Make Me a House

8 02 2010

Thought I’d share a story I wrote awhile back:

Make Me a House

by Stephen Tully Dierks


She said: If you love me, make me a house.

A house?! I said. How am I supposed to make you a house?

She said: I can’t tell you how. If I tell you how, it’s ruined. It’s only our house if you make it of your own accord.

And I said: But how is it our house if I’m the sole builder?

You are not the sole builder, she said.

But you said that I should make you a house.

Yes, that’s what I said, she said, and smiled sweetly. Her eyes were hazel and tear-red.

Well, okay, I said. I’ll make you a house. But I really don’t get how I’m supposed to do that. I don’t have lumber, I don’t know anything about building things. All I know is I’m supposed to build you a house without knowing how and without you telling me what you want. Will you ever tell me what you want or at least give me a hint? Later on, once I’ve started building you a house, if there’s something you want added or taken off, or if I’m not doing it right, would you have the decency to just tell me so?

No, she said, I can’t do that. You have to make it.

What about gender equality? I said.

What about it? she said.

You believe in gender equality, don’t you?

Of course, she said.

Well, good, then if you believe in gender equality, why is it I have to make you something without any help? What will you be doing while I’m building this house?

I don’t know, she said. I haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll go to graduate school.

Graduate school?

Yes, graduate school.

What do you need graduate school for?

I don’t know. I’ve just always planned on going to graduate school.

That’s admirable, I said. I thought about going to graduate school, but I never planned on it. I don’t see what I would study. The things I want to do can’t be taught.

That sounds arrogant, Michael.

I don’t mean to be arrogant, I’m just saying, if I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to be a writer. It’s not going to be because someone taught me how to construct a plot or use symbols effectively.

You’re always trashing things, she said. I don’t like that quality in you.

Well, what do you like about me?

You’re fishing for compliments, she said.

You’re right, I said.

Of course I’m right.

I kind of like it when you’re sassy, I said.

Good, she said.

That’s where we left it for a while, and we sipped our tea and stared out her windows down at the street.

Do you want to watch a movie? I asked her.

As long as it’s not depressing or subtitled, she said.

Why set those limitations? I said.

Because I don’t feel like being depressed or reading subtitles right now.

But in the future, at some point would you be okay with watching depressing or foreign movies, or depressing foreign movies? I asked.

What does it matter? she said.

I don’t know, what does it matter? I said, as if I was being clever.

You speak strangely sometimes, she said. But you’re not as clever as you think you are.

Sometimes I think you’re lording your cultural superiority over me, she said. I think you use that feeling of superiority as a barrier between us, as a way of compensating for your fears and your feelings of inadequacy and your insecurity.

God, Clare. You’ve kind of got me pinpointed.

A moment’s silence.

I guess I do do that. I feel very humbled. It’s sort of, it’s hard, I said, to just sit here and hear you point out exactly what my failings or my weaknesses are. Because I don’t know what yours are. It seems unequal. And even if I did know what I thought your weaknesses were, or your failings, I can’t just tell you what they are like you can tell me, because you know you don’t take criticism well.

So that’s my failing, she said.

But you know what I mean, I said. I can’t tell you anything about it, because you’ll get offended.

Will I? she said.

Yes, you will.

It’s not about pointing out the other person’s failings, she said. I’m just being honest with you. I want you to stop being afraid and stop being insecure. You don’t need to act like that around me.

I don’t? I said, idly, sarcastically.

No, you really don’t, she said, and she rolled over on top of me and touched her hand to my face. You really don’t.

You can be comfortable with me, she said.

How can I be comfortable with you when you know my central problem? the one thing that has always plagued me, this need to feel culturally elite and superior to other people as some means to transcendence from the ugly humdrum everyday nothingness. How can I live with someone who knows my ugliness? I said.

How can anyone love anyone unless they love their ugliness as well as their beauty? she said. That wouldn’t be love.

I guess you’re right, I said.

Of course I am, she said.

How did you get so wise? I asked.

You sound surprised, she said. Were you expecting less of me?

No, I just, I don’t know, I always knew you were smart, but I didn’t expect you to be so dead-on about me and about our relationship and everything.

I don’t know what to tell you, she said.

You don’t have to tell me anything, I said, I’m just impressed.

Good, she said. Now make me a house.

Make you a house?

Yes, make me a house. And make it wide enough for everything, and don’t exclude nothing. Anything we could want should fit in it, and all the things we can’t want or anticipate must fit as well. Give it an exit that is an entrance, and give it walls that are ground floors. Give it a skylight for the moon, and build a subterranean pool that will reflect the sun. Build it with synthetic materials in a natural setting. Like Frank Lloyd, make it a living breathing part of its landscape. Integrate our house into everything around it, but be sure to put us in it. Put us in the house, Michael! It’s only for us, the house, but it’s for everybody. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I’ve barely scratched the surface. All this and more than you can ever imagine is in your hands. But that doesn’t give you power. You have no power over me. You only have power over yourself. I’m not guaranteeing what I’ll do. I’m not saying how I’ll respond when you make your move. And I know I can’t force you to do anything, I know there’s no telling what you’ll do, what kind of house you’ll make, or if you’ll make a house at all. But I want to plant a seed in the ground where we stand, between our two strong trees in the forest where we met. And I want you to make me a house, more than anything I want you to make me a house. Can you do that? Can you make me a house, Michael?

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