedics load Rolfe into an ambulance and drive away. Then she returned to the house and sat in the dark with her arms wrapped around her dogs. Moonlight slanted through the window illuminating the room with Pixie’s woven rugs on the wall, her spinning wheel in the corner, her easel and brushes and the beginnings of a new landscape. There was no sound but the soft snoring of the dogs, Pixie’s heartbeat, and the house whispering that the intruder would not survive the journey.
Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books including The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell, Mākaro Press, NZ; Soul Etchings, Retreat West Books, UK; and Sing no Sad Songs, Canterbury University Press, NZ. Her novella-in-flash The Bones of the Story will be published in the UK by Impspired Books in mid-2023. Her short fiction has been widely published and anthologised and has received nominations for The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions and The Pushcart Prize. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia. sandraarnold.co.nz