Brian Campbell was out of his mind. It was the only explanation for the course his life was taking.
He came to this profound conclusion as he was pulling out of the parking garage in Philadelphia, PA, leaving his apartment for the last time. His conviction in this matter only strengthened over the course of the two hour drive, and by the time he arrived at the new home he would be sharing with his mother in Harrisburg, he had convinced himself that the best thing for all concerned would be for his mother to move in with his older sister Claire and her family in Yardley.
Brian parked his car in the driveway and stalked through the garage door into the kitchen, prepared to give his Claire and his mother a piece of his mind.
“Hector, honey, if you don’t come out of there, you’re going to strangle yourself, and if you do, I will not be sorry. I will laugh. Do you hear me, Fuzz-for-Brains? I will laugh like a madwoman because this house has me on the brink of insanity, and rather than trying to fix it, I’m on my hands and knees trying to talk a cat out of a box of electrical cords.”
Brian stared. His mother and sister were nowhere to be found. Instead he found himself peering down at Eve Porter, of all people, who appeared to be talking to a cardboard box.
“Eve?” he said cautiously.
She sat up so quickly she upset the box, spilling cords and a liver-brown tomcat out across the kitchen floor. “Brian!”
“What are you doing here?” he asked, holding out a hand to help her up. Eve ignored it, scooping up the cat as she stood.
“You know how it is with our families. Did you really think Lydia Campbell could move three states away without the Porters getting involved somehow? The war may be over, but the Light is still united.” Eve grinned. “Anyway, Mom and Dad are in no condition to help, so the job fell to me.”
“And the cat, apparently,” Brian said, shedding his coat and suit jacket and dropping them on the couch.
“Yes, well, Hector’s idea of helping is more counterproductive than anything else,” Eve said, shifting the cat to one hip. She frowned at the couch. “I’m going to sound horribly like our mothers, but would you mind hanging those up? The house is messy enough as it is.”
“I can see that,” Brian said, eyeing the piles of bric-a-brac and packing paper on the tables and the stacks of boxes on the floor. “Show me where the coat closet is and I’ll take care of them.”
“Second door on the right,” Eve said, pointing. “Try not to get lost on the way.”
Brian gave her a disbelieving look. “I’m sure I’ll manage.”
Much to Brian’s embarrassment, he did get lost. Well, lost was a bit strong—temporarily confused, that was more like it. Which was not at all his fault. He couldn’t be held responsible for the fact that the architect who designed the house had been either drunk or high at the drafting table. The rooms were stuck together at strange angles and there were so many boxes and bits of furniture everywhere that he couldn’t identify what was supposed to be the living room or the dining room or anything else. By the time he’d circled around the staircase twice and found his way back to the kitchen, Claire and her stepsons had appeared.
“There you are,” Eve said. “I told you not to get lost.”
“Ha, ha,” Brian said dryly. “Why didn’t anyone tell me Mom bought a house built by Picasso?”
“Because nobody loves you,” Claire said cheerfully, giving him a hug. “It’s a conspiracy. We’re all plotting against you.”
“Obviously. Jesus, they’ve gotten tall,” he said, nodding at her stepsons.
“Language, Brian,” Claire said in a perfect imitation of their mother. “Not that it really matters; they swear more than you do. Something about being sixteen and male.”
“Mom,” they complained, rolling their eyes in unison.
“We can have a swearing party out in the garage. No girls allowed,” Brian said, grinning at the boys and wondering for the thousandth time which was Jack and which was Jake. Last he’d heard, Jack was into music, so he was probably the one with the long hair, but who knew with kids these days? And now he was starting to feel old. “Where’s Mom?”
“Sleeping, theoretically. We made her go lie down, but she’s probably reading instead of actually resting,” Claire said. “Marcus should be back soon with dinner, so if we can manage to clear off enough table space somewhere for seven people, we can eat.”
Brian cast a wary glance over the counters and table. “We could have a picnic on the floor instead? Except that involves moving boxes. How about we invert gravity and eat on the ceiling?”
“You really want all of this raining down on your head while you’re eating mu shu pork?” Eve said, gathering an armful of candles and salt cellars and moving them from one end of the counter to the other. “Not to mention the fact that you can’t invert gravity. We could invert the house, but we’d probably break a lot of dishes and I think your mom would protest.”
