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Our Longreads Member Pick: 
House Heart, by Amelia Gray



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Introduction

This week's Member Pick is "House Heart," a short story by Amelia Gray, the author of the novel Threats and short story collections Museum of the Weird and AM/PM. "House Heart" was published in the December 2012 issue of Tin House—here's more from Tin House assistant editor Emma Komlos-Hrobsky

"In Amelia Gray's 'House Heart,' a couple entraps a young woman in their ventilation system in a game equal parts erotic and perverse. 'We all had our individual function,' says Gray's narrator, 'and hers was to be the life of the house.' Gray's own writing does similar eerie work in animating uncomfortable, secret, interior spaces. Something strange and dark and distinctly human moves just beneath the cool deadpan of her authorial voice. I love this story for its wryness and subtlety, but most especially for its willingness to take me where I don't want to go."

Our thanks to Amelia and Tin House for this week's pick. For more from Tin House, you can subscribe here.

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House HeartAmelia Gray | Tin House | December 2012 | 15 minutes (3,719 words)Illustration by Kjell ReigstadThe home remains. Even if the house were razed, the foundation scored and broken and the pieces carried away, a spiritual outline of the home in which people cooked dinner or lay down exhausted or looked out the window at the garbage truck rumbling down the road would persist. The story of our home is the story of a city's shift from industry. The space was once the preparation wing of a garment factory, the room in which material was cooked with chemicals to change its color and character. We found this information in a reference book. Hints to the room's previous function can be found in the scars on the concrete where machines were once bolted and an industrial ventilation system thick like an artery across the high, open ceiling, feeding veins of air to each white-walled room. The larger warehouse has since been destroyed and replaced with stinking-new lofts, but our home remains as a testament to utility.

My partner and I have lived in this house for many years, though we see ourselves as temporary residents of the space and of the land beneath it. We believe in leaving no trace when we are gone. We bring our own containers to the grocery and our clothes dry in the sun. We are very interested in hemp products. Every object has a purpose, but with care and attention, one can find multiple purposes, a range of functions found in reuse. Once, my partner brought me an old child's tricycle, the rubber wheels hardened with age, and I scrubbed the rust away and attached a cage to the front handles and turned it into a planter.

It was my idea to purchase the girl. I had decided that would be a fine way to pass an afternoon and my partner agreed. He called a service and asked the receptionist if their business practices included the concept of fair trade. He said it was important to him as a consumer to have a sense of the origin of the products he used. He told her he realized that it was an issue of privilege, but that the least he could do was to utilize his privilege in a way that might benefit others, even in some small way.

The girl came over the next morning. She was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and rang the bell twice while we took turns admiring her from the peephole. Her hair was blond and ironed straight and she was falsely tanned. She glanced at something written in a pink notebook and took a step back to look up and down the street, shading her eyes with her hand. While we watched her, my partner asked me if we could educate her on the physical dangers of using chemically bleaching products and I said No, none of that.

The girl pounded on our door with her little fist, leaning in so close that we could see her eyes, pale and clear, the sclera like water in a bowl. She looked surprised, shocked even, when my partner unlocked the door and we were both standing there, smiling at her, but she entered our home anyway and put down her notebook and her purse. She said she had just come from class and I asked her what class she was taking and she told me and I said Ah, yes. Her fingers were manicured with a pink polish. She smelled like a bowl of sugar that had been sprayed with disinfectant. She told us her name; even her name sounded processed. My partner held the girl's shoulders and told her that he was happy she had come. She started to say something but he embraced her and she frowned and put her tanned arms across his back and said Okay, okay. We were all a little nervous.

Originally published in Tin House, December 2012. 

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