author bio


A.C. Hoff

The house was breathing. It wheezed, and its inhalations sounded like a dying animal: prolonged, sibilant, stealthy, and yet dying. Arkright had heard the house before and always assumed that eventually it would die. She had tried to stop its incessant respiration by visiting the girl’s grave. At first, in an effort to make peace, she laid irises by the girl’s gravestone, but when the breathing didn’t stop, she came back a few days later with spray paint and a hammer. She spray painted the gravestone in iridescent colors and added nonsensical statements to its inscription, “Your mama!” “Get out, girl” “Hey, hottie #5, how you doing?” As she hammered the granite, it broke into irregular shapes and sizes—into hatchets, axes, and even chainsaws—and she envisioned the house doubled over, its tendril-like scaffolding giving way to the blows.
When she returned, the house was still breathing. She opened the front gate and listened to its wearied and protracted breath. The climbing vines from the arbor stretched their lengthy limbs and fanned out, octopus-like, and as she bent her head under the trellis, the ivy gripped her throat. Its vines lacerated Arkright’s scrawny body until, bloodied and weak, eventually the vegetation released her, allowing her to enter the respirating house.

The other person who lived in this house with her did not hear anything. He had lived there since it was first built, and had seen the girl build the drainage system, and later had seen it run with menstrual blood. He had warned her against building the drains. "Without an actual drainpipe, the water has nowhere to run off to," he explained. "This will only make things worse." But the girl built the drains anyway, and the water ran under the house. Later when the water ran with menstrual blood, it poured under the arbor, down the cobblestone pathway, over the threshold and into the living room. After this, the girl’s flower bed blossomed, growing into an opalescent wonder of color, of wildflowers, pansies, lilacs and junipers. Arkright didn’t have menstrual cycles anymore. She was too scrawny and too unfeminine. Her body was not connected to the earth or to the moon as the girl’s had been.

“This man will never love you the way he loved the girl,” the house whispered. “Arkright, you’re a pathetic creature, and he hates you. Look at how you cling to him. You're like shit on his shoes. He keeps trying to wipe you off, and every time he thinks he has, you return and affix yourself to his soles again.”

The leak dripped through the roof onto Arkright’s arm, who was sleeping upstairs in the bedroom, and then again through the floor boards onto the man’s arm, who was lying on the couch in the living room below. They were both snoring deeply. Arkright’s narcolepsy kept her awake at odd hours, but when she dropped off, the snores she made sounded like pig’s snorts. The man told her he could not bear to share chambers with a farm animal like herself. She did not wet the bed anymore as she once had, but a rank odor followed her everywhere, a smell that, she noticed, had been growing lately.

“Like 10,000 carrions rotting on a battlefield,” the man told her.

A few weeks later the man carried the dead girl’s bicycle out of the tool shed and rode it around and around the house, ringing the bell and laughing, overjoyed that it still worked. Arkright watched him ride and forced herself to laugh along with him. Then she listened and heard the house, “Arkright, he's riding the bicycle to reminisce. He's remembering their wonderful love making and what it felt like to be in love. He’s thinking back to what it was like to be with a girl who didn’t snore like a pig and smell like putrefying flesh.” Arkright trembled. He's right, she thought, but I didn’t always smell like this. Maybe the house has planted this smell on me. She checked her nostrils, her ears, her toes. She double-checked all her other orifices, but there was nothing lodged in any of these crevices. The smell was coming from her. She was the smell. The house and the man had both determined that she was.

Arkright felt ashamed of what she planned to do, but she also knew that this was something that had to be done. The girl was killing her, and the man had done nothing to stop this from happening. She grabbed a shovel from the tool shed, threw it in her trunk, got into her ’85 Chevy, started the engine and gunned the accelerator down the man’s driveway. She drove like a possessed demon, veering on all sides of the road, avoiding her breaks, accelerating around the hilly curves until she saw the stone walls of the cemetery and screeched and howled through its ajar gate, knocking the iron barrier back against the granite cemetery walls. She accelerated her way over headstones, raised mounds of earth, and demolished carefully maintained flower beds. If the dead have no respect for me, why should I have any for them? she thought, flooring the car and doing figure eights over the graying sepulchers.

She stopped the car in front of the girl’s splintered headstone. She got out, opened the trunk, retrieved her shovel, and with a resolute sigh, she began to dig. She dug her way through three consecutive tolls of the neighboring church bells, resting between each interval, and all the while she talked to the girl, “Do you think this is fun for me?” “Does this seem to you a good way to pass a Saturday night?” “Is this how you want me to spend my time, obsessing about you?” But the girl was silent and for an instant Arkright wondered whether there might be a mistake, whether she had the wrong tomb, but she was determined and so she continued, and eventually her shovel tapped the echoing box’s exterior.

“Come out and fight, corpse to corpse,” Arkright shouted. “You’ve turned everyone against me, but let’s just see how you do one on one, chicita!”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::No answer::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Arkright wedged the spiked end of her shovel between the lid and casket. She thrust her shoulders and back into her shoveling, and heard the crack of the wooden lid loosening from the nails that held it to the casket. She did this twice more. The lid gave way, and she was able to see what was inside: a blue breathing girl—she appeared to be underwater—her cheeks were bloated, and her eyes were shut—and she was surrounded by wet, used tampons. She wore a long white nightgown with pink lace at the neck. The entire casket looked as if someone had packaged her for a long journey, as if the tampons were the Styrofoam peanuts used for shipping. For the first time Arkright smelled the rank, foul odor, a smell strong enough to knock her backwards.

“So you planted the smell on me, I knew it!” Arkright shouted, triumphant.

Arkright would have liked to kill the girl, but she was already dead, and so instead she used all her might to tip her sepulchral home over. Then, she watched as the water drained from the box and the blue breathing being lay prostrate, head in the dirt, surrounded by the bloodied, sperm-like things. Arkright watched the blue girl for three days.  She did not take her eyes off the girl. Eventually she will cease to breathe, thought Arkright, but nothing of the kind happened. The girl was breathing. She wheezed, and her inhalations sounded like a dying animal: prolonged, sibilant, stealthy, and yet dying. Finally, Arkright resigned herself to the way things were. The girl will continue to breathe, she realized. She made the sign of the cross, shoveled the dirt back over the tipped and broken casket, back over the blue girl and the pile of wet and bloodied tampons. And so she went home to pack her things and to say goodbye to the man who did not love her.

© A.C Hoff 2007

See also Tommy and the Tick from issue 59 

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

Author Bio

A.C HoffAfter completing her B.A, Anne-Christine Hoff worked briefly as a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Vidalia, Georgia.  The following fall she began an MA program in the Humanities at New York University. There she studied with comparative literature professors John Chioles and Richard Sieburth, and wrote her masters thesis on Ezra Pound's Salo Cantos (Ezra Pound's Salo Cantos: Fascism, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-Feminism in War-Ravaged Italy).  After receiving her M.A., she worked temporarily as a receptionist for the Knightsbridge Crown Courts in South London.  From 1998 to 2005, she was a Ph.D. candidate in English and creative writing at the University of Georgia, where she received her Ph.D. in August 2005. She is currently the managing editor of The New and the executive director of The New . She lives in Athens, Georgia, where she teaches composition and creative writing at the University of Georgia.
         Contact the author
September-October 2007 #60