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Winter House: Chapter 2
Fiction by Christian Shuck Featured Image by Alia Shuck
Chapter Two September 25th, 2016
The buzzer on the oven timer let out a high tone, indicating the seconds had run out. Terry left the couch to walk into the kitchen and check on the lasagna she was making for dinner. “So,” Ted started, “you grew up here, huh Bob?” They sat opposite each other in the living room of the Thomas’ home. Bob on an oversized loveseat, Ted on one end of their couch. The room was darkly lit, a consequence of windows which only captured the most light from the south. Sconces and lamps on end tables spread soft watts of glow enough to outline the room’s character. “Yeah, I did. You’ve done a great job with the house. It’s not exactly how I remember, but I didn’t spend a lot of time inside. We were always out back in the field.” Ted leaned slightly to his right, to look through the dining room and the window, trying to imagine the absence of his neighbors. “I haven’t thought about this neighborhood in years,” Bob continued. “My father worked night shift at the paper mill, so he’d always kick us out of the house during the day. Of course, in those days we never wanted to be inside anyway. Now all they do is play on the computer and watch television.” Ted smiled, thinking about Todd upstairs in his room, probably playing Playstation. He didn’t think it was too big of a deal. He and Terry spent a lot of time outdoors with Todd, working in the yard, taking hikes in the park. Of course, in Colorado all they had to do was walk a few blocks and they were in the foothills of the Rockies. Indiana wasn’t exactly a backpacker’s dream. Then he glanced down and looked to see Bob’s glass was empty. “Can I get you another drink?” he asked. “Yeah, thank you. You make a good Manhattan.” “I learned from the best,” Ted said, glancing into the kitchen at Terry, as he walked over to their makeshift bar in the dining room.
“So how many kids used to hang out with you?” Ted asked. He quickly tried to do math in his head, thinking about Bob’s age. If he’d been away forty years, that meant he had to be at least sixty. He shrugged while he thought, picturing what kids in the fifties would’ve looked like. The closest image he could get was River Phoenix in Stand By Me. “Oh, I don’t know,” Bob said from the living room. “We used to get different kids from different neighborhoods. There was a small group of us that were always together, I guess. We used to have whole baseball games. We’d play kids from other streets.” Ted glanced in as he mixed drinks to see Bob waving his hands in the air, demonstrating how many people would come. Ted dropped a cherry in each glass, then paused to look out the window again. The house behind them wasn’t close. It was probably one hundred feet from the back of the house to the property line. The neighbor’s house was another hundred feet or so from there. Their yard was pretty big, considering they were in the middle of the city. He tried to figure out if Bob’s perception of his childhood playground was exaggerated. Maybe without the tree line, it would have seemed more spacious. Terry wandered out of the kitchen. “Dinner’s ready!” The smell of the lasagna on his plate made Ted’s stomach rumble. Bob spread butter on his slice of bread while Terry piled salad into a bowl. Todd came lumbering into the dining room, rubbing his eyes. “I got to the next level on DOOM, Dad,” he said as he sat down across from his mother. Ted felt his face show excitement, then tried to contain it. He didn’t want to give Bob the impression he’d let his son turn into an indoor zombie. He cleared his throat, “Uh, good. What about your homework, all ready for tomorrow?” Todd looked at him, clearly confused. “Yeah, Dad, I had it done Friday night.” Todd flopped a spoonful of lasagna onto his plate. Terry glanced up at Ted, also slightly confused at the homework question. Eager to shift the focus he said, “Todd, Bob here used to play games with his friends in our backyard when he was your age. Pretty cool, huh?” “That’s pretty neat,” Todd said through a mouth full of pasta. “They used to play baseball and build forts back there. Maybe we can build something in the spring?” Todd finished chewing and pushed his food around with his fork. “I guess.” Ted twisted his mouth up, disappointed more in the fact that Todd had not been himself since they moved to Indiana. “You know, Todd,” said Bob, “We used to play games outside just like the games you play on your computer.” “It’s not a computer, it’s a Playstation,” said Todd. “Use your manners, please,” Terry scolded. “That’s alright,” Bob said. “Todd doesn’t realize his Playstation is actually a computer. And so are most phones. Heck, TVs are practically computers now too. We didn’t have those when I was your age.”
“Sorry,” Bob said. His head shook slightly, giving confirmation to Ted’s idea that the story he was about to share was not appropriate for Todd. “I know why people said they left. But it was just a rumor.”
Ted and Terry exchanged another glance. This time both of them had wide eyes. Ted laid his silverware down in anticipation of a good tale.
Todd shoved more lasagna into his mouth. “Sounds like the dark ages.” Everyone laughed. “Please don’t talk with your mouth full,” Terry asked through a chuckle. “Tell us more about it, Bob. That’s the main reason you’re here, after all. You said this was the Winter house. What did you mean?” Bob finished his salad and said, “Well,” one more swallow, “we always called it the Winter house because that’s who used to live here.” “When you were a kid?” Terry asked. “Well, no, actually. The Stewarts lived here when I was a boy. The Winters lived here before them. Mr. Winter owned a butcher shop down the block. After they moved, the Stewarts came in and they had another boy my age. That’s how we ended up playing here all the time.” Ted thought for a moment. He let his eyes wander around the dining room. He felt like the house, though not obnoxiously large, seemed to be a little big for the family of a butcher. Its features were out of character. The lead plated glass in the dining room and kitchen, for example, were items he imagined more sophisticated people would look for. Then again, he didn’t know much about what kind of living a butcher could make in the fifties. That would’ve probably been a more necessary business then. Not to mention, it was a little cruel to assume a butcher was not a sophisticated individual. Daydreaming, Ted pictured the end of the street. Where 52nd Street intersected with Lincoln Ave., a collection of buildings formed what one could see was a central part of a neighborhood that no longer existed. Not in the same way, anyhow. He wanted to know which building had belonged to Mr. Winter. Then he thought about the house again, contemplating who slept in which room. “Ted,” his wife said. “You’re drifting off.” He shook his head. Todd giggled. “You’re so weird, Dad.” “Sorry,” said Ted. “Writer’s brain. So, Bob, what year did the Winters live here?” Bob thought for a moment. “You know, Ted, that’s a good question. The Stewarts moved in when I was 7, so that would have been,” he trailed off. Ted scooped more lasagna onto his plate while he waited. After another moment, “1953.” Ted made a mental note. “Holy cow!” Shouted Todd. Looking at his parents, “You guys weren’t even alive then!” “No, sweetie,” said Terry. Then, “Bob I would’ve never guessed you were seventy. You don’t look a day over fifty.” Bob blushed. “I try to keep active.” “1953,” Ted contemplated out loud. “That’s when the Winters moved out and the Stewarts moved in?” “Yes, I think so.” “Do you know why the Winters moved out?”
