Issue 8, January 2011
Icicle Dungeon Foreclosure: Listen to Robert Eccles read this story
Icicle Dungeon Foreclosure
By Matthew Dexter
After Dave defaulted on his mortgage, he chained himself to the concrete foundation of his house and waited for the sheriff's deputies to evict him. He's been on a hunger strike ever since receiving the certified mail containing the bank's eviction notice, drinking nothing but Yoo—hoo with a curly straw, sitting in the basement, watching pigeons out the little window which never opens because it was painted shut.
He has a little bathroom and that's all he needs. Fastened by steel shackles around his wrists and ankles, the chains allow Dave sufficient room to exercise during the day—and though they are heavy and cumbersome at times—he can walk from one wall to the other with ease. Though he tries, he's never able to walk through these walls.
Perched high in the sapphire blue cement just below the concave ceiling and above the dirt, he can see his front lawn through a narrow sliver of light. At night the raccoons scrape up against the cold glass and before long the first snowfall blankets the yard, and ice and condensation forms on the window, painting a murky picture. Icicles hang from the house; they droop from the front porch and cross themselves against the panes like the crucifixion of Jesus.
Even as he inhales turpentine and paint and toxic thinners and random old cleaners, Dave considers that he never told anybody about his plans. Unable to work and without resources to continue with his second round of treatments, he peels paint with dirty uncut fingernails, hoping to get that toxic layer from a few decades earlier.
He never owned a cell phone and the phone company disconnected the house line months ago. There was nobody who would miss him, and he didn't want to give the neighbors anything to gawk at as the deputies escorted him from the house he planned on dying in. With his wife gone and no children, the house was all he had, all that would remain when the cancer ate away at his abdomen.
Sara said, "Let's paint the baby's room blue."
Dave said, "Of course."
Upstairs, they only had one bedroom. Their house was small, one they thought they would easily be able to afford. But then the baby died. The blue paint hadn't even dried yet. The bathroom floor was covered in blood and she was sitting in the shower in a puddle of what should have been Dave's son. They didn't talk for months after the miscarriage. There was nothing to say. She was silent; even as they made love after she healed, hoping to have another seed of happiness.
Sara said, "Let's paint the room pink."
Dave said, "Yes, baby."
The walls were painted and his pregnant wife was all that he had ever asked for. The room was warm with brand—new carpets and diapers and baby toys. Dave built a crib and put a mobile above it. He covered the window with a blanket, held her in his arms until it was time to drive to the hospital.
Losing the second child was worse. That's when they learned about her ovarian cancer, the beginning of the end. Soon it was cervical cancer. Spent all their savings on saving her life; it wasn't enough.
Dave eats the paint chips and washes them down with chocolate milk. He bought boxes of the stuff and an assortment of granola bars at Costco to keep him alive for a few months. After a few weeks without food, Dave succumbs to his hunger and begins eating the granola bars. He didn't know they wouldn't check the basement. Didn't know they would leave him there to rot as the seasons changed. He curses himself for soundproofing the nursery so that his wife could sleep through the night as he listened to the baby monitor.
When the winter explodes into snowy shrapnel, the pipes freeze. The granola bars run out. Dave rations his last few Yoo—hoos like a miner below the earth. He is trapped, nobody knows he is alive. They all assume he must have died somewhere else. He curses himself for not investing in new basement pipes like the rest of the house. He yells, but the snow absorbs the sounds and the window is too tall to reach. The icicles crawl beneath the bottom of the pane, adding a prison element to the babies' room; it has become his dungeon.
Ice thickens around the outer portion and condensation consumes the inner glass. Other than the refrigerator, the room is empty. The house is soon naked as well. The sheriff's deputies have taken away his furniture and all the old man's clothes. The window, once so clear, has become opaque. He can barely make out the boots walking up the path toward the front porch. He's too weak to walk, no voice left to talk. Not even enough strength to shake the chains and make some noise. He's grown quiet as a mouse. He begins using a bucket instead of struggling over to the bathroom.
A new couple moves in. When icicles thaw and mist begins to trickle down the window, Dave can see: the woman is pregnant. The pigeons return. He wonders where the baby will sleep. The door to the basement leads to the kitchen, but nobody ever comes down. It's as if they don't even know the basement exists. And how could they? They don't know the depths of losing a child, how low a husband sinks when his wife flashes away in an instant, being unable to bear the sufferings of a man gone mad.
"Having a baby is going to set us free," Sara said.
"It will," Dave agreed.
Little did Dave know that the baby would not be their own, that the house would swallow them both and eat a man whole. The house expands with life as the grass becomes visible beneath a sapphire sky, and in the middle of his hallucinations Dave is lucid enough to peel blue paint from the wall. Having already eaten almost all the pink paint, he gnaws delicious lead chips, and although they make him nervous, taste so sweet. He swallows them, washes them down with Yoo—hoo. He is rationing himself to three small sips a day.
When Dave finishes his final swallow, her water breaks. They race to the hospital. He crawls into a corner with the spider webs and summons all his vigor, inspired by paint chips and the nourishment of delirium, Dave begins to reassemble the crib he already destroyed twice. He spends all night working on it beneath the moonlight, waiting for the young couple to arrive.
The man comes back just before dawn to shower. Dave listens to the water running through the pipes, wishing he could drink it. Since the pipes froze in his dungeon lavatory he has survived solely on his favorite beverage. Concrete floor his only bed; he finishes the crib and attaches the moldy mobile before collapsing in a fit of dizziness.
A couple days later the young parents return with a pink blanket and metallic balloons filled with helium. The baby cries for days. Dave stares at the moon at night and whispers to the stars he hasn't seen for many seasons, until one morning he decides to crawl into the crib and wait for the family to arrive.
Matthew Dexter is an American writer living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He survives on fish tacos, cold cervezas, and warm sunshine. When Matthew is not writing he enjoys life by the ocean: beautiful beaches, breathtaking views, reading, and being inspired. But never candlelit dinners on the beach. He's afraid of Pirates.