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Short Stories 365/139 | N.S. Beranek

“Haunting Your House” by Sam J. Miller from Best Gay Stories 2009 by Lethe Press, edited by Steve Berman. First appeared in Fiction International, #41, Fall 2008.

Nothing in this story is what it seems at first glance or claims to be.

The narrator, Sol, tells us that he poses as a hustler but in actuality is just lonely, but then he proceeds to act exactly like a person who truly has nowhere else to go. Then again, fairly deep into the piece we learn that he’s only seventeen. If he’s middle class or better he could very well have oodles of time on his hands and no responsibilities, nothing to do but bum around looking for adventure and daydreaming about what his life will someday be.

Next, we have the guy who by turns fascinates and repulses Sol. Alan is also mysterious. He has one of only two not-rent-controlled apartments in his Manhattan building. The rest of the tenants are Chinese immigrants. I love the characterization of Alan as this power player so privileged that he scarcely realizes the extent of his privilege. He pushes his weight around without ever even considering that anyone else even has a point-of-view, let alone contemplating what it might be.

Alan believes his apartment is haunted. He tells Sol that he’s seen blood pooling in the sink, and the ghost of a Chinese lady wandering around. But is any of it real? Or is he picking up on the hostility he’s feeling coming at him in waves from the people he refuses to acknowledge when he passes them in the hall, and barely recognizes are human? Could he also be wrestling with internalized homophobia? There’s a great allegory to be found in a dream he has involving his closet.

Toward the end of the piece Sol, too, seems to be starting to pick up on the vibe, lending credence to my theory that he’s at least middle class. It’s a great, very welcome commentary on class inequality in this country, this fantasy we promulgate that every resident has the exact same opportunity to achieve the American Dream, when in reality millions start life with the deck stacked against them. Others, who either started a little better off or managed to make modest gains, are having their legs knocked out from under them with the sledgehammers of tax breaks for the already wealthy, inaccessibility to affordable health care (a bigger problem when this story was written but still a problem), and the ability of the exceedingly wealthy to hire enough legal muscle to avoid being bound by the laws that supposedly govern us all. There’s a war being waged against both the poor and the middle class in this country, and I think most people are still unaware of that fact. So, this piece of fiction? Right from the title, truly scary.