Bob polished off the sauce on his plate by mopping it up with his last bite of bread. He sighed as he chewed, and seemed to stare off blankly. Terry shot Ted a look, and he knew she was thinking the same thing. “Todd,” Terry said, “why don’t you run up and get ready for bed.” “No ice cream?” asked Todd. “You can, I just want you to go get ready for bed first.” Todd pushed back from the table and picked up his plate to carry into the kitchen. Terry looked back to Bob, who now looked very tired. “Bob?” Ted asked, leaning into the table. “Sorry,” Bob said. His head shook slightly, giving confirmation to Ted’s idea that the story he was about to share was not appropriate for Todd. “I know why people said they left. But it was just a rumor.” Ted and Terry exchanged another glance. This time both of them had wide eyes. Ted laid his silverware down in anticipation of a good tale. Bob sighed and leaned back in his chair. He folded his hands in front of him and brought them to a rest on his stomach. “It was just a rumor, but folks said Mr. Winter was a bit of a drinker. Well-liked in the community, everyone went to his shop, from this neighborhood anyway. Had great meat from a couple local farms. I think my father even took some deer he hunted there to get cut up.” “Doesn’t sound so bad, minus the drinking part,” Terry said. “Well, back then everyone drank a little.” “Wait, wouldn’t that have been just after the war?” “Yes,” Bob answered. “Mr. Winter never had to join the service on account of an ailment. Can’t remember what it was, though.” “Oh,” Ted said. “Anyway, he was a bit of a drinker and I guess he had too much one night. Stopped in at the bar down on the corner, used to be called The Corner, but now I think they call it the Top Hat. Mr. Winter had a couple too many and went home and got into an argument with his wife.” Terry interjected. “Came home, you mean here?” “Yes.” Ted’s imagination ran. He was getting a little uncomfortable because he was certain the next sentence out of Bob’s mouth was going to be that Mr. Winter killed his wife. In the house they now occupied. “I guess he tried to light the place on fire,” Bob shrugged. Ted watched the anxiety leave Terry’s shoulders. He exhaled heavily, relieved that someone had not been murdered in their home. “Obviously he didn’t, right?” he asked Bob. “No, no. He’d made a big fuss at the bar and somebody called the cops to let them know he was threatening to burn his house down.” “What happened?” Terry wondered. “Why would he try to burn down his own house?” Bob shrugged. “I don’t know that for sure. Again, this was all a rumor. I think he might’ve been a good butcher, but a pretty terrible book keeper. ‘Course, this town used to be full of mob connections. Maybe he took a loan from someone he shouldn’t have and couldn’t pay them back?”
Ted scratched his chin, curious about more local history. Basevale wasn’t as pretty as Boulder, but the drama was certainly more interesting. “The mob?” Terry asked. “Oh yeah,” Bob said, getting a little excited. “All these rail lines?” He waved his arms around, as if he could point to each one. The mob used Basevale as a hub to move booze during prohibition. They’d bring it down from Chicago and could transport it just about anywhere in the country. Nothing was computerized, so you could pay the track managers off to fix the books. No one was wiser.” Ted said, “Huh.” Then he stuck out his lower lip to illustrate he did in fact find the information fascinating. “That’s kind of cool,” Terry smiled. “I suppose,” said Bob. “I don’t remember much of that, you know? I was just a kid when all those people were old, so it could’ve just been a bunch of stories. That lasagna was delicious by the way.” He motioned to his bare plate. “Oh I’m so glad you liked it. Do you want dessert?” Terry asked, getting out of her chair. She collected Ted’s plate, then walked around the table to pick up Bob’s. “I think I’ll have to pass,” he chuckled. He rubbed his protruding belly. “Never was one for sweets. Always compensated for it on the main course.” Terry walked into the kitchen with the dishes. Todd reappeared, wearing Transformer pajamas. “Hey, Bob,” Todd said, walking to their guest. “Do you know who this is?” He pointed to the center of his shirt, where an image of Bumblebee stood in a regal pose. “No clue,” Bob chuckled. “I think my grandson has those same pajamas, though.” “Really?” Todd asked, excited. “I think so.” Bob seemed to examine Todd for a moment before speaking again. “You know we built a great treehouse way back behind the house one summer. Maybe you and your dad could build one in your backyard.” Todd looked embarrassed and glanced at his father. “I can come show you where we built ours, when I was your age,” Bob followed. “That would be fun, right Todd?” Ted asked. His son just stood, still blushing now that he was the center of attention. Ted just smiled at him. [Christian Shuck is a Greencastle native and Hope College alumnus who works in higher education as a major gift officer. Besides his contributions here, he also writes for his own blog cmshuckstories.com. He currently lives in Terre Haute.