It had started as a joke. She had never been a fan of naming one’s house. It struck her as contrived, too cute, even nerdy. Driving along the shore, they’d see houses proudly displaying their gilded signs: Shifting Sands, Ebbing Tides, Setting Sun.
But the house they bought on the Cape – the only one they could remotely afford – seemed to call out to be branded. As if to say, “Here I am.”
They took careful inventory of its special qualities. Sitting deep in a wooded lot, set back equally from the road and the shore, the sun only reached a corner of the back porch just before dusk. The western exposure afforded them spectacular sunsets. But once the brief splendor was spent, the house descended into shadow where it stayed until late the next afternoon. The wooden dock was in disrepair and not safe for diving. But they could tie up a dingy at the end to row out to their boat moored in the marshy cove.
The front entryway was worn and in need of reinforcements and a fresh coat of paint. The back porch creaked when you stepped out onto it and you could see through the floorboards to a dark space underneath which was a haven for skunks and other critters. The cedar shingles were grayed by the sea air, as the sidings of all Cape houses are. But some of the squares were loose and hanging askew while others were missing entirely. A light green coating of algae adorned the ones facing the lot next door.
Inside felt like a step back to the 1950s. The old lady who had lived there hadn’t updated the décor since moving in. Her husband had built the house soon after they married, then promptly died of a heart attack, leaving her a widow for the duration. The house reeked of melancholy. As they sought to christen their new abode, one name kept cropping up until they finally succumbed and painted the sign. This house was not to be Whispering Pines, as she had originally proposed. Now, as you approached the front steps, you were welcomed to enter Deepening Dread.
Had they picked the house, or had it chosen them? Looking for a fresh start in their relationship, had they been too obvious in their need for seclusion? For a do-it-yourself house project to absorb their nervous energies? Her mind wandered as she sat alone on the moldy wicker couch taking in the sunset from the porch. A gloom had descended on her from the time they had moved in, but she hadn’t recognized the clues. Now that she thought about it – with hindsight as her binoculars into the past – she could trace the origins of her dark mood to the very day they had hung the sign. Her bouts of depression, her unexplained crying jags, the sense of foreboding and isolation. On her solitary days exploring the cove in her kayak, a feeling she couldn’t shake hung over her. She could hear her thoughts as clearly as the rhythmic dipping of her paddle as she glided through the quiet waters. She became obsessed with visions of her own death. And, with that sense of impending tragedy, a hollowness filled her soul. It wasn’t regret exactly. It was a collective of lost opportunity, a laziness of intellect and care, of love not fully expressed. These chances not taken and choices poorly made spoke to a timidity of spirit that haunted her. If this was to be her end, of what weight was her existence?
Without her noticing, wrapped up in her own darkness as she was, that mood had seeped into her husband’s consciousness as well. He had grown remote, distracted, withdrawn – the fire of their stormy bond extinguished. She had failed to understand what was happening, that she had lost him even as he was losing himself. By distancing himself from her, he was building in an escape valve that had protected his wife and diluted the force of his despair. She hadn’t noticed it until she couldn’t ignore it any longer. Until after he had pulled the trigger. It had been a folie à deux, two wounded souls locked in eternal battle, now calmly drifting in a shared sense of doom. She didn’t have a name for it then, but now as she sat on the porch and the chill of the waning day engulfed her, its name was clear: Deepening Dread.