“You are such a geek,” Brian informed her, pushing up his sleeves and grabbing a box of light bulbs from the table and adding it to a stack of as-yet unopened boxes.
“Oh, but that’s why you love me,” Eve replied cheerfully. “Hand me the walrus?”
“God, I can’t believe she still has this thing,” Brian said, handing her the walrus-shaped cookie jar.
“You know our mothers. They never throw anything away. Hey, Marcus,” Eve greeted as Brian’s brother-in-law came in the garage door with his arms full of Chinese takeout.
Marcus deposited the food on the small patch of table space they’d managed to clear and kissed his wife. “Making progress, I see.”
“This is progress?” Brian gaped.
“You should have been here yesterday,” Marcus said.
“I’m thinking maybe it’s a good thing I wasn’t,” Brian said faintly. “Can we eat out on the porch?”
Brian woke the next morning to find Jake and Jack staring down at him.
“Mom and Eve say it’s time to get up,” Jake informed him with classic teenage apathy.
“Good for them,” Brian grumbled, rolling over.
“They also said if you don’t get up in three minutes, we get to throw you out the window,” Jack said when Brian showed no signs of sitting up.
“Fine. You can pay for the broken window,” Brian said into his pillow.
“We’d open the window first. You should get up now. We know all of Mom’s tricks for getting people out of bed. Unless you want us to throw you out the window.”
The faint note of hope in Jack’s voice had Brian sitting up. “Your mother is a sadistic witch.”
“Duh,” said Jake. “You have thirty minutes to shower and eat breakfast. If it takes longer, we get to use your car to practice driving.”
“You do realize that your mother is using you to achieve her despotic goals?” Brian asked, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed.
“Duh,” said Jake again. “But if it means we get to drive your car…”
“Touch my keys and die,” Brian said calmly. “Go terrorize someone else. I’m up.”
Brian came down the stairs fifteen minutes later to find Eve sitting at the kitchen table, hair damp and curling from her shower, eating tuna fish and toast with a spoon. She waved the spoon at him by way of greeting. “Your mom seems to be anti-cereal. And anti-soup. And anti-crackers. And anti-tuna-in-water.”
“So what’s that?” he asked, opening the fridge and finding copious amounts of orange juice, green beans, chocolate, and bread, and very little of anything else.
“Tuna in oil. Well, tuna with as much of the oil squeezed out as I could manage. We need to get groceries.”
“Mom and I will deal with it once we’re settled.” Brian shrugged, pulling out the OJ. “We’re going to be ordering out until you all leave, anyway. Unless you were planning to cook?”
“Your mom keeps trying, but I usually manage to distract her. She’s not up to cooking for seven people,” Eve said, shifting to make room for Brian at the table. There was a pause, and she added, “She’s asked me to move in with you.”
Brian lowered his glass. “What did you say?”
“I told her I would consider it.” Eve squirmed uncomfortably. “Look, Brian, as much as we might wish it were otherwise, this is never going to be your mother’s house. She doesn’t have the force of will to make it hers. The house belongs to you, and you’re responsible for making it a home. You’re the one who decides who lives here, not her, so unless you’re planning on inviting me…”
“Well, it wasn’t on the top of my to-do list.”
“I figured.” Eve took her plate to the sink and rinsed it. “Well, we can all talk about it later. As soon as you’ve finished, we’ve assigned you to the library for today.”
Brian downed the last of his orange juice and set the glass on the counter. “Which one is the library again?”
“The useless open space by the front door,” Eve said, leading the way. “We’re making it useful. Theoretically.”
“Theoretically,” Brian agreed, staring at the mess that was supposed to be the library. Claire was seated on the floor, opening boxes, while Jack and Jake assembled bookcases under their father’s watchful eye. “Why is my kitchen table in here?”
“The movers thought this would be a good place for it,” Claire said. She shrugged. “They put Mom’s vanity in the dining room and carted the sideboard upstairs to the master bedroom. Our current theory is that they were on the same drugs as the architect.”
“I think I need to get some of it, whatever it is,” Brian muttered.
“I had ‘The End of the World as We Know It’ stuck in my head yesterday,” Eve said by way of agreement. “Today it’s progressed to ‘Staying Alive.’”
Claire winced. “Ooh. Well, I suppose as long as we don’t make it to ‘I Will Survive,’ we should be all right. You want me in the kitchen?”
“If the boys have things under control here, yeah. I’d like to get the kitchen settled before we move to the dining room.”
“We men have things just fine, thank you,” Marcus said.
Claire leered. “I’m sure you do.”
“Hey! No coital gazes in front of the children! Or the brother,” Brian protested.
“But he’s just so strong and manly,” said Eve, clasping her hands to her chest.
“Hey! Get your own!” said Claire.
“But Jake and Jack are underage,” Eve pouted.
“Out!” Brian ordered, pointing towards the kitchen. Laughing, the women left.
“So,” he said, bracing one end of a half-finished bookcase as Jake pounded a shelf into place. “What happened to Eve?”
“What do you mean?” Marcus asked, setting a finished bookcase on its end.
“Come on, Marcus, you know what I mean. Eve. Eve the bookworm. Eve the wallflower. Eve.”
Marcus glanced at Jack and Jake, who were suddenly intently focused on their respective bookcases. “Eve the wildly successful author for one of the country’s most popular magazines?”
“Well, but she was still shy. Now she’s all confidence and conversation and taking charge.”
“Did you ever read any of her articles?” When Brian shook his head, Marcus raised his eyebrows. “Eve has always been Eve. She’s just finally started being Eve in person.”
“If you say so,” Brian said dubiously. “But why now?”
The men looked up so see Lydia standing at the base of the stairs, one frail had clutching the banister.
“Mom,” he said quickly, setting down the end of the bookcase he was holding and crossing to her. “Do you need anything?”
“No, no. I’m fine.” She looked towards the kitchen. “I should help the girls in the kitchen.”
“Okay, Mom.” Brian reached out and touched her elbow. “You should do that.”
Lydia nodded. “So much to do…” she muttered. “Need to get it ready,” she added and headed for the kitchen. Sighing, Brian returned to the library.
“That’s why,” Marcus said quietly.
“That’s why Eve’s changed. She’s always been focused and capable. Lydia isn’t anymore. So Eve’s taken charge.”
“Grandma’s been fuzzy for a while,” Jack said quietly. “She keeps saying crazy stuff.”
“She has these weird ideas about the house,” Jake added.
The two men exchanged a glance. “What do you mean?” Marcus asked.
“She keeps calling it the Light House.”
Brian frowned. “Lighthouse? We’re nowhere near the coast.”
“No, I think it’s two words. Like the White House,” Jake clarified.
“Light House.” Brian shook his head. “I have no idea what that means.”
“Light versus Dark,” Jack said. Brian and Marcus looked at him and he explained, “It’s another one of the things she says. The battle between the light and the dark.” He ducked his head. “She says another war is coming.”
“Another—” Brian began.
“Hey, how comes the manly bookshelf-building?” Eve said, walking up behind Jake and pushing the brim of his baseball cap over his eyes.
“We,” Marcus grunted, setting the final bookcase on its end, “are done.”
“In that case, you and Brian can start putting together bed frames so we can all stop sleeping on the floor. As for you,” she narrowed her eyes in mock severity at the twins. “Get the books on the shelves. They were packed more or less alphabetically, which should make things easier. One of you start with A and the other with Z and when you finish we can go get ice cream.”
Jake rolled his eyes. “We’re too old to be bribed with ice cream.”
“Well, there’s your problem. You’re assuming the ice cream is the bribe. But the bribe is much cooler than that.” She paused for dramatic effect. “The bribe is, whoever makes it to M first gets to drive.”
“A race?” Jack said dubiously.
“You’re on!” said Jake, reaching for the nearest box.
Eve laughed. “You two had better get started, or you won’t be done in time for ice cream,” she said to Marcus and Brian as the boys started shelving.
Several hours later, after a rowdy and mildly traumatic trip for ice cream, Brian found himself alone on a stepladder in what was supposed to be the dining room, making marks on the orange-and-green wallpaper so he and Marcus could hang the cabinets. He dropped the pencil and cursed. He was bending down to pick it up when he heard a scream from the basement. Pencil forgotten, he dashed around a corner and down the basement stairs.
“What happened—hey.” Brian stopped short, seeing only Eve, who didn’t appear to be bleeding or dying. He frowned. “Did you scream?”
Eve looked sheepish. “I made it to ‘I Will Survive.’”
“Huh? Oh,” he said, remembering. “Is it really that bad?”
She sighed. “I’ve been trying to settle things upstairs. Your mother is changing the sheets on my bed. Again.”
“Your bed? Again?”
Eve flapped her hands. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“So you were screaming.”
“I thought it was better to get it out before I snapped at someone. And I thought if I was down here, no one would hear.”
“Your master plan is a complete success,” Brian noted with a teasing grin.
Eve laughed. “All part of my evil plot to take over the world.” She rubbed a hand over the back of her neck, kneading the muscle. “I should get dinner started. Your mom wanted to eat in tonight.”
Brian lifted an eyebrow as they headed back up the stairs. “Do we have more than orange juice and tuna-in-water?”
“I sent the boys to the grocery store an hour ago, so theoretically, yes. Lydia,” Eve said carefully, finding her waiting for them at the top of the stairs.
“Brian, if you have a moment…” Lydia said.
“What do you need, Mom?” Brian asked. He took her arm, jerking his head for Eve to go to the kitchen. She escaped with a grateful smile.
Jake and Jack had left the groceries on the counter. Eve fished out the makings for tuna fish salad. She spent several minutes hunting for the colander—someone had moved it from where she’d put it earlier that day—before giving up and peeling the saran wrap off a head of lettuce.
Brian returned as she was rinsing the tomatoes.
“What was that about?” Eve asked, noting the frown lines between his eyes.
Brian sighed and rested his forehead against the cabinet. “More of her ramblings. She says a ‘great evil’ is coming.”
“She says that a lot,” Eve said, shaking the excess water from the tomatoes and beginning to slice them.
Brian sent her a sideways look. “Do you believe her?”
“Yes.” She looked at him and sighed. “Come on, Brian. It may sound like the crazed ramblings of a woman going senile to anyone else, but with parents like ours…you know as well as I do that there are such things as clairvoyance, woman’s intuition, and they don’t go away with menopause. Your mother and my mother get them even more often than Claire and I do.”
“So then why bother with all of this?” He turned, resting a hip against the counter. “Paint swatches and vegetable spinners—what’s the point if the world is going to hell in a few years?”
Eve put down the knife and frowned at him. “That’s exactly the point, Brian. When all hell breaks loose, people are going to need a center—a haven, a focal point—home base, for lack of a better term. Those who know what’s going on, those who choose to fight back are going to come to us. They’ll come because of what your parents and mine did the last time. They don’t realize that Lydia Campbell is a seventy-year-old woman with arthritis, that Mary Porter is battling breast cancer and Steven Porter has Parkinson’s. People will be looking for the legendary leaders of the last great battle, and when our parents can’t be that, the burden is going to fall to us. Did Claire tell you she and Marcus are going to buy the house next door?”
Brian blinked, thrown by her lack of segue. “She mentioned they were considering it.”
“We’re going to knock down the fence between the two plots. This house is too small on its own to serve the purpose we need it for. None of this has been an accident, Brian. We aren’t placating your mother or indulging some girlish need to play house. A war is coming and we need to be prepared. Claire, Marcus, you—you’ll be fighting out on the front lines, but not everyone can do that. Your mother is too old, and me…” Eve shook her head. “I’m not meant for that kind of fighting. I can do some, and I will if I’m needed, but my place is here, in the house, keeping it strong, keeping it safe, keeping it a home. The center must hold.”
“The Light House,” Brian said quietly, and she nodded, returning her attention to the tomatoes.
“Sounds like you’ve got it all planned out,” he said, his tone almost dangerous.
“What do you mean?”
“For someone who keeps banging on about how I’m supposed to be in running this house, it sounds an awful lot like that’s what you’re planning on doing.”
Eve gaped. “Well, I suppose—”
“Did it occur to any of you to consult me before starting any of this? Jesus Christ, Eve. You, Claire, my mother—you’ve got the fate of the world planned out, and only now do you think to mention it to me? You’ve decided everything, from the bed I sleep in to my role in the coming war to who I’m going to marry, for Chrissakes! I can’t even find a can of Coke in my own kitchen!”
“Eve, please tell me you have something that involve manly lifting and heavy grunting!” Claire cried, coming in from the garage with the boys in tow. “If I have to hear one more complaint about how flowers are for girls, so help me—!”
Eve bit her lip as Brian stalked off. “I think we’re all taking a break,” she said eventually.
“Why don’t you two see if Uncle Brian managed to hook the TV up properly?” Claire suggested, jerking her head at the great room. She rested a hip against the counter as the twins sauntered off. “So what was that about?”
Eve shook her head as she dumped the tomatoes into the salad. “I told him what the Light House is.”
“And he’s throwing a fit because he didn’t think of it himself,” Claire said.
“I guess. I think it’s more the fact that all the girls knew and he didn’t. Your brother is such a man sometimes.”
“Aren’t they all,” Claire sighed, chewing morosely on a scrap of lettuce. “Even the boys are starting to let their Y chromosomes do the thinking, rather than listening to their sensible Xs.” She nodded at Jack and Jake, who were channel surfing, wearing identical expressions of male boredom.
“They just overreact to everything,” Eve complained, chopping string beans with more vigor than was entirely necessary. “All right, we probably should have told him before, but honestly, I thought he knew what was going on. Every major change in our families before now has had to do with the wars and our abilities; why should this be any different? If he had had the common sense to pay attention to what your mother has been saying for the past year—but no, she’s just a crazy old woman, he has better things to do, he is an important man with an important penis—and then he starts accusing me of trying to arrange his marriage! Are you allowed to institutionalize someone for being an insufferable man?”
Claire shifted uncomfortably. “Well, the majority of doctors are still men, so I would guess…”
Eve narrowed her eyes. “What is it?”
Claire winced. “I may have had some visions of his wife and children…and I may have made the mistake of mentioning the names of said wife and children to him…”
“Brilliant, Claire, just brilliant,” Eve said, but she was grinning. “No wonder he went off on me. Poor little Brian’s afraid of commitment.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Claire muttered. “So, subject change. I’ve been looking at the layout next door and it makes even less sense than this house does. If I draw you a picture, can you help me figure out where to put my office so I don’t have to deal with my menfolk while I’m trying to work?”
The tension between Brian and Eve had a numbing effect on the usual rowdiness of dinner. As Jake and Jack cleared the table and Claire and Marcus distracted Lydia, Eve snuck out to the front porch. Brian quickly followed.
“I guess we need to talk,” he said, joining her where she was leaning on the railing.
“I guess we do,” Eve agreed. She sighed. “I owe you an apology. We should have told you sooner what the house was going to be—I guess we just assumed you knew. Lydia and Claire and I have had inklings of the coming war for a while now, and it’s easy for us to forget that not everyone can see the things we can. We forget you menfolk are half-blind sometimes,” she said with a cautious smile. “But—it’s your house, whatever our plans for it may be, and we should have told you.”
“Except it isn’t my house,” Brian said. “Everything you were talking about, about the Light House—I can’t do that any more than Mom can. Maybe I could do some, but not enough for it to really be what we’re going to need it to be. And it makes sense that you’ve taken over.” He looked at her and swore. “Claire really needs to learn to keep her premonitions to herself,” he complained.
Eve frowned. “What do you mean?”
Brian leaned over and kissed her.
“What—” Eve began when he pulled back
“I’ll tell you when Cassie’s born,” he said.
Eve stared at him, the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. “I’ve never seen my husband,” she said carefully. “But I know my children. My firstborn is a daughter named Cassandra.”
Brian nodded and she exhaled heavily. “Okay. Um.”
“Um,” he agreed. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“We have a few options,” Eve said after a pause. “We could go back inside and be awkward and avoid looking at each other for the next month or so. Or, I could get a blanket and you could put your arm around me and we could sit out here and watch the sunset.”
“I think I like the second one better.”
“Okay,” she said.
He touched his lips to hers again. “Okay.”
As promised last week, here is “The Light House” in its entirety. Since my previous few posts have dealt with gender issues and writing, it seemed appropriate.
This story was written about three years ago whilst helping my uncle and grandmother move into the real life Light House, where all the photos between scenes were taken. All wallpaper, etc pictured came with the house. It truly is a hideous beast.
When I first completed the story, it felt done to me, but now I can see that it really does need to be expanded. I may never get around to revising and expanding this, but the themes are ones which I will certainly come back to. As mentioned before, the themes and tropes of male/female relationships are ones I frequently include in my works, and the concept of home has always been something to which I devote a lot of thought. We’ll see where my ruminations on the topic lead me in the future!