By Blake Butler
We bought the truck for $2440 and a handshake. It wasn’t the perfect shape but it would come off fine during the nighttime, when all you need is silhouette. We got the ladder at Home Depot, the hose and lights by mail-order, and sprayed it red with cans of paint. When we were finished, we laughed and clapped each other’s backs, unable to remember who’d thought it first.
At night we searched for dark houses on poor streets. We went in shouting in our helmets. We never needed smoke-our costumes said it all. People believed. We kicked down doors and ushered the delirious from their beds. We led them to their front lawns where they watched with anxious gratitude while we went back inside to rummage through their stuff.
We weren’t looking for cash value. We wanted the irreplaceable. The ornaments and heirlooms. The things it would hurt to miss.
Our greatest triumphs:
- The wedding dress she’d still had on when the drunk driver plowed them head on and took only the husband.
- Grandpa’s urn, ashes, tags.
- A retarded girl’s baby blanket, slick with years of drool.
- A bookshelf piled with 30 years of journals, a man’s life handwritten.
- Their love notes while both married to another.
- A dead infant’s rattle, found under its mother’s pillow.
- The family poodle, fixed forever on hind paws by taxidermy.
At night we slept like children, cuddling our treasures. The work gave us new confidence; something to believe in. Most of us had been raised in homes where the greatest forms of heritage were bought. Our family’s gems were televisions, hard drives, paper money. Meanwhile, our plunder buzzed. You could feel the heat worn deep inside, the years of want. We hoped that just by having them, we’d fill the gape within our brains. New meanings tacked to dumb lives that made everything else seem almost worth it.
We kept it up until the night one of the houses began to really burn.
Imagine: the hallway fills with smoke. We’re in the midst of the corraling, a single mother with two daughters, shaking in their nightgowns. On the way back through the living room we find the sofa bathed in flames, fire eating up the ceiling, tickling up the walls. No obvious explanation, but this is real-the house is lit. And now the family’s eyes are strung in faith as they are always, though this time we hear the fire burn, feel the heat kissing our faces. And so now what? Our hoses lead to more air.
We hurry to the truck. They watch us wide-eyed, still believing, as we climb back on and find our seats.
Behind us, pulling off, their house crackles orange beneath the sky.
We ditch our truck on the way home and never speak of it again.