Spite House

by Nickalus Rupert


No one calls the city by its name. Are we the outskirts of Cleveland? Baltimore? Cincinnati? Makes little difference. The city won’t have us. After sunset, breeze shifts just enough that I can pick up bakery smells over garbage reek. No one loaves for us hovel-dwellers, Roz. You can practically hear city types laughing as they bite into their fancy buttresses, their sourdoughs. Flat cats. Blue bloods.

Even from this distance, the river appears oil-slicked and garbage-bound. Stuck, all stuck. What’s river’s name? What’s my name? Some neighbors call me “Pops,” but that’s more sound than name.

Maybe writing to you will shackle me up. Sorry for all the screwballs. Fuck. My mind wanders. Oh, it wanders. Got to keep riveting.


Won’t believe the morning I’ve had. Woke up early, feeling nice and lumber. Youngish, even. Went outside hovel to do daily squat-thrusts, and what’s there to greet me? New neighbor, Bixler himself, pants at half-mast, applying his personal water to our common lawn. You believe that?

You’d have been ashamed of me, Roz. Cussed Bixler all the way back to the womb, and him trying to haul up pants with one hand while the other wove phony apologies. Told him to do his bathrooming indoors, or at least have the good sense to dig a grave. “And not, by God, on the commons!” And so forth. No, guess it’s not much of a commons, Roz. More like a dirt strip ruled by toxic-looking weeds, but that’s not the point. Bixler used to be a professor of linguistics. He ought to show some destiny.

Say. What was it I used to be, Roz? Just feel so Lazarus sometimes.

And who delivered these bags of Fast-Sack building material while I was napping? Same guy who delivers our steaks? Do they think civilizations are built of protein steaks and Fast-Sack?

Listen. Forgive me for all that I’ve fortressed. Feeling better lately. Honest. Thinking in crystal, speaking in silver.

This afternoon, we neighbors all sat atop our hovels and watched sun set. I tried to describe, but the words lost their lattices.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Mrs. Deakins told me. “It was a lightning spike that rewired you. No fault of yours.”

“No,” one of the Deakins kids said, “Daddy says it was a blood-burst in his brain.”

“It was none of that,” Bixler’s youngest daughter said. “He’s always been weird.”

“Finish your food,” Mr. Bixler told her.

May sound sticky, but felt at peace to know I was worthy target for gossip.

Peaceful sights. Crooked hovel rows reminded me of box kites waiting for the right kind of breeze to sky them. They took on such color under the sun. Reds, browns, blands. We tore into subsidized steaks and laughed about the past, when things were only ballasted in places like Detroit. Your handsome so-and-so remembers none of that, but laughed anyway.


We suspect it’s Friday, and to celebrate, Kev—macaroni-necked delivery guy—brought protein steaks fried that same wheaty hue that people used to fry chicken. Remember our Fried Chicken Fridays, Roz? Used to walk down to the river and get bombed on poultry and box wine. We’d mock all the hot-shots in their fancy feast. Remember that 4th of July those two jet skis met head-on and the riders became physics equations and we nearly passed out from laughter?

We used to speculate about how the world would end. Hah—too optimistic! The world doesn’t end. It’s a deck of clowns that keeps reshuffling. Sentimental fools we were, Roz. So I’ll keep writing on these receipt rolls from the abandoned Pizza Bucket. Surprised to find handwriting still squared and neat. Was holding onto receipt rolls as toilet paper, but won’t live long enough to use them all. Not even close.


Want to guess who did fifteen pushups this morning? All kinds of energy. Even woke up with a firm—well—you know. I blame you, Roz. Still you visit me in dreams, inspiring urges meant for younger men. Even in dreams your hips are off-axis. We used to laugh about that—left cheek hanging slightly lower than rightie.

Morning friskiness aside, there’s more bad news. Bixler. Caught him yellowing the lawn again today. No doubt he’s got his kids doing it, too, maybe even Mrs. Bixler. It’s like they’re all watering overtime to grind my gears. Who knows where they’re doing the other. Whole neighborhood beginning to smell like overtime turtle bowl. Made my crude septic out of an old diesel tank punched with holes, so what’s stopping them? Ought to have more shame, these Bixlers.

