Our house was cramped and unsightly. A tannish brick that reminded me of a 1950s Midwestern elementary school. One story. An ungainly footprint.
Our two children were cramped in one bedroom. The kitchen was too big. The living room was unused.
For several years, we talked about putting a second story on the house. Finally one fall we signed the contract.
Before work began, we moved into a tiny apartment. But I drove by the house every day.
The workers tore off the roof and replaced it with a blue tarp.
It was a very rainy fall. Rain came down in torrents. Wind blew in gusts against the tarp, but it held.
On days when the rain let up, the workers began building the second story. They nailed what looked like two-by-fours into a complex frame. They laid plywood sheets as the floor. Each night, they reattached the blue tarp.
However, the wind began detaching portions of the tarp. The workers seemed to give up tacking it down. I would drive by and see the tarp flapping, more of the house uncovered than covered, rain pummeling the new wood frame and plywood flooring.
In our tiny apartment, we paced what little space there was. At night, I lay in bed imagining the rain soaking the plywood floors. I imagined that we would be walking along our new upstairs hallway, and the floor would give way like a wet piece of toast.
The work proceeded slowly. The wind continued, and the rain became snow, which drifted on the plywood floors and lay there, day after day.
In the spring, work was done, and we moved back in. For a few days, we reveled in the new space, but soon we mostly congregated in one room on the first floor before going up to our bedrooms in the evening.
The plywood had been covered by carpet. Sometimes our children would run and jump in the hallway or in their rooms on the second floor. I would wince, but forced myself to say nothing.
In the master bedroom, our bed sat on one side of the huge room. My wife placed furniture and plants in dead corners and empty spaces between the bed and the walk-in closet.
Some nights, after my wife fell asleep, I would walk along the hallway. I tested for softness beneath my steps. I felt as though I were walking on something swirling and alive. Something that a cross-section diagram would reveal as liquid infused with amebae. I imagined that if the soggy surface of the floor opened, I would fall not through to the first floor, but into the swirling liquid.
Often, I would stand in the guest bedroom at the opposite end of the hall from the master bedroom. We hadn’t hung curtains or blinds in the room. Looking down, I studied the street corner, illuminated by one bright street light. A stop sign stood there, ready to control traffic, but no cars passed at that hour.
Some nights, as I walked the hallway, I imagined that our new sewer pipe would crack, and a moat would form around our house.
Sometimes I thought about the red facing brick the workers adhered over the old brink. I imagined its immense weight. I assumed that someday—perhaps tomorrow—it would begin sliding off in great sheets.
I felt safer when standing in the guest room, looking out the window. I believed that the soggy floor would be moderately stronger toward the corner of the house, the way stairs creak less when you walk toward one side, where the planks are nailed to the frame.
I also loved the symmetry of the street corner, the parallel and perpendicular lines, and the umbrella of brightness from the street light. I loved the red of the stop sign, its boldness, and the firm posture of the signpost.
Eventually, I slept through the nights. But I continued to stay to the corners as I walked along the hallway. And when I passed the guestroom, I would glance at the street-corner view.