Speculative Real Estate – Jen Sage-Robison

91 Turner Ave dreams of the man who built her, his Hibernian hands steadied long enough to lay her winding stairs plumb. The two-family house remembers an October morning, each Dunn daughter cradling a hardboiled egg in her coat pocket, marching down the front walk in pumps and hose to teach grammar school, their father’s whisky-sweet voice pleading, “Och, I’m ashamed, Bridgie,” as my great-grandmother grappled him to the attic and sealed the door.

343 New Litchfield Street dreams of Christmas Eves when she smelled of balsam, when Margaret put on the floor-length hostess skirt, sherbet melted in the punchbowl under the fixture from Sears and Father McCarthy blazed in for a cocktail between liturgies. The Dutch Colonial remembers Carl sprinkled salt on her back porch and left a lamp on for my father, still an altar boy then – dutifully handing the priest his girdle and bearing the cross at midnight mass.

44 Smith Street dreams of the Newtons crowding into her first-floor apartment, their late-night games of Setback in the kitchen, their ‘Gansetts in cans, the menace of the pressure-cooker and the night they ran up the hill to Mrs. Staina’s to escape the ’55 Flood. The double-decker wonders what happened to the second of that family’s quiet girls, the one who worried her chin pointed too far and who, one green spring day, stayed inside and wrote shitshitshit behind the blackboard on her bedroom wall.

The house on the Norfolk road has collapsed but dreams still. She recalls wind through high limbs along the unfettered Naugatuck where her lumber once stood in leaf. The rotting pile rests, aches for hot earth, black and alive, beetles and bark, worms twisting toward the place she will soon return. She thinks of the boys with brass dust in their lashes, standing at their lathes in twelve-hour shifts milling the nails that held her upright for nearly ninety-seven years.

And me, I dream of houses, of jumping off a picnic table into a summer night with my boy cousins over and again while my aunts and uncles lit a beery backyard with Pall Malls and laughter and Boompa burned chops on the grill black. I dream of tacking left down an ancient road, uncovered at precisely the hour the late sun makes these lithic hills flush. I feel sure if I turn my head just quick enough, there they all will be – the inhabitants of my ancestral inheritance, the reward for all my dutiful remembering – waiting at a table, a place already set for me.

“Hey,” they will look up and say, “Where’ve you been?”

Version 2Jen Sage Robison is an older, unpublished writer, submitting her work for consideration for the first time this fall. She is interested in familial memory and voice, class and the stories of outsiders and women, always. She is inspired by her ancestry and the secrets of the small Connecticut mill town where generations of her family emigrated, lived and struggled. She leads generative writing workshops in non-traditional places, and for women living in poverty, for parents of children living with disabilities and at Westport Writers Workshop. She is dedicated to the idea of amplifying vulnerable voices.