The Man With the House for a Head, Surina Venkat
The man with the house for a head shakes as he sits at his bench at his park in the town.
The man’s head’s front door creaks open and closed as he rocks silently on his bench. It is cold – he cannot feel it. He is already entirely alone. Has been for some time. He lives in the park; no need for other accommodations. He already has a house. No one disturbs him.
There is a break in the pattern. Disjointed line, it makes him curious. A woman who jogs past his bench in the morning. She runs a trail through the park.
She is very plain-looking. Brown hair, brown face, brown eyes. She does not look at him when she laps him. Her bones are sharp through her clothes.
The trail is indistinguishable from grass. It is swallowed, yet still she runs.
The man with the house for a head looks at her and wonders.
There is a lake beyond his bench that is next to a trail. A lot of the time, the man with the house for a head will lean over it and watch himself.
He admires his head. This was not always the case. He vaguely remembers himself before he wore his mask. Blond hair, dark eyes, a face that sloped and curved and slanted to form lips. He used to be able to speak.
Now he has shutters and windows and a roof as a hat. There is a decrepit porch instead of lips. His house is wooden and his head is hollow.
He watches himself less these days; the woman interests him. His shutters flutter in excitement when the woman runs past and his breathing gets harsh. Hrssh, hrrsh. Hrrrsh, hrrsh. His breath whistles from his windows. He is damp and smells like rotten wood.
The woman runs faster. He watches her and feels delight. It has been so long since he elicited a reaction from someone.
He is off-key, people have told him. He knows they’re wrong. It’s his house’s aura that unsettles people. It is a haunted house. He can’t even smile at people to reassure them he is okay, fine, good company, nice to talk to. Trustworthy.
The woman is not immune to his house. She bears it; it angers her. He makes her uneasy and she doesn’t like it.
The woman is far ahead but she turns around to look at him. She can feel his unusual stare. He is a rubbernecker peering through windows. He does not look away. He does not understand. Brown eyes, sensible. Narrowed. All the right emotions. But she still runs past him every day. She hates it but she does not stop. A bet? Stubbornness?
She abruptly whips her head forward. She runs. Her pace stays steady. Her irritation is given away by her face. How beautifully it contorts; it is most imperfect when she’s in pain.
He remembers why he moved to the park. He looks back down at his face. The water ripples, distorting it. It is the only time his face is not symmetrical.
The girl slows down one day. She stops in front of him.
If he had a mouth, he would be frothing. He fidgets and his house shudders violently. Its base is his neck is his body. Houses need strong bases. He is surprised his has not yet fallen off.
His windows are in need of cleaning. He can still see her resentment. It is slightly blurry, but it is hard to mistake anger. She does not like that he makes her uneasy. She does not like that this is his bench or his park, that he’d moved here one day and everyone had left to accommodate him. She is not afraid of him.
She lies. Her hand reveals a matchbox and she pulls out a match.
There is no one around to see her light the match. The flame flickers, disappears and reappears in the sunrise. His reflection is already aflame.
She reaches forward. Touches flame to wood. He watches his house catch on fire.
Surina Venkat is a writer from West Melbourne, Florida who has work published or forthcoming in Brown Girl Magazine, Wretched Creations Magazine and more. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at the handle @surinavenkat.