Dispatches From Quarry Farm: A House of Fiction
Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.
There are big flakes flying and school is called off. My car is safely in the barn and there’s a small monkey bouncing around the living room downstairs. I’m not sure how one person can make that much noise but since I make none at all I can only assume he’s noising for the both of us. What an absolute joy.
The small stretch of Crane Road where Quarry Farm is perched will be the last road in the hemisphere to be plowed. And since it’s only 9 AM, and the storm is projected to go on until 9 PM, I will be here accumulating record amounts paternal rapture until sometime in early April or maybe until the actual Rapture — if you believe in that kind of thing. As tired as a snowplow in February might be, it doesn’t seem absolutely insane that it’ll be coming, eventually. I have faith.
Fiction can be a wonderful thing. What fun would it be to use satellite data for predicting the weather when you can use a groundhog? How could we trick our children into being good without Santa Clause? And how could I follow my dream of being creepy and working from home without Huck Finn? There are so many ways that fiction makes our life better. I suppose the only downfall to fiction is when people take it all too literally.
Like that time I told a scholar that the house was haunted — because it’s more fun that way — and she took me so seriously that she stood frozen in the kitchen for two hours, eyes darting around following every little sound that the old farm makes, petrified by the creaky, boomy, howling vocabulary that the 150 year-old house naturally acquires without any supernatural help.
She was lucky that I happened to pop over to tell her where the recycling bins were. I realized she was terrified and reassured her that I was kidding about the ghosts. It’s a good thing too or she might’ve spent her whole residency frozen in the kitchen completely unable to do her work…or recycle.
Another time I was showing a new scholar around the house. He made the highly original joke: “Is that Mark Twain’s microwave?” Then he took my fictional laugh as a genuine laugh and made me follow him around the house and take pictures of him as he pointed at every modern object and howled with laughter, “Mark Twain’s printer” and “Mark Twain’s couch” and “Mark Twain’s toaster” and so on, and on, and on. With the joy of a toddler squeezing everything he could from the tired joke. The poor thing dripped from between his fingers like a dead banana. I showed him where we kept the trash bins. His recycling had become problematic.
Sometimes fiction can blend in with life in ways that’ll trick even the skeptics. One night I was reading The Call of The Wild to my noisy monkey before bed. We were somewhere in the great blue north, full moon reflecting on the endless white expanses, with a dog that was feeling a mysterious pull out away from camp and into the dark magic night. He could hear the wolves howling and felt a need to be among the pack. Just then a pack of coyotes must’ve made a kill right outside the house because they started howling and barking and cackling in stereo all around us like a living soundtrack to the story.
My pulse quickened and I began to read faster and feel the words as repeated shots of adrenalin. The little nightlight cast my animated shadow across the ceiling as the ravenous coyotes devoured their prey. I was worried for the boy as to what kind of sleep he would get, if any, in the midst of this immersive experience. Hell, I was worried about myself. I almost couldn’t read anymore. Then the little nightlight went dark without explanation and the coyotes howled as the book fell to the ground and I clutched the bedframe to lean in to check on my son only to realize he was softly snoring. He’d missed the whole thing. I sat frozen for a while, with my eyes darting around, following every little sound that the old farm made.
The Earth has turned and it’s 4 PM. The snow is high enough to make the dog appear that she has no legs. We’ve had our sledding and our hot cocoa and our lunch. The boy has taken all my threats and noise ordinances as fiction. The branches of the black winter trees are lined with a thick white coat that blinded me in the forty seconds when the sky went blue and the afternoon smirked, eyes shining, at the impermanence. The full moon is due later and I hope it’s clear enough to light the endless white expanses. I hope people find their way. I hope small children tire themselves out and dream. And I hope stories can offer meaning without demanding to be true.
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