In a House in a Woods

Peter Markus


an excerpt

Once there was a girl who lived in a house in the woods with a man who was not her dad.

The man who was her dad, he was dead.

This girl's mom, she was dead too.

This man who was not this girl's dad, this man who this girl lived with here in this house in the woods who was not a man that was dead, this man was this girl's dead dad's dad.

Pa was what this man was called.

This girl's dead dad's mom who was the wife of this man that this girl called Pa, she was dead too.

Yes, by now you can tell, there was a lot of death in this girl's life.

There was a dog, too, that was dead too, but there's not much else to say but that the dog of this girl, it was a dead dog too.

This girl's mom who, she too was just a girl too when this girl was born, she died on that same day that this girl here was born.

Yes, this is a sad tale that I have come here to tell you.

The dad of this girl, he could not live in this world that did not have his wife in it and so this is what he did: he tied a rope to a branch of a tree out in the woods out in the back of this house where this girl of his was born and where his wife had on that same day died too and then he slipped his head in through the hole in this rope that he looped off with a loose knot that pulled tight when this here man of a dad, what he did was, he kicked out the chair from where he stood there on it with his feet and when he did what he did with his feet and the chair the rope wrapped up tight round his throat till he could not breathe and then right there like this from this tree out back of this house he swung back and forth till the swing in him stopped like a tire swing that might swing to and fro and then swing no more when the wind of a June day grows still and then just like that it blows no more.

Two boys lived in the house that was near this girl's house and they were the ones who found this girl's dad who hung and who swung like this, like a swing, from a tree out back of this house in the back of these woods.

When they found this man who hung and swung like this dead from this tree out in the back of these woods they did not at first think that he was dead.

They did not at first think that this man was a man who was dead since the eyes of this man stared out wide from his man's face as if he was a man who'd just seen a thing that this was the first time that he'd seen it.

What did he see, this dead man of a man who'd just lost his wife on the day that this girl of his had been born, what did he stare at when he stared out like he did with the both of his eyes not shut.

This is what these boys both of them said, each boy a voice in his own boy head, that we both need to know what did he see, so up they both climbed up this tree's trunk to go see what the dead man saw.

What they did see was a bird up in the top of a tree with its black beak held up at a sky that was as blue as a blue bird.

This bird, with its black bird beak held up at the blue sky just like this, like this it did not sing its song.

No bird sound, would be one way to say it, came out from this bird's black beak when it held it up like this to the sky that was the kind of a sky that most of us would call a sky blue sky.

These boys did not think to cut this dead man down from where he hung from this tree till the branch that he hung from and from where they stared out from up there to see what this man had seen, it broke and all three of these three who were up here in this tree —these two boys and this one man who had been the dad of this girl who lived out back in the back of these woods—they all three of them fell down to be one with the dirt of the ground.

On the ground the dead man stayed right where he fell.  

Both boys got up from when they fell on the ground and stood up to look down at the man who stayed where he was on the ground and it was then, as they looked down to give this man a look, they both saw it, with all four of their eyes, that this man here was a dead man.

He did not move. He did not get up. The dead man did not. He stayed right where he'd dropped.

And so this is where these two boys dug with their boy hands a hole in the ground where the dead man had dropped and here they put the dead man down in this here hole and they took the dirt that they dug up from the earth to make in this earth a hole and they put the dirt back up on top of this man till all that you could see was a hump in the earth which is where now, two years since it was the day that this man swung and hung and fell from this tree, two years since it was the day that this babe of girl in the woods was born in the house back here in these woods, this is where this girl now likes to sit in the shade of this tree where her dead dad once hung from and where now he lies dead in the hill of dirt that she likes to sit on, though it's true, too, that this girl, she does not know this to be true.


Why this girl does not know this is this: there was no one else there in the woods on this day to see it and so to make it to be true.

Just these two boys who were ten at the time who went in the house on this day to tell who it was that was in there at the time that a man fell from a tree and did not live to tell this tale.

Just the boys were there that day to say what it was that they saw.

But when they got in the house all they found was the girl and the girl's mom who were both of them in bed but like we have said it, this girl's mom, like this girl's dad, she was dead too.

This is what they, the boys, did. They took the girl's mom, now that she was dead, and they took her out back in the woods that were out back of this house and there they made a hole in the earth and then they did with this girl's mom what they did to this girl's dad: they put her in a hole that they dug in the dirt and then they put the dirt back on top of her till all that was left to be seen was a hump in the earth which is where this girl's dead mom has been for the two years since the day this girl was born, though no one but these boys—and now you—knows this.


It took a few days for the girl's dead dad's dad to make his way to the house in the woods to come see the girl that his son was to be the dad of.

What he found when got to the house in these woods was the girl in the arms of these two boys.

Where's Tom? is what this man said when he knocked on the door and was met by two boys he did not know.

What the boys said to this was, Tom who?

Tom my boy, Tom my son, were the words this man said.        

The boys both shook their heads and then said to this, We don't know of no boy named Tom.

Tom lives here in this house, this man said to these boys who he did not know—this here man who was the dad of our girl's dad who was, as you know, dead in the dirt in the shade of the tree where he swung and then hung and then fell dead to that place where the boys dug a hole and then put this Tom down in it.

There's no one here but us in this house, just us and the girl we like to call her Sis.

Where's Jane? the man then asked. Jane, he called out this name.

The boys both looked up and said both at the same time, words said as if from the same mouth:

Jane who?