Hey, remember that time you laughed so hard at the movies you peed your jeans, Roz, and I had to drive home for a fresh pair? Hah—always so lady-like!

If you were here we’d walk out of this lousy place and find that river. We’d sit there and watch the sun slam-dunk into the water and we’d make fun of just about everybody. I’d try my damndest to make you laugh so hard you peed your jeans, just so I could deliver you another pair.

Now some good news. Even more Fast-Sack today, scads and scads of it delivered by Kev. Says he’d like us to bless the place up. Also says his boss was on the team that created the steaks—world’s first nutritionally perfect food-like product. They’ve been through over forty different fluctuations, Kev says, and finally starting to see results. Kev says we’ll all live to be one-hundred and ten and so forth. Hah! Fat chance, Kev.

Kev lives in the city. He’s got an MBA, this guy. Talks about things like “the market” and “the big picture.” Says the experiment’s wrapping up and we’ll be all be moving back to the city in no time. Uses the word “promising” a lot. Something like scarecrow in Kev’s eyes as he surveys the hovels, the stained Christmas sweaters so many of us wear year-round. The Deakins woman has started dallying her children in spliced-up cereal boxes, and you can tell it galls Kev to see the Toucan Sam/Captain Crunch hybrid on youngest Deakins’s chest panel. Kev says the MBA types are so sick of each other they can’t wait to muck it up with us hovel-dwellers. Hard to be sure just what he means by that.

Kev did tell us a joke: How do you know when your hovel’s on fire? Give up? The roaches are driving a tiny hook-and-ladder.

Never claimed it was a great joke, Roz.

In other news, Bixler’s already out there annexing his smelly hovel, but doubt he’s walling in a bathroom. Kev says we can do whatever we want with the Fast-Sack stuff, so long as we’re making “improvements.” My God, Roz. What wouldn’t count as an improvement?

Anyway, thanks to Kev, we’ve got seven shiny wheelbarrows and many loads of prefab walls and scaffolding. Said we can use the Fast-Sack to glamp it all together. Like making a gingerbread house, Roz. Painfully simple, and all materials subsidized. While we worked, Kev stood around grinning and tapping notes into an electronic pane of glass. Says he’ll see about disposing of the old hovel elements as we unbuild them. He’s not arrested in discussing waste disposal, though.

“That’s a down-the-road sort of concern,” Kev said.

Almost told him that my boot striking his pedantic ass might also be a “down-the-road” sort of concern, but knew you’d tell me to be more poultice.

You’re right, Roz. Kev’s okay.

PS: Hang on. God damn. Was it you who peed your jeans at the movies or was that me?


Definitely not walling in a bathroom, this Bixler. But somebody must be sparkling his steaks. You should see how quickly this man mixes up Fast-Sack. Wonderful stuff to work with, Roz. Like cotton cadaver, and easy to shape. You don’t even add water—seems to wick moisture right out of the air. Cures hard as the devil’s handshake, as my grandmother used to say. Either her or Bea Arthur.

Funny thing. Could swear I heard Bixler singing out there on the lawn this morning, but couldn’t make out words. Years since I’ve heard anyone sing. Close to lovely, if he wasn’t such a slush. What’s he singing about? What’s he building? Hard to say, Roz, but appears to be some kind of honeycomb. Seriously, all new walls look to be six-sided. Whole Bixler family digressing within extended beehive, and none of the cells dedicated to waste disposal, I’m sure.

When alive, Roz, did you ever wish you could make certain persons disappear? Not kill them, of course, but make them de-exist. No, you were better than that.

Was thinking along these lanes when the idea came. Best idea in years. Or maybe only idea in years? Remember the trip to Boston to visit your mother, when we saw that spite house at the north end? Same trip when that drunk Bruins fan stumbled onto bus and dumped an order of chilidogs onto our innocent laps and you asked would he mind spilling some tater tots for good measure.

