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The Tide House

My daughter’s walking me through her sandcastle. She brings me in through the garage weight room, which opens up into a two-story climbing wall.

Before I can test that out, my wife, Anna, yells for me to come see the downstairs bathroom. Kaylee has crafted one of those Japanese toilets, a luxury mirror, and towel warmers. She’s built a sectional in the living room with built-in speakers across from the biggest flat-screen TV I’ve ever seen. I throw myself down, sprawl out, and pat a cushion. “Alright. Show me this Three Body Problem,” I say, picking up the remote from the glass coffee table.

She runs over and tugs on my wrist. “No—see upstairs before the tide comes in.”

Upstairs, I find Anna wandering in our bedroom’s walk-in closet, grinning and rubbing fuzzy sweater sleeves. I watch the waves from the window.

“Guys?” Kaylee says. We move on. 

She’s left everything in her brother’s room the same, untouched, just like our real house back in Miami. Dusty magazines pile on the bedside table, and an empty Kleenex box sits on the carpet. The bed’s partially made. I think Kaylee sometimes naps there but always returns the bedclothes to this condition.

Anna goes no deeper than the door but soon calls me to check out the man cave.

From a wall hangs a row of electric guitars, mostly ‘60s Stratocasters. Here I tear up; Kaylee’s given me my dream guitars. I never realized she paid attention to my yammering. Alone on a stand sits Brayden’s Jazz bass.

I retreat to the hall bathroom and splash my face in the sink.

“Dad, come play Mario Kart,” Kaylee shouts. Anna meets me outside my daughter’s bedroom, where the kid sits on her bed, kicking her feet, controller in hand, watching the game boot up on a microwave-sized box TV.

Anna’s eyes are red. “Let’s go downtown and play mini golf.”

“One race,” I say. “Play with us?”

Anna sighs through her nose and straightens a family portrait as she walks for the stairs. “I’m reading my book.”

Kaylee’s hung a Nirvana Nevermind poster on her wall. She’s lined the top shelf of her bookcase with Lego Star Wars spaceships and the rest with short, thick Japanese comic books. I sweep a dozen smelly hoodies off her bed to make room to sit.

We’re five races in when the house slumps toward the door, toward the sea.

The Lego ships rattle.

“No,” Kaylee says and bears down on her controller. She leans closer to the TV, away from the bookshelf. We’re on the last lap, and she blasts me off the track with a red turtle shell.

“Time,” I say and switch the TV dead.

She spikes her controller off the screen, something she’d never do at our real house, and a corner of the TV bursts into brown chunks and dust. “I was winning,” she cries and runs to the hall.

I find her in her brother’s room, under the covers. The house slouches back the other way, toward the beach.

Anna’s calling from the stairs, “You all, someone’s going to get hurt—”

The ceiling fan loosens from the ceiling, exposing an inch of wiring.

“Alright, Kaylee,” I say.

“I’m asleep,” she says.

 I scoop Kaylee out of the bed. She pulls her brother’s navy comforter along with her. We walk down the unsteady stairs, flakes of ceiling raining down. Anna meets us at the foyer. We stand on the beach and watch the house melt.

Kaylee, wrapped in her brother’s crumbling comforter, wades ankle-deep into the lapping ocean to kick around in the wreckage. The last of the comforter falls away to mush. She glistens, alone in her red swimsuit, lifts a foot to examine the eroded remains of the Kleenex box, pinched between her toes. 

Travis Flatt (he/him) is an epileptic teacher and actor living in Cookeville, Tennessee. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Flash Frog, JMWW, HAD, Tiny Molecules, Bending Genres, and other places. He is a Best Small Fictions nominee. He enjoys theater, dogs, and theatrical dogs, often with his wife and son.

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