The house stood at the end of the street, set a little apart from the others. Harry's dad had pointed it out one evening when the wind was up and making the trees sway like corn-stalks. "They always builded them with one slightly apart at the end of the row," he said, his voice thick with the slime clogging his throat and lungs. He coughed, spat something out of sight, and pointed in the other direction. "The first one, the one at that end was knocked down when they widened the road," he said. "Didn't hafta, but we all knew it was the right thing to do." He started coughing more then, and when Harry tried to bring the conversation up a few days later his dad wouldn't say anything about it.
Harry paused, the shopping bags feeling like they were dragging his arms from their sockets, and looked at the house. In the last fifteen years it didn't look like it had changed at all; the gables were still stark black beams framing a whitewashed wall, and the eaves overhung the walls providing a narrow shelter from the New England rain if you stood in close enough. The mullioned windows shone faintly in the looming twilight and there was a hint of beige curtain on the inside if you squinted carefully. The curious thing was, as he stood there looking, was that he couldn't remember ever seeing anyway taking care of the house. Surely in fifteen years a roof slate must have slipped, or a gutter cracked?
Harry sighed and turned away, walking the few remaining feet to his own front door, and kicking it rather than setting the shopping down and being faced with having to pick it back up again when the door was opened. His muddy shoe scuffed a brown mark on the door, and he stared at it guiltily, wondering if this is why he needed to do repairs every Spring and the house at the end of the street still looked pristine.
The door opened and his sister, Harry, gave him a baleful stare. "Don't kick the door," she said. "It demeans me."
Harry shrugged, and then sucked air through his teeth; that had hurt. "Sorry, sis," he said and lugged the shopping to the kitchen table. He could hear the silence behind him while she waited until he'd put the shopping down before she closed the front door.
"Professor Rogers came over again today," she said. He looked round, she was leaning in the doorway to the kitchen, her heavy frame blocking it effectively. Her pudgy face looked a little pale, and she was worrying at her nails and not looking up. "He asked me again if I'd consider being his housekeeper."
Harry started unpacking the bags at the table. His sister, Harriet, had some kind of agoraphobia that meant she hardly ever left the house. He secretly thought that she'd benefit from walking down to the end of the street and back again every day, and if she took a job it would make living here a little easier. It might be a small town, but daily expenses seemed to increase more rapidly than Harry's salary and he was starting to wonder how safe his job was anyway.
"What did you say?" he asked. They'd already had two shouting matches over him suggesting that she take the job offer.
"I said no, of course!" He voice raised and he knew that if he looked up she'd be staring at him, her deep-set eyes red and aflame with anger. "I can't leave the house!"
"You might have to," said Harry. "I'm not sure how much longer I'll have a job for."
"What?" It was a reflexive question, not meant. A second passed, and then, "What?"
"You heard me," said Harry. He almost regretted saying it, it was provocative and unnecessary. "The museum's not doing so well and it's getting harder to get the people in. And summer's ending, we get fewer visitors in winter. There's talk of cuts."
"But they can't get rid of you. We'd starve to death."
Harry looked up at this; his sister was staring at him with a terrifying intensity. "We'd have to sell the house and leave," he said slowly. "Split the money, go our own ways."
"NO!" He ducked, having learned from the last fight, and a moneybox that usually sat on the windowsill in the hall by the front-door sailed over his head and thumped against the wall. He knew without looking that it would have broken the plaster. "No, you lie! You lie! You're a filthy liar!" She staggered backwards, looking wounded, and then grabbed the door handle and opened and slammed the front-door. "LIAR!"
She stamped upstairs, and slammed more doors up there, screaming 'liar' to punctuate each slam.
"Kind of," whispered Harry under his breath. He stood up and started unpacking the shopping again. The house had been left entirely to him in their parents' will so if it had to be sold his sister would get nothing unless he was feeling generous. And lately he wasn't feeling generous at all.