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The Sideways House

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A wise man knows when to have some fun.

Submitted: December 19, 2019

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Submitted: December 19, 2019

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Danny had that look on his face when he said, "Edgar, you see that house across the street?  It's sideways due to localized earthquakes.  I saw it happen one day, riding my bike home from school.  That was before you were born."
 
My name is Edward, not Edgar.  Danny is the only one who calls me that.  Says I look like Edgar Allen Poe.  I don't.
 
But when your brother is six years older than you, what do you do?
 
We were moving into a new home.  Dad just got a promotion and interest rates were low.  The house across the street was indeed sideways.  I had no idea why, but I knew Danny's explanation was bogus.  This was just the first move in a game.  One I could never really win.  But I always played.
"There's no such thing as localized earthquakes" was my opening move.  I knew what to expect.
 
"Prove it."
 
"We studied earthquakes in science class.  They're big.  I made an A on that test and I didn't read anything about localized earthquakes."
 
"You won't cover localized earthquakes until next year in sixth grade science.  If our books weren't in boxes I could show you."
 
"That is total hogwash."
 
"Prove it."
 
Those two words were like the Queen in a game of Chess.  He could move his in any direction.  Somehow, I didn't have a Queen.
 
This was before the internet and Google.  Danny had convinced me my only option was to go to the library and do the research.  I'd need to pore through the card catalog, find the best earthquake references, read for hours, and summarize the results.  When I handed him my final report, proving beyond any doubt that localized earthquakes didn't exist, he'd glance through it, make some kind of grunting sound, and toss it on my bed.  That was his way of letting me know I had temporarily taken the lead in our game.
 
Temporary because he didn't just play the game, he made up the rules.  It would be a matter of hours, or days at best, before he'd get that look on his face.  "Edgar, see that guy walking his dog?  What he's really doing is..."
 
And on it went.
 
East Northampton is a small town, small enough for me to ride my bike to the library.  I'd found a mentor there, a librarian named Howard Clark.  Like me, he had a passion for reading.  He volunteered on weekends at the library, his day job was teaching.  In the eighth grade, he would be my history teacher.  Best class I ever had.
 
By then, Mr. Clark had reviewed my findings and given feedback on many episodes of the Edgar game.  He was the closest thing to a Queen I had.  He made me pay for it when I took his class, though.  He had a habit of asking difficult questions, and if no one else had the answer, he always looked at me, grinned, and said, "Well Ed, what do you think?"  I learned to read all the assignments, do the homework, and come to class prepared.
 
Danny joined the Air Force after high school.  By the time I reached the 11th grade, he was a pilot.  The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is a aerial refueling aircraft, in Danny's words, a flying gas station.  He had plenty of downtime between missions.  The Edgar games didn't stop, they just took longer to play.  Every few weeks, we'd get a letter from him.  There was always a piece of folded up paper with "Edgar" written in large letters.
 
One day I was researching the latest game.  Danny had claimed the Earth was flat and he could prove it with pictures he'd taken while flying.  He promised to send them when they were developed.  While Mr. Clark was reviewing my report, he asked a question that changed the course of my life.  "Have you decided what you will major in at college?"
 
 The truth was I hadn't planned my life any further than asking Mary Ann Faulkner to the football game that weekend.  But one thing led to another after the conversation.  He went on.
 
"I've seen how disciplined you are at doing research, for school assignments and playing the Edgar game.  How many times have I had to shoo you out when the library closed?  Here's what I want you to think about.  People who succeed in life tend to have one thing in common.  They find something they like, and do it better than their competition.  You're a really good researcher.  But more important, you enjoy doing it.  That's your talent.  If you're smart, you'll find a career where you can take advantage of it."
 
"I haven't actually given it any thought.  Do you have any suggestions?"
 
He handed me a booklet.  The title was "Criminal Justice Bachelor of Arts Program at Westfield State University."  Westfield is a thirty minute drive from East Northampton.
"My college roomate, Allen Barnes, is a professor there.  They have scholarships every year for qualified applicants."
 
"That sounds awesome Mr. Clark, but I don't think I have the grades for a scholarship."
 
"Well, you've got another year to work on that.  And it's not just about grades.  They are looking for people with potential.  Like a kid who doesn't think twice about spending all day in the library.  Have you kept the Edgar reports you've produced?"
 
"Yes, Danny insisted that I keep them.  I've got two boxes full in my closet."
 
"Perfect.  I told Dr. Barnes about you and the Edgar game.  He was fascinated and thinks you might be able to fill an important niche in the world of corporate law.  When big corporations go after each other, or the government goes after a corporation, there is always research to be done.  Everyone is looking for precedents, cases in the past that support their position.  Lots of money to be made."
 
"He'd love to hear your story in person.  If you like, I'll call him and set up an appointment."
 
For the first time, I produced an Edgar report without being goaded by my brother.  I spent two days researching criminal justice and corporate law.  That was the paper I handed to Dr. Barnes when he asked to see my work.
 
Five years later, Dr. Barnes was the first person to shake my hand as I walked off the stage, diploma in hand.  I drove to Washington after a weekend at home, to my new job at the IRS.  I was a bona fide Internal Revenue Agent.  Not a field agent like Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction.  On the corporate side, it takes a team of people to work a case.  As Mr. Clark had suggested, I found a job as a research analyst.  The GS-5 salary meant sharing an apartment, but it was a start.
 
The Edgar games ended when I began college.  Danny said I needed to focus on my studies and he was tired of winning all the time.  Life moved on.  I got married and had two children.  Danny retired after 20 years with the Air Force, and got a job flying for United.
 
Our parents got older and the topic of discussion at Thanksgiving this year was selling the house.  Dad was tired of shoveling snow and Mom had better things to do than keep a half empty house clean.  Senior communities were springing up everywhere and they'd found a nice condo just right for them.
 
They left it to Danny and I to sell the house.  We met Mr. Andrews to decide on a price and get the house on the market.  He'd been selling real estate in East Northampton since we were kids, we figured he'd get the house sold quickly.  We walked through the house, discussed the pros and cons, and settled on an asking price.
 
I shook Mr. Andrews hand in the driveway on his way out.  He pointed at the house across the street and said, "You know, I used to own that house, I rented it out for a few years then sold it.  Originally it was a farm house on Allendale Farm.  That's why it is sideways.  Back then, your street was just the driveway for the house, it faced Williams Street.  Lots of farm houses are built that way."
 
That was when it hit me.  How to beat Danny at the Edgar game.
 
"No sir, Mr. Andrews.  I happen to know that house is sideways due to localized earthquakes."
 
He got a strange look on his face, but before he could respond, Danny put his arm around me and spoke.
 
"Mr. Andrews, my little brother is absolutely correct.  That house faced us when it was built.  Not many people know about localized earthquakes, but I saw one, riding my bike home from school one day."


© Copyright 2020 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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