Housecall - A Story by Christine Hanolsy

This story is from the December 2023 issue of Worlds of Possibility. The ebook of the entire issue is available to download for free as an end of the year gift

Housecall - A Story by Christine Hanolsy

This is a story from the December 2023 issue of Worlds of Possibility. The ebook of the entire issue is available to download for free as an end of the year gift here:

by Christine Hanolsy

My mother called the doctor the very day the house fell ill.

“It’s running a temperature,” she told him. “No matter how we adjust the thermostat. At night it shivers in spite of the heat, and I swear I’ve heard it moaning.”

I was listening at the parlor door, one hand patting the dark polished wood of the frame. Something like this had happened to my friend Veronica Delaney’s house last year. We used to send each other messages, Veronica and I: flashlights blinking in Morse code, post-it notes stuck to the glass in elaborate designs. But then Veronica had gone off to college, and her family had moved out. “Nothing to keep us here,” her mother had confided to mine. That house stood empty now, porch sagging, window casings drooping. Dead as a doornail, my mother had said.

“Maybe a fresh coat of paint?” My father always thought that sort of thing would help: a new bracelet for me when I had the chicken pox; a silk scarf for my mother when she broke her wrist. “Or— I’ve been meaning to plant roses out front.”

My mother hushed him. “You can’t cure the flu with paint and flowers, George.”

The doctor asked some pointed questions—had we had any visitors lately, was there any trouble with carpenter ants, had we ever noticed signs of allergies—and then took to examining the house itself. “Sometimes,” he said, listening at the wall with his stethoscope, “a house just comes down with something. I’ll do what I can, but you might just have to let it run its course. Try mopping the floors with disinfectant. And change the air filters, that will certainly do no harm. But,” and his voice gentled, “I want you to be prepared.”

My mother put her hand to her mouth; my father mumbled something conciliatory, and made a warding gesture with one hand.

All evening the house groaned and shook as if caught in a windstorm, but the great fir outside my bedroom window stood still and moths continued to bump against the screen door, attracted by the kitchen lights. I was enlisted to help scrub floors. The heavy lemon-bleach smell of disinfectant made my eyes water and my nose wrinkle, but I polished the linoleum, the hardwoods, the tiled bathroom with all my heart.

The next day the house stood silent. We sat around the kitchen table, my mother, my father, and I, and watched a square of sunlight creep across the sparkling floor. I was sent to check the thermostat a half dozen times; I think my mother was afraid to look. There was no change.

“Maybe that’s a good sign?” I said hopefully. “At least it’s not going up?”

My mother just shook her head. My father sighed heavily and went to the garden center to look at rosebushes.

“He hates that he can’t do anything useful,” my mother explained. I knew how he felt.

Across the street, the carcass of Veronica’s house seemed to sink further into the waist-high weeds.

That night we left the doors and windows open, let the sultry August air fill the house with the scent of jasmine and fresh-cut grass. My father had mowed the lawn, hoping to cheer the house up. I lay in my twin-sized bed and studied the shadows the moonlight cast on my wall.

Maybe my father had been right; maybe a little love and attention was what the house needed. Or maybe it had been the disinfectant, or the doctor’s treatments. Or maybe the illness had spent itself. Whatever it was, somewhere around midnight the house gave a great shudder, and the air conditioning kicked on. My parents ran from room to room closing doors and windows, opening louvers, checking thermostats.

When the doctor returned for a final check-up, I asked him if Veronica’s house had died from the same thing. He glanced out the window.

“No.” He folded up his stethoscope, stuffed it into his lab coat pocket. “I can’t be sure, but I think that house just gave up when the kids moved out and Mrs. Delaney took that job in Des Moines. Houses know when they’re being left behind, and depression can be hard to dig out from, especially when undiagnosed. I wish they’d called me in sooner. I might’ve saved that one, introduced it to another family.”

“Is it too late, then?” I asked.

The doctor just shrugged. “Hard to say. It doesn’t seem to have much to live for.”

“We’re going to plant roses out front of ours,” I told him. “Before I go back to school. I think I’m going to major in environmental psychology, you know.” I had just decided, then and there.

“Good, good,” he said absently, checking his watch. “We need more people in the field, these days.” He patted me on the shoulder and handed me his card. “Look me up next summer. I might have an internship. For now, take care of your house, and it’ll take care of you, hm?”

I stood on the front porch and watched him leave, saw him slow in front of the Delaney’s old house, and disappear around the corner. Improbably, a glint of sunlight reflected off the dusty windows. I caught myself searching for Veronica’s silhouette against the dilapidated blinds, for some message I had missed.

Maybe a little of my father’s optimism had rubbed off on me after all, along with his desire to feel useful. That afternoon, I dragged his lawn mower across the street.

I’ll start with the grass, I thought, and weed the overgrown flowerbeds by the door. Plant some daffodil bulbs for the spring. I felt for the doctor’s card in my pocket, for a bit of reassurance, and pulled on my gardening gloves.

About the Author

Christine Hanolsy is a queer science fiction and fantasy writer who cannot resist stories about love in all its forms and flavors. Her speculative flash fiction and short stories have been published by EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing, Atthis Arts, Small Wonders, and more. She currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the online writing community YeahWrite; her past roles have included Russian language scholar, composer, interpreter, and general cat herder. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her wife, their two children, and a small clowder of cats, all of whom have been extremely patient with her. You can find her full publication list at: