Roscoe walked in the alley. His tongue flipped around the broken tooth with a skill born from years of self-administered dentistry. His lips moved up and around as Roscoe tilted his head hoping to gain leverage over the tooth. He held his jaw with one hand. Pushing his chin up and to the right, Roscoe wondered for a moment why everyone didn’t break off their own teeth. This is cheaper than some old damned dentist, he thought. He opened his mouth wide stretching his tongue around then letting it flop down to rest. The alley opened on Montana Street with its Colonial homes and honeysuckle lined fences. Roscoe figured the golden streets of heaven Reverend James preached on were regular old streets covered in honeysuckle and sunshine. He smiled, letting his calloused black fingers massage the honeysuckle blooms awake.

It’d been twenty years to the month since Roscoe started making this trek each morning. Countless teeth had broken off along the way. Hundreds of honeysuckles touched, smelled, and tasted when no one was looking. Mr. Reynolds, the boss, wasn’t coming in to work today. He’d gotten a case of the summer flu. Once he got passed the giant gray house, Roscoe wouldn’t have a care in the world all day. Roscoe whistled. He waved at a passing driver. Stopping at the big highway, he saw the giant gray house across the road. He shivered in the August air.

It was a Thursday which meant few visitors would disturb Roscoe as he cut the grass at Mahalia Gardens Cemetery. He rubbed his hand together while waiting for traffic to clear on the highway. Mahalia’s main drag is a two-lane highway that runs from the Blue Ridge clear on down to Virginia Beach. The town is on the north side of the highway. The railroad runs next to the highway and over the bridge is Mahalia Gardens Cemetery. Roscoe’s Grandma always said,

“The whole town is on the wrong side of them tracks.”

Roscoe grunted as he reached the other side of the highway. He stopped and watched the giant gray house next to him. Roscoe hated the giant gray house. Whenever he got near the house, or thought of the house, or had nightmares about what might go on in that house, his mouth grew dry. He stood 6 foot 2, believed in Jesus, and could lift a grown man in each arm but the giant house petrified Roscoe Baldwin’s soul. Its porch sagged in the middle reminding Roscoe of graves. Dry rotted curtains hung, broken but immovable, in the upstairs windows. Weeds grew in the center of a rotten sandbox frame. Paint peeled from every board, every shutter. The side yard, cratered with dog holes and bones led to a backyard of strewn beer cans, three-wheeled push mowers, and trash. Kudzu swallowed a motorcycle frame on blocks.

More than the sights, it was the sounds that bother Roscoe more…

“I’m sorry.” a woman shouts.
“You will be.” a man shouts back.
More screaming. Feet running somewhere in the giant house. A door slamming. Furniture scraping across a floor. Glass shattering on a wall. Maybe a mirror. Early in the morning, late in the afternoon it was the same. The bone chilling winter or brow sweating summer, it was the same. Roscoe’s eyes would never dare glance into a window.

“Ain’t a mind of mine” he’d say.

Roscoe hurried his steps, keeping his eyes on the bridge ahead. Working his mind on the day ahead he stayed focused except for one distraction.

Under the shade of a faded green fiberglass carport sat a dollhouse, three feet tall and untouched by its surroundings. White thick plastic walls with pink trim, it sat alone under the carport, waiting. Roscoe never saw the child who played with the dollhouse. The dollhouse, even from the broken sidewalk, appeared clean and cared for.
He didn’t have the right word in his mind. Defending? Determined? Defiant?
He didn’t know the word. He didn’t care to find out. The dollhouse made passing the giant gray house feel better. Roscoe admitted to Jesus every night; the dollhouse also made the giant gray house impossible to forget.

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