3

The wooden siding of the house was turning a dark greenish gray color, along with the obscure red shutters that were half way falling off. Rusty nails stuck out randomly, as if skinny fingers were reaching out of the house for help. At night the house looked uninhabited, surrounded by great oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Weeds grew in every direction and up through little cracks in the driveway sprang blades of lengthy grass. A white rocking chair gleaming with what looked like a new coat of paint sat on the stale porch, and in it sat Old Man Liam, all the time. The rocking chair was the only thing on or around the house that didn't look like it was a thousand years old, including Old Man Liam himself. He had a rough looking face with not enough stubble to be called a beard. His arms and legs hung by his side, long and bony and disproportioned. He was dirty and far from perfect. The reason everyone respected the house so much was for the vivid stories that were associated with it.

No one really knew Old Man Liam's background. As far as we were concerned he's lived at that house forever, never held a job, never spoke to anyone, scarcely changed clothes, never smiled, never bothered anyone, and never left the front porch. Mail overflowed from his mailbox long before they just stopped delivering it altogether. Old Man Liam never paid taxes, never cut the grass, and never went to church. There are a lot of things Old Man Liam never did.

But there was one thing Old Man Liam did all the time. He sat. He sat and rocked back and forth, whether freezing rain was falling from the dark sky or the brilliant sun turned the air to a hundred degrees. Old Man Liam sat. And he was good at it.

Only at night did he limp inside, and the only thing left to do was wait for the stories to begin.

One crisp day in late September, Claudette Gerald moved into the white doll house next to Old Man Liam. Claudette's pied-à-terre was a good starter house for any upper class newly weds. The thing was, Claudette wasn't married, but she was young, and new to the town. Everyone who moved into the doll house next to Old Man Liam was new to the town. Claudette thought it would be nice of her to take Old Man Liam a basket of fruit. Claudette went up to the aging porch where Old Man Liam sat and almost tripped up the seven rickety steps.

"Hi. I just moved in next door. I always like to meet my new neighbors," said Claudette, trying to fix the confused expression on her face as she surveyed her surroundings.

Old Man Liam remained silent. He stared at the basket in Claudette's hands as if he had never seen an apple before. Claudette stood for a few moments feeling the musty air travel down into her lungs fill her mind with everything but the right words to say.

"Oh come on now, no need to be shy," said Claudette finally, now forcing a smile to her face, "We're going to be next door neighbors!"

Claudette's eyebrows went to a crooked angle. She felt stupid standing there in front of the old man, wondering why no one ever told her about him. He kept staring at the fruit. Claudette set the basket down in front of him and hurried off the seven steps, through the overgrown grass, and back up her own sidewalk.

The whole thing was funny from our perspective. People stopped weed-whacking and killing ant piles just to watch what was going to happen next, and then chuckled to themselves and went back to work, shaking their heads.

A week later, Claudette won the lottery and left town. We never heard from her or her fruit basket again. The doll house became empty once more.

Of course we thought this was awfully lucky, yet there was a mass increase in lottery ticket sales just after Claudette moved. We knew such a man couldn't be leading a healthy lifestyle, and he probably wouldn't even eat the fruit. All of us agreed that it was a waste of a perfectly good fruit basket.

It wasn't surprising that small children were afraid of Old Man Liam. The older ones made up daunting Halloween stories about him and spread them around town during October. One distinctly stood out above all the others, and sort of stuck in the minds of the townspeople for one reason: they wanted to believe it so much that it had to be true. Old Man Liam used to have a Rottweiler. The dog was as loyal to Old Man Liam as he could be, sitting regally next to him on the rotting porch all day long. But one afternoon the dog ran away from the porch because of an appetizing mail man who forgot that Old Man Liam no longer received mail. The next day, the dog was found in the middle of the road in front of Old Man Liam's house, dead as doornail. The dog had been bleeding profusely from a wound on its underside. Old Man Liam sat in his rocking chair with a fresh scratch on his face, a new change of clothes, and began to limp on his left foot.

A few months later, the doll house was again occupied. It was a popular residence despite the eye sore that sat obscurely to the left. A middle aged man and woman took up the offer and parked their two practical green and white cars outside. The man worked at the trusty electrical plant down the street that kept the town afloat. The woman was a 7th grade teacher at the local middle school, and often volunteered her free time at our busy soup kitchen. The pair had a fluffy white dog that sometimes roamed around the couple's lush front yard. Deep down inside the townspeople all wished that they would keep it inside.

On a hot day in July, the middle aged man made it a priority to cut grass in front of the doll house with his shiny new bright red riding lawn mower. Up and down whizzed the man, wearing one of those face masks that people wear when then they're exposed to some sort of toxic waste material. When the man was done, he stood outside drinking an ice water and wondering how long it had been since Old Man Liam had cut his grass. So the middle aged man grabbed his face mask and went over to Old Man Liam.

"I couldn't help but notice that your lawn needs a little mowing," the man said, trying not to sound arrogant but failing.

Old Man Liam, once again, just sat staring and blinking.

"Well I've got my lawn mower out already, and I wouldn't mind running it through your yard. I mean, if you don't mind that is."

After an awkward silence, the middle aged man walked back to his doll house, started up the shiny read lawn mower, and began to cut Old Man Liam's grass. The townspeople almost laughed out loud as we stood outside of our houses drinking ice water and listening to the frozen cubes crack, but we did have to admit that Old Man Liam's yard looked much better, and should be cut more often.

Just days later, the couple learned of a long lost relative that left them a million dollar mansion somewhere out in the wine country of New York. The couple packed up and left for the vineyards in less than two weeks.

By this time, the townspeople were used to this sort of thing. New comers moved into the doll house and quickly moved out, all along living happily ever after. Some of us thought the house was enchanted; some just thought people had unusually flattering streaks of luck. Yet we kept buying up the lottery tickets as to convince ourselves that maybe we too had a long lost relative somewhere out in New York's wine country. Only one thing was for sure, Old Man Liam never got lucky, never bought a lottery ticket, never stood outside to drink ice water, and never left his filthy old front porch.