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(Artwork by Carrion House)

The House of the Boat of Psychos | Rhonda Eikamp

 

 

That’s a misreading.

Well, yes. But also true. The mind is a reservoir. Fed by cold springs.

“I never told you about the house that wasn’t there, did I? Before your daddy and me had you?

“No.”

“Wait, honey, watch your head. It was out toward Mineola. We stayed at this lake a lot in summer after we were married, always rented the same cabin. You drop off the world out there. Nowadays I know there’s lots of places make a person feel that way, but none of them was ever like this little pocket of East Texas. Hot, and sweet as cake. One year the cicadas had come out and their skins were everywhere.”

“Why wasn’t the cabin there?”

“Not about the cabin, hon. Lower now. Oh, it was nice. With a deck over a boathouse. Your daddy had a shotgun and he’d stand at the rail and shoot down at water moccasins when they came up to the lake edge. They’d only come out at dusk. Through the water the tan ones looked like the white sand had come alive in strips, writhing.”

“I thought you said he was a professor. It’s hard to breathe in here.”

“Professors and shotguns don’t mix? He was a professor of Greek classics. Tenured young. When we’d swim around out there in the lake—just floating really, pressing up against each other—he’d list the names of gods and goddesses, famous battles, run it all together, and it sounded like a story. Maybe he was trying to tell me a story. It was all Greek to me. The lake was a reservoir lake, fed by cold springs but warm as bathwater near the top. He’d burn pink as a lobster in the sun. You get that red hair and paleness from him. He always said I was the Greek one, dark-haired. I loved that voice and there he went and shot it to shreds a few years later, like it was one of his water moccasins. Put that shotgun in his mouth and spattered every beautiful thought he’d ever had on the wall behind him. I found him that day. Sometimes I think there was a story written in the stain, in Greek or just in him, that someone smarter than me might have been able to read. I blamed myself for so long, but no one could have saved him. I know I’ve always told you a traffic accident. Please don’t. Please, just a little longer. We’d be out there and he’d start listing with that voice and it was like sex. There were goddesses of lakes and gods of boats. Maybe there was a god of cicadas, I don’t know. That was his life. Gods and goddesses. But wars mostly.

So, the house that wasn’t there. We had this tiny rowboat he bought off a fisherman and one day I said, Let’s take it through the culvert. Our place was at the lake’s tail-end, but there was another last backwater, cut off from the rest by a stone embankment where cars could cross, with one large culvert, a concrete drainpipe, going through it. The water was high that year, almost to the top of the pipe, lots of rain, and we had to lie down across the seats of the rowboat and pull ourselves into that half-moon. Intimate. Like some little crevice of a body. I said something about a cavity search and he laughed.

Here’s the thing—I knew there was nothing but scum on the other side of the embankment. Just a big pond of algae-happy water that didn’t move an inch all day, stumps and drowned trees sticking up, the lake’s skeleton—its knees and elbows and rotting brown fingers. Tupelos and trumpet vines, they grew right to the edge. I loved photography and I’d been up on the embankment with my camera pointed that way more than once, trying to capture that green that never came out right. No one would ever build over on that side. The slime side. Well, when we came out of the culvert over there and sat up, there was a house at the far end. A dainty red-pine house on stilts, half-extending out over the water.

You’re too young to know the break. When reality winks, when your heart shoots a bullet into your brain because the thing happening is impossible. There couldn’t be a house there, see. It was not something the trees could have hidden. I could look back to the embankment where I’d stood and taken my photos. The house was only there if you passed under.

Your father stopped breathing, in that green silence while our boat still glided through the scum, and then he said, The house of the boat of psychos.

Not psycho. Please don’t. He’d told me how he’d once misread that phrase in an archaeology text, psychos for psyches, back when he was first studying. It had become our catchphrase for anything that went wrong—lost car keys, all the general and localized shit of life. The little things, not the big ones.

Our boat was still gliding toward the house, like it was being pulled.

There’s a woman on that stump, I told him.

The woman had her back to us. The stump was more a branch, jutting out of the water at an angle just in front of the house, part of a submerged tree, and the woman half-reclined on it, wrapped in some substance dark and gauzy that might have been her long hair. I could see a fishing line going down into the water, though I couldn’t see whether she was holding a rod, couldn’t see around to the front of her.

