You received it as a gift—a ceramic house to set on your mantle or on a shelf or on a table. You hold the house in the palm of your hand—a triangle roof and a square base. No windows. No doors. Just the shape. Simple. The house a child would draw if you said, “Draw a house.” Or the house in a dream with no entrance and no exit. You’re just suddenly there. In the box of it, or you’re looking at it from a distance. Or there it is in a coloring book. You color it blue or brown. Maybe you add windows and doors. Even a dormer. And then the house starts getting complicated, and you can no longer hold it in your hand or remember your childhood or even dream it. Suddenly the house becomes a cape or a colonial or a bungalow. And there are too many words to remember, and too many memories to hold onto, and too much loss. The world is no longer the world you knew, and houses stretch for miles: triangles atop boxes. And you want to hold one in your hand. More than anything, you want to hold a house in your hand. And you reach out for one, but it stays just beyond your grasp. Never simple anymore. It is not the house in the coloring book. It is instead a structure full of rooms and doorways and hallways. The hallways are the hardest. They are narrow and long. You walk down one and push open a door. You hear the creak of its hinges and swear that one day you will oil them. You look inside the room, and maybe there’s a bed and a desk. A lamp sits on a table beside the bed. Maybe it is lit. Maybe a book waits by the lamp. Maybe a person, someone you love, holds the book. And that is familiar. And you leave the hallway and walk toward the familiar. Or you close that door and continue down the hallway and open another door. Its hinges do not creak, and the room behind the door looks like no room you’ve ever seen. All the windows on all the walls are wide open. Wind blows curtains up like wings. The wind takes you, and suddenly you are out the window and flying. You have wings. And nothing is familiar save for the houses below you—so far away you can only see their shapes—triangles and boxes. You want to hold one in your hand.
Once there was a girl who lived with her stepfather in a house on the edge of the wood. “Your mother has left us both alone. It is your fault she is gone,” the stepfather told the girl. On a table next to the girl’s bed sat a lamp in the shape of a tree with roots for legs and a leaf-painted shade. The girl had a small memory of her mother giving her the tree-lamp. So at night before sleeping, the girl talked to the lamp: “You are my light. Please protect me.”
One day on her way home from school, the girl stopped by the stream that ran by the path. The sun shone down through tree limbs, and the stream called out to the girl. So the girl took off her shoes and waded in. The sky grew dark, and the girl, forgetting her shoes, ran home.
Jules reached inside for a quarter or a tissue or a chapstick. Anything. Her pockets were empty. Not even a lucky rock. As a rule, Jules never left home with empty pockets. It was a thing she had. Pockets were meant to hold stuff. To make up for their emptiness, she put her hands there. A passerby kept his head down, his own hands lost inside his overcoat. In fact, all the passersby, men and women, looked just the same: sad, drawn, a bit lost. Jules could barely stand the gloom of it all—the gray sidewalk, the overcast sky, the cold air. Her empty pockets seemed even emptier. And so she dug deeper and deeper. She wanted to find something—anything. And finally, there it was, in the deepest recess of her pocket: a clear marble, the tiniest of crystal balls. Jules stood there, in the middle of the crowded city sidewalk and held the transparent orb in the palm of her hand. And people stopped to see what was there, what might be in store, what the future might hold. People needed something, however small, that was clear and round and easy to carry. Something to keep forever in their pockets.