House Story

by Michael Mark


It was late when we returned. We left the unpacked luggage by the laundry room, thumped and groaned up the stairs, turned on our bedroom lights to undress, wash, open the window, fall into bed. Something was different. Everything was different. The walls aren’t the same yellow, I asked her, are they? She asked, are they even yellow? The bedspread was different. The carpet was different. The ceiling fan was different. Are we in our house? I asked at the same time she asked, Is this our house? The curtains were obviously different, the pillowcases too. The nightstand and the lamps and lampshades were different. They’re nice, I said, voice lowered. Everything is, she said, the four syllables stilted, slightly separated, her expression a twisted mix of knowing and horror. We had been living in a distastefully decorated home. And didn’t know it – or did we? Could we have been lying to each other, ourselves? But now there was no denying. You talked me into those curtains, she said, toothbrush in her mouth, while I waited for the water to warm from the sleeker showerhead. You never mentioned you hated the couch in the living room, I said the next morning. What do you mean the old headboard was boring? Now you tell me the dining room chair molding was too Baroque? We haven’t stopped arguing, accusing, self-doubting. When we look at each other – our ‘til death do we part choices – we see only our awful taste. We sleep in different bedrooms. If one stays in our former – which we call the mosaic room because of the stunning hearth – the other takes either of the kids’ old rooms which now look nothing like theirs, too refined for children, ours to be honest. We call one the Josef Frank room for the floral settee, and the other, with the monochromatic whitish/skyish scheme, the shimmery room. The guest room is still the guest room – we just attached the suffix: with the olive herringbone pullout. You should’ve said something if that’s how you felt about the wallpaper in the upstairs hallway! Compared to the owl white damask paper we have now – how did we endure it? Tears have been shed. Nights of profound reflection: Our entire lives we’ve been delusional! What must our friends really think? Arguments metastasize. We began quarreling about non-home decorative matters: clouds, sounds, silences. You said you loved my wedding dress but look at the album – that train is so common! I should never have listened to you about parting my hair down the middle! We have agreed it’s best to divorce. It took 39 years but we’ve never been as compatible as we’d believed or pretended. Or just as likely, we’ve always known.


Michael Mark is the author of Visiting Her in Queens is More Enlightening than a Month in a Monastery in Tibet which won the Rattle Chapbook prize. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry Blog, Copper Nickel, The New York Times, Ploughshares, Southern Review, The Sun, 32 Poems, The Poetry Foundation’s American Life in Poetry. His two books of stories are Toba and At the Hands of a Thief (Atheneum). michaeljmark.com


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

We were away for seven weeks and exhausted from travel home. I started plugging lamps back in, as I do when we return, (before we leave, I pull out all plugs for fear of some electrical mishap, fire). One by one, those areas, suddenly cast in light, focused my attention on the various furnishings of our home, and with each I felt fresh pleasure. I like this lamp, I like this chair, this wallpaper, I thought. I like our tables, sconces, our art, our whole place. I felt delight with my life. So, I didn’t go to bed, tired as I was. I wrote about life coming apart.


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