The Pick 2017

The House in the Northwest Corner by Sheldon Lee Compton

When David found the house in the northwest corner of his back yard, it seemed already ancient from the weight of the people it held, storm-worn and tilted. But it was empty. Still, it appeared to shine as if beneath artificial lights. A dying star blinking in and out of focus. And it surfaced, or materialized. One day it wasn’t there and the next it was, a two-story farm house of plain white clapboards with shutters the color of peaches.

That first week, he led his children through the house. He described every detail aloud, as much to himself as to anyone else. His children ran through the  rooms and their laughter filled the spaces between breaths. Their energy made the very wood tremble. It seemed then the energy would last forever, but on a winter day with a sky like fish bellies stalled midstream, the house disappeared the minute it was empty and could do so. It had sat in the northwest corner exactly two months, but would return again. And again leave.

Many, many years later, with grandchildren, when David remembered where he was, he became confused. What he knew was that it was an old house and belonged to an old man who had forgotten he owned a house at all. When his grandchildren asked where the house had been all the time that it hadn’t been there, David smiled a jagged pink crescent moon and fell into a peaceful sleep.

The grandchildren had children of their own and again went to their grandfather. The years had nearly dashed away all memory of the house and still they asked their questions. Everything was so, so old and nothing shuddered now, but this time the grandfather answered loudly and with great confidence. He said that long ago the house had fallen from the sky. Was it so hard to believe? Many things had fallen from the sky. Why not a house? The grandchildren’s children laughed and said, Why not a house?

When the night came that David was to die, he asked his youngest great-grandson to come closer and leaned in as if to kiss the boy’s ear. He whispered words that disappeared and reappeared, disappeared and reappeared, but the boy was able to hear just enough. He led the family outside and pointed. In the northwest corner a flicker could be seen to Fairmont, West Virginia, as chemicals discharged between breaths to seed the universe all over again.



My favorite story from the 2017 Vestal Review ‘s archive is Sheldon Lee Compton’s The House in the Northwest Corner from Issue 52.

I confess I am a huge (hands in the air, waving, doing a mad little dance) fan of Sheldon Lee Compton stories. So you can imagine my reaction when I saw his name in the submission pile. This was the first and remains the only story I have recommended that has been selected for publication in Vestal Review (I’m not complaining Mark, I’m really not…).

The House in the Northwest Corner reflected my personal experience, in a weird tangential way. I used to live in a one-bedroom flat in a converted manor house. The grounds of the house had been sold off for Victorian terracing and the plot was barely large enough for parking and bins. But, soon after I moved in, and long after I left I dreamt of the house’s garden. It was the backdrop to every romance, thriller or nightmare my psyche could throw at me. The sense of that garden, scents and landscaping, is more real than the memory of physical bricks and mortar. This experience summaries The House in the Northwest Corner for me, and on reading it, for a moment, in a scary world, I felt less alone. For that, I doff my cap to you, Sheldon Lee Compton, and say thank you.

Gillian Walker


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