The house next door is unoccupied. That fact is common in the USA, where it seems everyone is moving, looking for something different.

The house next to mine became empty due to a divorce. The couple who lived there simply surrendered to whatever forces drove them apart. They had raised two kids, both of which have moved away, so I suppose it was a case of keeping it together for their kid's sake. The man and his wife are middle-aged, both college educated, and both have careers.

They didn't so much divide the property as abandon it. They literally took their clothes and a few other items and put on their boogy shoes. I'm not even sure they locked the doors on the way out. They didn't attempt to sell the house, divide the spoils of their personal war. They walked out and simply stopped making the payments, forcing the bank to foreclose.

After a period of time the bank decided in order to perhaps sell the property they would have to have the junk removed, the debris of 25 years taken away. No yard sale, no charitable contribution, just throw it in a truck and off to the landfill. The house is a wreck. The porch is rotting, showing the ribs of the floor joists under the ragged wood decking. The paint was flaking on the exterior walls, a leprosy that mirrored the interior disarray. Dirty windows leaked pale sunlight into cold rooms. Floors painted that dirty chocolate brown, a pigment that seems to be ubiquitous in old dwellings in our area. A tattered old linoleum of some indistinguishable pattern. Rotted steps leading upstairs. The whole atmosphere of the place is dark, vaguely sinister. It isn't too hard to imagine a marriage dying from lack of light, fresh air, color.

There is something about an unoccupied house that allows it to become colder than one occupied. After a time it becomes bone cold, soul cold.

The house is probably near the century mark in age. It was built before someone came up with the idea of building codes, plans, or residential architects. There isn't a square wall, window or corner on the premises. My house was built the same way, about the same time. If someone wanted a window in a particular place, they just framed it in without making sure it matched the others. Doors are the same, just frame one where you want it.

The hamlet where I live has many old houses like this, tired old houses containing tired old people. If you can throw a baseball well, chances are 3 pitches will get you from one end of town to the other. It's small in a way that only little rural communities can be. Everyone not only knows everyone else but most of them are related by either blood or marriage. In my little town, Secret is a woman's deodorant and little else.

The contractor engaged by the bank arrived one drizzly Friday afternoon and asked us to move our vehicles to help gain access to the house. That's how we became aware of many of the facts regarding the house. Our neighbors and us weren't close. Last time we chatted was when we had an altercation regarding the necessity to prune the foliage on our mutual property line. It seems they are environmentalists, feel that nature should be totally unrepressed. I like that sentiment until the jungle encroaches on the grass I struggle to keep presentable.

The contractor's crew consisted of himself, his wife, and their teenage son. Their task was to box, bag, stack and carry everything out, make the place bare to the walls, then sweep up whatever loose ends still remain. They also had to do the same to a workshop, one that had apparently never seen any home improvement projects. It had become another repository for odds and ends. The same held true for the yard which was littered with uncounted objects including an abandoned four door Mercedes sedan. They invited me over to look through, see if there was anything I might want. This might lighten the load for them, lessen the burdens they'd have to manually carry. I did what any self respecting neighbor would do and said "Sure, I'll come over and have a look see."

The next day when they arrived and had a chance to get started, I ambled over to survey the scene. I was shocked to see the amount of junk that was still there. Hundreds of old vinyl disks, 45's and LP's that would never see another turntable. VCR tapes by the score, both home recorded and store bought. Books galore, still on the shelves made for them. Pots,pans, small appliances, housewares- all the paraphernalia of modern domesticity. I looked at this mad jumble, this collection of nothingness and came to the conclusion there was nothing I wanted, much less needed from there. An old fashioned pantry had canned goods, maybe a couple dozen cans. I looked and chuckled out loud. Two dozen cans, and 17 of them were canned peas. Who in the world feels the need to harbor 17 cans of canned green peas?

I went upstairs, found the contractor and thanked him for his generosity. On the way out I did see a propane gas cylinder, left with a worn out grill. I took the gas cylinder. It's nice to have a spare because the cylinder firing the grill always runs out about 1/3 of the way through grilling dinner. I'm not a man to let my pride come between me and a well grilled steak.

The crew cleaned and packed, boxed and carried for over 2 days to get that place cleaned out. A wrecker showed up to deal with the Mercedes. "There goes the neighborhood, an end to Appalachian chic", I told my wife.

The crew looked very happy to have done with the project. They never mentioned how much they were charging for the project, but I suspect it wasn't nearly enough. The bank had the grass mowed too, which is better than the neighbors had done in a long time. Maybe the frost will come before it grows back up.

That old house is sitting over there, empty and stark. It isn't very much different now than it was before the neighbors left.

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