NPR logo Turnover

Upside-down house.

"There's been a lot of turnover at that house," his mother, Patti, told her friend on the phone when the Lillers moved out. Forrest drew the house next door standing on its chimney with its wire- and pipe-filled crawlspace kicking in the air like a kid doing a handstand. Turnover. He taped it to the fridge.

"It's not the house turning over, Genius. It's the people."

So Forrest thought of the Lillers and their kids and their boxes all somersaulting down the front stairs past the same cardboard "For Rent" sign that had been there the last time. People turning over. Like clothes in the dryer? Like his grandmother in her grave if she could hear him blaspheme Father Vincent at St. Ronan's? Or any object at zero gravity afflicted by inertia?

He had hated hearing the Liller triplets wailing in the yard. Once one started they all got in on it like a pack of cats in heat.

"What do you want from 2-year-olds?" Patti said when he complained their shrieks were interfering with his mapmaking. He was laying out the complicated streets, alleys, tunnels, bridges and waterways of Trondine, which was already hard enough because the paper was brown and the markers were getting dry.

"Shut up and die!" Forrest finally screamed at the chain fence between the yards. He expected some disciplinary fallout from his outburst, but there was none, which made it seem pathetic.

It was too hot to close the windows. The only upside was being allowed to drink Tang. Before the Lillers, Forrest would hear people Patti called "the Druggies" carousing, cursing and making moaning sounds like people lowering themselves into bathwater that was slightly too hot. They were worse than the 2-year-olds. Dozens of car doors slammed every night and gamy smoke hung in the air between the houses long after the butts stopped glowing. One night a posse of cop cars arrived and took the Druggies away.

Now that the Lillers were gone too, Forrest hoped the house would be empty for a while. He'd been eyeing the hard, immature blackberries along the far fence. Two weeks and a little rain — if only the "For Rent" sign could stay up long enough. Not that there weren't wild blackberries all over the outskirts, but something about having a crop he could see from his window enchanted Forrest. Patti eradicated every shoot that infringed on their own property.

Finally, Forrest snuck around the fence, across the weed-filled yard, and got busy pulling the blackest berries off their knobs. At first he barely heard the sounds — waves lapping? A bird's wings flapping? But the breathy intakes were unmistakable. A grownup was crying, trying to be quiet about it. Trying to be quiet! The heroism of it! The consideration! So unlike the squallers and moaners and cursers, and even Patti, whose typewriter strokes grated his nerves like cheese. He flooded with tenderness for the creature that sought to stifle its own ability to irritate him.

Mrs. Liller looked like she had smeared blackberries under her eyes.

"We've got to sell the house," she whispered, as though to an adult. "It was my grandmother's, but even with renters I can't pay the taxes. My husband got involved with another woman while we were living here. We don't know what's next. It's a sad house."

"Maybe it's sad there's been so much turnover," Forrest offered.

"Maybe," Mrs. Liller said, glancing at the house's homely backside.

She pictured the door wearing a cartoon smile that stayed put while the rest of the house did a handstand.