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Short Stories 365/340 | N.S. Beranek

“The Country House” by Jameson Currier from The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, Chelsea Station Editions 2014. Originally published by Lethe Press, 2009.

I found this story to be highly entertaining in large part because I could relate to one of the characters, Mitch, whose pastime is scouring flea markets looking for steals. Beyond that, though, I enjoyed that it kept surprising the reader. At the outset it seemed it would be about Mitch and his partner Arnie, but turned out to be the story of one of their frequent weekend guests and his lover, Scott.

Arnie and Mitch are a mess as a couple. They criticize one another in front of their friends and seem not to agree on any issue. The narrator and Scott seem headed down the same dysfunctional path. Recently divorced, Scott hasn’t come out at work, to his longtime friends, to his children or any members of his family. The narrator rightly feels he’s being hidden from them, and believes Scott is ashamed of their relationship.

Against this backdrop the author unfolds the mystery of the paranormal activity at Arnie and Mitch’s country house, a story about two Civil War soldiers who fought on opposite sides of the conflict and the tragic misunderstanding that took both their lives.

Scott discounts the narrator’s theories about the soldiers, telling him “You’ve been reading too many gay books. Not everyone in the world is gay.”

If I had a dime, as they say.

The story takes a turn at the end that I did not see coming and I loved that. In fact, that’s the thing I liked most about this entire collection. I have a bad habit of (quietly) blurting out the next line in scripted dramas. It started with episodes of Law and Order but now it happens all the time, with television, movies, and books. Last night, watching Grimm, for instance, I said “They lost their heads,” right before Nick it said to Monroe. Or this happens: A character picks up a matchbook and looks down at it. It bears the name of an inn. I say “Next, a close-up of the sign as they drive up to it.” Presto! It happens. The point is, with these stories I had no idea where the action was going to go next, what someone was going to say, or how they would react. That? Priceless.