Are you boys twins? this man, he then asked them of this, though if he'd looked at them both with eyes that could see he would have seen that one of these boys had two full years on the boy who was not his twin.

The boys did not say a word to what this man had just asked them. What they did do was ask him, this man who stood at the door to this house out back in these woods, Sir, they said, what did you say was your name?

I'm Tom too, the man said back. The Tom who lives in this house, I'm that Tom's dad.

But there is no Tom who lives in this house is what both of these boys thought in their heads.

And once they thought it they had to say it twice more, Who is this Tom that you have come here to look for?

Tom who lives here, the man said with a shake of his man's head. Tom, my Tom, Tom who is my son. This is his house.

The boys both stood there with the girl in their boy arms—they both held a half of her in each of their hands—and they did not give this man their names.


This man did not give up. He stayed where he was, at the door to this house, till the boys said to him would you like to come in.

This man, he said that he would, and then he did, like he said that he would, come in.

He sat down in this chair that rocked back and forth when he sat in it. He sat like this and he rocked like this in this chair till the boys looked and looked and watched him rock back and forth till they put this girl Sis in his arms to be rocked back and forth like this in them.

This is Sis, they said when they gave to him to hold this girl.

Sis, this man whisped.

Sis, when she was rocked like this, back and forth, by this man who was not her dad, she fell off to sleep like a leaf falls from a tree when a wind blows like it blows in the fall when the leaves turn to red from green and the earth spins and spins till the moon takes the place of the sun.


So then the boys left. When the boys left, the boys took with them the truth of what took place here in this house and in these woods out back of this house on the day that this girl was born.

They left and they went back home to the house where they lived with a mom and a dad who did not know they had been gone.

We're back, the boys said, when they walked back in through this house.

The mom of these boys did not look up from the pan on the stove that had fried up in it a piece of meat that looked like the tongue of some old boot.

The dad of these boys was out back, in the back of the yard, back where there was a shed back there filled with tools.

This man liked to fix things. He liked to take wood and cut wood and put nails in the wood to make out of the wood a thing that the wood had not been till he nailed wood to wood to make it what it then would be.

He was a man, this man, who liked to make with his hands.

Here was a man who liked to make and cut and take things up with his hands but the tongue in his mouth did not like to speak.

He heard but he did not see the boys when they walked in through the house and back out through the house and out back to the yard back to where he stood out back by his shed filled with tools.

Hey Dad, the boys both said.

We're home, they told him.

The dad of these boys looked up. He turned with his head. But then he went back to work on the wood in his hands that he sawed and he sawed till the one piece of wood came to be two.      


When these two boys sat down that night to sit and to eat the cut up meat that looked like the tongue of an old boot that the mom had fried up in the pan on the stove, this mom and this dad did not ask these boys, their sons, where had they been. No one said a word, as they ate, till the meat on their plates was all chewed up and ate up and gone, though this meat, it was hard to chew it, this meat, to chew it was like to chew on the tongue of some old boot. It was then that one of these boys looked up from his plate and said, I think I'll take me a walk in the woods, this boy said, and when he said what he said the boy who was not his twin said, I think I'll go too, was what he said, and so they both of these boys got up from their chairs and walked out the back door of this house and walked out the back door and walked out to the woods where no sun shined on the trees and the last of the year leaves that were on the trees held on tight in and to the night that had just turned to dark.

The boys walked through the woods through the trees with leaves that held on in the dark that was the night till they stood back at the side of the house where the girl was now with the dad of her dead dad.

The dad of this girl's dead dad held her in his arms as he rocked back and forth in the chair where the boys had left him, that same day, to rock this girl in his man arms till she fell off to be with sleep.

She was still in sleep, this girl in the arms of her dead dad's dad whose name, this man was called, was Tom. The boys watched this man Tom rock this babe of a girl in his big man of a big man's arms and as he did what he did too was he hummed with his lips a song.

The song that he hummed, this man called Tom, went like this to the ears of the boys who heard it through a crack in the pane of glass that they looked at and watched at what they saw: la, la la la, la, la, la, la la la, la, la la.

They closed their eyes and leaned in with their ears to the hummed out sounds of this song. What they saw there in this dark that their eyes closed on down to was a bird in a nest in a tree that had leaves that were green and a sky up on top that was blue with the sun.

It was hard for the boys not to fall to sleep to the sounds that this man made with his mouth. The man hummed and hummed till he, too, to the sounds that he made with his mouth made his own eyes close to the dark of the house and like this he too fell off to sleep.

It was so dark on the way back to the house that they lived in with the dad who liked to fix things and the mom who stood in front of the stove and stared down at the meat that fried up in the pan that the boys felt like they were lost, but what they did was they looked up with their eyes at the sky that was filled thick with stars and the stars, like crumbs of bread, showed them the way to get back home. And as they walked back through the dark of the woods with eyes that looked up at the sky to show them the way, they reached up with their hands and picked up and at the stars, one crumb at a time, till the stars led them back through the woods and through the dark of the woods back home to the dark of their house where the mom and the dad were in bed in the back room of the house and they too, as if to the hummed out sounds of the man who rocked the girl in his arms, they too had gone off to sleep.

In bed, that night, in the dark, the boys shut their eyes to the dark and what they saw in the dark was this: that bird in its nest in the tree with the leaves that were green and the sky on top that was blue with the sun, that bird, the boys watched this bird lift up with its bird beak, as if to want to sing, or as if to be fed, but then it fell, this bird did fall, like a stone or an egg would fall from its nest its tree and when it fell, and when it hit the ground, the dirt on the ground turned to mud.