I crouch in vacant lots to see who else is around, see no one, sprint across to backyards full of bone-dry, burnt-out Bluegrass, and make my way up to the sliding glass doors. The drapes are gone, the locks busted; the doors open easily. Then I’m in. Sometimes there are animals in the house—stray dogs, stray cats, the occasional raccoon—there have been rats on occasion; you have to be careful. And of course, there might be people—owners back for a last look before they disappear out of state, squatters or drug addicts setting up shop. This time there are no people or rats, or squatters, either. I make my way through the downstairs, stepping lightly over the broken glass, even though I know there’s only a small chance that I have anything to fear. I look for whatever I can find, something useful to keep myself alive—if living is what you’d call this. Somebody’s past is usually all there is, or what’s left of it. They leave late at night stealing away into somewhere else and take whatever they can, but there’s always a few things left behind that say something about them if you bother to look. Each house is like a story; a story revealing little items of interest. Except I keep thinking it was all a story: the house, the car, the job—everything.
It’s mostly junk they leave behind. Sometimes I find books. I like books; I used to read a lot. It was real, in a way that real things are not so real, and of course real things are not real at all when you think about it —not like they’re supposed to be. That’s Plato. He had a whole theory about it. Ideas are real; things are not. Like this house. In somebody’s mind it was a home once. Now it’s an empty building. But you know it was just a building before only with people in it, pretending, and loaded down with all their crap to help them do it. What was real was their idea of it. To me it’s just another story to read—Story of a Home. It’s my job to find out what happened, if only to amuse myself. Each room holds out a promise to be discovered. There could be anything here—food for instance, or flashlight batteries—or like most of the time, just a promise deferred. But there’s almost always something I can use, even in this abandoned house. Or not, depending—that’s the game.
They’re mostly empty, of course, except for the junk they left behind in their hurry to get away. Food in cans, when I can find it, is the most important. And water; water’s essential. I get thirsty in this heat. Once I found a whole case of beer. Hard to carry, though; and you get spoiled. Sometimes the water hasn’t been shut off, and I can fill my bottles, and if I’m lucky, take a shower, and if there’s a bar of soap I wash myself. I used to try and shave. That didn’t last. My hair and beard have gotten so long if I had a loin cloth and a cross you’d think I was Jesus. On my list of things to find is a pair of scissors. That way I can at least trim the beard, maybe I’ll cut my hair.
This house is not too bad, messy but not awful. Some are covered in dog shit and the kitchen’s got rotting garbage in the fridge, the door left open because the power’s off, or garbage in the wastebasket that isn’t covered, which fills the house with flies and a ghastly odor that sends you running when you can’t take it anymore—then it’s on to a new house and a new story.
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NOW I SAY GOODBYE TO YOU is a novel about a drifter making his way through all the abandoned houses in Florida after the housing collapse in 2007, avoiding other people and obsessing over his peculiar take on life. To him, each house is a story to read, and to him everything, really, is just a story people tell themselves. Searching for food in one particular house he encounters a young girl he guesses to be about ten years old. She is dirty, desperate for something to eat, and reluctant to speak, as though she’s been traumatized. He figures she’s a runaway. After sharing a can of food he’s found, he tries to leave her behind, but she follows him until he gives in and lets her tag along.
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