Leftover House

by Bailey Cunningham

We aren’t ourselves but we will be, you said, coffee and frozen waffle in hand. I threaded fingers through folded lace table skirts. Your box, not mine. Warmth is made of familiar objects pressed close together in a space. I went to brush my teeth of us, but my toothbrush was gone, prematurely packed away. I squeezed paste on my finger and ran it along my gums. You watched me do this, your arms folded, your spine resting on the wall where my towel used to dry next to yours. I don’t think I meant it to come out like that, you said.


One must become a collector to build a home. A slow accumulation is key because this means errors can be adjusted. An entire room doesn’t have to be thrown out just because the new rug conjures the wrong sort of love. I once wanted to bring in a free table I found on the corner of Dearborn and 12th. Bugs, you said. Instead we took your mother’s writing desk with the one leg glued even with pennies. One penny for each year of arthritis and the pressure of a steadying arm. You told me the good kind take time to discover their creaks and their groans. I told you that’s called damage.


Remember it, that warehouse made of other people’s rooms? All those hands passing pillows, silverware sets, and curtain rods from shelves to shopping carts. We needed two gray couches and a matching ottoman. They were out of the ottomans and you were upset. I wanted to tell you it didn’t matter, no part of this mattered, not one part, but it did, and we both knew. I forget what we bought instead. We built it in the garage and left it there for months until our neighbor made an offer. We didn’t want to sell it. We made ourselves take the money, hauled the thing across the street to live in a different home with different people.


They say objects hold pieces of the past. I didn’t want to tell you. So instead we put our names on everything, even the lamps underneath their crusty bases, by the sticker that said, Warning: can get hot. These lamps were decades old. They left red-brown smudges in our carpet. The smudges reminded me of the time when you poured wine on the living room floor, forgetting that the glass was full, or that you were indoors, or that you were the kind of person who cared about the home we had made. We didn’t label the stains, the missing door stoppers, the nail holes left over from your mass-market Starry Night, or the thousands of places where the paint chipped away. These belonged to us, but we couldn’t bring them.

Bailey Cunningham lives in coastal Washington where she is currently pursuing an MFA at Western Washington University. Her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net 2018, and appears in Spry Literary Journal and Jeopardy Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Bellingham Review. 

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Leftover House”?

Parts of “Leftover House” first emerged in a classroom during a collaboration assignment in which I was lucky enough to be partnered with the writer Mike Oliphant. Not being very familiar with collaborative writing, I was very pleased with what we built simply by trading a page back and forth. A few months later, I took the portions I had written from the exercise (with Mike’s blessing, of course) and used them as the groundwork for this final piece. If anything, I’ve learned the value in being a semi-social writer. It is not always necessary to lock myself away in a room for hours on end with only my own thoughts to keep me company. Oftentimes I do my best creating when I am working alongside others, discussing ideas, letting inspirations and encouragements fire back and forth between us.  


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

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