It’s three turtles on a log, he says, and his voice scared me so much because he’d never tried to lie to me before.

I looked again, at those gray-glistening curves and bumps the same color as the waterlogged branch, trying to see what he said, but it was a woman all right. That hair was like a hood so you couldn’t see her face that was half-turned to us, sensing us. I knew then that there was something he wasn’t telling me, mythologies maybe. Some story he knew and I didn’t.

Our boat was still gliding. I’ll never forget the green of that place. The green was a taste, moss on the tongue, we had entered into a green cave that happened to have a blue ceiling. And the house a red glow in it. The boat was bringing us to it, see. We’d gotten close enough to see details. In among the stilts there was a spiral staircase coming out of the lake and leading up into the house. We passed the woman about then and I started to turn.

Don’t look at her face, he hisses. Just like that. Scared to hell. He was keeping his eyes ahead, on the house. Don’t turn around. I’d never seen him so tense.

I couldn’t help myself. I looked. The woman looked up at the same time.

She was me. Except she wasn’t. That face, it was mine but with—I don’t know how to say this—with a light, glowing like the house glowed because it didn’t fit in a dirt world, in reality. A me remade too beautiful to believe in, wily and pure, the good and bad entwined. Beguiling, without the guile. A goddess, with my dark hair grown impossibly long. The hair seemed all of her. She’d made a nest of herself with it. What I’d thought was a fishing line was a kind of woody vine that came out from where her abdomen might have been behind that shroud of hair and led down into the green scum. So many of those old stories, you know, are about going blind if you peek, and sometimes it’s about ugliness but sometimes it’s about the beauty we shouldn’t look at because the mind will want it too much.

He’d understood that, and looking at her I did too.

The boat came to a stop at the spiral stair and we climbed those stairs up into that house and it was one big room with a bed in the middle, and doors going off in all directions. Doors in walls that couldn’t have led anywhere. We tried some but they were locked to us. There were thousands more. We understood then that the room was our room. We spent the afternoon in that bed and I’ve never felt more at peace or more loved. Because—you see—whatever myth she was, the lady of the house, she was his myth, something he’d called up without knowing it and made crawl out of the lake. I’d seen for one second what I looked like to him, not just the outside of me but the inside, in that blinding, blurred form cast on the back of his mind, and I was a goddess.

When we came back out at the end of the day the woman was gone and when we took the boat back through the culvert the house wasn’t there. We never got back to that lake again. Things happened. We moved north. Nine months later you were born. Our gorgeous, red-haired baby girl. Honey, we’ll need to lie down flat now.”

“Down in the bottom? It’s wet here.”

“I know.”

“It’s not even like water. Oh god, I think it’s blood. Are we in blood?”

“You did that, sweetie. Turns out you inherited more from your daddy than your red hair. Who knew it could start so early?”

“God, my wrists—”

“You were twelve when you said the trees weren’t green anymore, just gray. I tried—I tried so hard. I know how you hated the pills and the doctors. Then came high school and it was really bad. There was nothing I could do.”

“Mom, I’m scared.”

“And when I found you today I remembered that green the day you were made, and I wished you could have seen it. I laid down beside you and wished so hard. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe the culvert’s always there if we know how to look. Maybe we can cross. Slip out of one place, like a cicada, and be in another. We’re through now. Sit up. Please sit up. You see the green, don’t you?”

“There’s a girl on that stump.”

“Is there?”

“She has red hair.”

“Trumpet vines, wrapped around a log. Funny what fades and what stays. His shotgun—what I wanted to stay was him shooting at those snakes. The way he’d steady the gun on the rail of the deck and let his breath out before pulling the trigger, but that’s not what stays. The last thing stays. Look at her. No, don’t cry, it’s that wonderful, the you in my head. If you could’ve just believed. We have to be our own gods and goddesses, but you couldn’t and I understood. Up you go now. No, I have to go back. No, no one ever knows what will be in the room. It’ll be yours, is all I know, and it’ll make you happy. Go on now.”

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

Rhonda Eikamp is originally from Texas and lives in Germany, where she works as a translator. Stories of hers have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, the Lightspeed anthology “Women Destroy Science Fiction” and other venues. She’s had close encounters with tornadoes twice, but has yet to be carried away.

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