The Anatomy of Despair

The Great Toronto Literay Project inspired this short story. In my class we were given an excerpt and told to cotinue it.The excerpt told us of the man with alligator-skin oxfords and the book Anatomy of Despair.
Vida has nothing left in her life and fills the emptiness by creating a myserty she does not wish to solve.

One month had passed. One month of glares from Ivan accompanied by newspapers brimming with houses. One month of Cora’s self absorption. One month of shoes piled in front rooms. One month of kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. One month and Vida Ash found a house.

It was a petite red bricked building, crammed in between two dirty concrete houses. There was no room for a lawn on the tiny strip of land, just a one car driveway. Even her backyard was all but nonexistent. It stood as a slab of cement just big enough for a barbeque and some bikes; defiantly no room for a table let alone chairs.

On move in day Vida stood outside the unimpressive structure, overflowing cardboard box in hand and no expression on her face. The sliding door of the blue minivan jerked open and Maurice hoped out. He gave a low whistle, commenting that he supposed with all her money and time it was a good thing that she had chosen a fixer-upper. Vida remained silent but a twitch of sadness caused her to blink her eyes. Time and money had come from her mother’s passing. Part of the reason she had chosen this house was to not exploit her mother’s death. 

Maurice gave her shoulder a squeeze before yanking one of many boxes out of the van. He proceeded to the dull, hard steps that led to a sturdy front door. Balancing the box on one arm he lifted his other hand to the lion head knocker. His head turned to look at her and Vida found a mocking grin splayed across his face, “Is this lion your only protection against the dangers of Toronto?” He chuckled at his joke before slipping her key into the lock and shoving his way inside. Vida managed an all-too-late, weak smile. She knew Maurice was trying to discreetly show his surprise and concern that she had not chosen a nicer neighbourhood or at least a more secure looking building. She could almost see him suggesting that she could easily find an apartment the same size only then she would have the safety of numbers and security of multiple locks and cameras. He knew she would refuse though so he had kept his mouth shut and instead attempted to lighten her mood.

               Vida hated leaving her attic at Cora’s house. It had become her cocoon of safety and the mystery of it had distracted her depressed mind. Vida worried that her knew house would be unable to spike her interest and leave her mind restless and wandering. She knew where it would wander to; as always it would find its way back to those last moments with her mother. Those were painful memories, memories Vida wanted to leave until her life was once again stable.

For two years she had given up her life in Toronto, opting for one in her mother’s Hamilton bungalow. Her life had just been about her mother. She had tried to soak up every last minute of life her mother had had. She did not want to miss one moment and later regret it. As a result her friends had grown board of her refusals to hang out and drifted away. Her sister resented the standard Vida set and Vida resented Cora’s cold shoulder as her mother grew less responsive and Vida lonelier.

Now Vida’s old life was lost and her more recent life no longer existent. She had to start over, start somewhere and that is where the house came in. Vida looked at it glumly. The house was perfect for her; it even had a claw-foot tub jammed into the bathroom. She felt a connection to the building because what it lacked in outwards appearance it made up for in an impressive layout design and authentic trim work.

Maurice banged through the front door and bee lined for the second biggest box in the van.

“So are you gonna help me or just stand there?” He heaved the box upwards and then added, “The inside is really great Vida. You always had an eye for detail.” Maurice tramped back up the driveway and Vida forced her legs to follow him. Inside he suggested that she begin the unpacking while he unloaded the van. Vida nodded her agreement and reached into the box she had carried in. Wedged in between the picture of her mother and a childhood teddy bear was the book. Vida tenderly pulled it out and cradled it in her hands. Absentmindedly she searched the room for a place to put The Anatomy of Despair.

When she had first snatched the book from her third open house Vida had been unable to read it. It had been as if it was taboo to open its sacred pages. She had looked it up online only to find a dull synopsis lacking any hint of the plot. As that first week wore into a second week the book lay untouched in the single desk drawer. Vida had occupied herself by filling her days with open houses. When that failed to be enough she would go jogging with Venn or more often than not a five minute jog followed by a half-hour walk. She had even scoured the classified section for a job. But the book had continued to haunt her. Copies of it would be in the houses she looked at, she would see a stranger reading a white covered book and pause her walk to catch a glimpse of the title. Even in reading the paper she could not escape her obsession as she returned again and again to the entertainment section: daring to hope for a mention of The Anatomy of Despair or its deliverer.

The deliverer; she had not seen him sense that first week but he too haunted her. Alligator-skin oxfords in a front hall made her heart jump and she would race through the house, desperate to catch the man in the act of placing a book. She had never seen him. Vida knew it was silly to let such small things grab a hold of her life and control her but she could not help it. Her theories of reason for her insanity included boredom, depression, loneliness and need for importance in her life.

Vida looked once again to the small book still resting in her palms. The book had even chosen her perfect house. It scared Vida to think that something so insignificant could know her so well, control her so easily. After about two weeks she had entered this very building and once again began her frantic search only this time she found nothing. Vida had stood at the entrance stunned and unsure. The book had never failed her before. She had looked through the house a second time, more slowly, examining every drawer and cubby.  The book was nowhere to be found. Dazed, Vida had wandered through the house and miraculously she had finally been able to see the house she was viewing. No longer did the book cloud her vision and what she saw was perfect. She had made an offer that same day and left feeling a sense of destiny and fright at her faith in the inanimate object. She had not had the house inspected by a contractor for hidden mould or bad wiring. Unquestioning she had leaned on the book’s wisdom and had taken the risk.

Now looking around Vida felt the uncertainty feeding on her nerves. She clutched the book to her chest, hoping to extract a small amount of reassurance.

Maurice re-entered the room causing Vida to jump. He laughed. Vida managed to quickly grin back before once again he exited the house. Vida scooped the picture of her mother out of the box and walked towards the fireplace; the heart of any house. She carefully placed the picture on the center of the mantel and then gingerly placed the book, leaning it against the wall, beside the picture. She took a step backwards and gazed into her mother’s eyes. Slowly she dragged her eyes to the bold black print on the crisp white cover: The Anatomy of Despair. Vida let out a slow sigh and then smiled. She was home.

The End

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