I used to pass the house that used to be here several mornings a week, driving to and from the gym.
I like to take the scenic route, a tree-lined suburban parkway that curves beside the bay. The houses are substantial, the lawns and gardens well-kept.
Except for the house that used to be here.
I noticed it right away, the first year we lived here. Three stories. Yellow vinyl siding. Attached, two-car garage. Fenced-in yard.
It was a house that had started out very much like its neighbors, but it had fallen on hard times. The lawn was never cut. The cars in the driveway were rusty. The chairs set outside were indoor chairs.
I started watching for it, gathering whatever clues I could catch at 35 mph. I wondered about the people who lived there. I only saw them once, sitting out front on those indoor chairs. I want to say two men and a woman, maybe in their late twenties or early thirties. But I might be remembering wrong. I do know, for sure, that the day I saw them sitting out there was the first time I saw that a Confederate flag they had tacked to the vinyl siding, between the living room windows.
The next time I drove by, I saw that the attic windows were masked with what looked like metallic foil. One of the windows was outfitted with a make-shift vent, sort of like a clothes-dryer vent. But sort of not. I had to wonder what they were cooking up there.
The fire happened not long after that. It didn’t burn the house down, but it did melt the vinyl siding. I want to say the worst damage was on in the attic but I might be making that up to fit my theory. I want to say there was police tape. But I could be making that up, too. It’s been five years, maybe six, and I’ve had other things on my mind.
I do remember that plywood replaced the broken windows, and that a series of official notices came and went from the front door. At least a year after the fire, the garage doors were replaced with heavy metal plates that looked like they were meant to secure a vault.
Driving by, I was glad I didn’t live next door and across the street. I thought about police investigations. Insurance claims. Estate settlements. A tangle of bureaucratic procedure keeping the house in a state of suspended animation, with no end in sight.
And then, the other day, it ended.
I missed the actual demolition, but I did see a shovel scooping cement rubble into an enormous dumpster. Today, all that remained was the garage floor, the garage foundation walls, and five concrete steps.
I wonder who owned the place before life there fell apart. I wonder about the people were who put up the Confederate flag. What was going on in the attic? How did the fire start? Where is everyone now – Locked up? Dead? Baking designer cupcakes for the princess-pink bakery that just opened in Pawtuxet Village?
I could ask the lady at the post office or the guy who cuts my hair. This is the sort of place where people know, and talk. But I’m afraid that the answers they’ll tell me won’t be nearly as intriguing as the ones I’m imagining.