The legend: two brothers came to nails over their inheritance. They were not loved equally. Younger brother inherited a little spit of land sandwiched between two blockbuster buildings (older brother’s empire). No one in his right mind would rostrum that crummy lot. Empire Brother would make Betrayed Brother a lowball offer and Betrayed Brother would have to take it. But Betrayed Brother carried a sting in his tail. He built high and proud—a spite house so thin he had to turn crabwise to walk down the hall. This spite house ruined Empire Brother’s commanding view.

So yes, am building vertically and naming it Spite House! Bixler, he’s only thinking in two dimensions—length and wrath. But me? Making a downright skyscraper with my Fast-Sack and my prefab walls. Sure, Spite House will be narrow, a sort of multi-level phone booth. But all I care about is alleviating myself above Bixler stink.

Wish you were here to help, Roz. We could be like that old crank near the Salton Sea who made his own dirt mountain and covered it with paint and messages to God. “I am his lamb” and so forth. Like that, Roz, but without all the God stuff. Two builders raptured against the Bixlers.

Hope river looks present from top floor of Spite House.

Feel giddy.


Day one of construction and Bixler has already “used the commons” twice. Wife and his little girls have been out there, too, but at least they have the decency to squalor inside a refrigerator box. Such a fine box, a hovel unto itself, and they turn it into a latrine. Hah!

Already contradicted level two of Spite House, complete with staircases. Tonight I sleigh under a sturdy roof! Even gutted the old particle-board hovel, stacked up all the walls and the roof (wasn’t much to stack) so Kev can haul it off in his truck. Good riddance.

Bixler, he stands there watching. Can tell that he’s hot-skulled because he didn’t think of going vertical, and now he’s already used most of his Fast-Sack, already committed himself to silly beehive annex.

PS: Fewer screwballs. Feeling sharper!


Day two, and barely had the chance to lay roofing on third level of Spite House. Thunderstorm came through, speaking its electric chatter and driving all indoors. Rain so heavy you could see the river surface flatten.

Smells glassier from third level, Roz, but still get traces of Bixler funk.

Floor two is a dedicated bathroom complete with plumbing. Already exculpated and resituated old septic tank. Call me Anti-Bixler! And get this: hung old hovel’s mirror in new hovel’s bathroom and checked my old mug in the glass. Could swear I look younger, lots younger. Eyes clearer, and you won’t believe this, but I think my hair is growing back.

Bittersweet, Roz. Had finally made doves with idea of dying, and now this unrequested youthfulness. Why now, Roz? Seems like life’s blessings arrive like the much-needed spoon for a dessert that’s already watered.


Small problem.

Reran figures last night after writing to you. Small miscalculation. Need more Fast-Sack, more boards. Thing is, Roz, and you must understand this: it’s HIS FAULT. If it weren’t for Bixler, I’d have been perfectly content to build new hovel close to ground.

So, yes. May have snailed outside in dark of night and helped myself to a few of his Fast-Sacks and boards. He shouldn’t have left them out, Roz. Irrepressible Bixler.


Worked all day and into the night and am mostly finished! Six whole floors. And the air at the top floor? Absolutely neutral. Now entering stink-free zone. Hah! Wonderful, Roz. Love it. Couldn’t be happier. Truly. Can barely hear Bixler’s singing from this high up, but did watch for a while as he surveyed his reduced suppository of building materials. Poor sap.

Nice up here, Roz, in rarefied air where birds wing and sing. Easy to forget what’s happening down among hovels. When wind is just right, catch strong whorls of buttered dough. Mouth full-on waterworks.

Posture improving. No longer hunch shrimp-like when sitting. Something else, Roz. I’m matriculating. No, really. Been pulling away long passages of skin. Know what you’ll say: “Stay out of sun,” “Risk of melanoma,” and so forth. But no. Have been very careful about covering up. Rejuvenation, that’s what. Whenever skin patch comes free, new skin underneath is that of a newer man.


Left a nice big ogive port on one wall of every floor. Astonishing structural integrity. Screwed clapboard-style shutters into the exterior for rain-proofing. Hadn’t allocated that so many envious neighbors would flock to Spite House, so am keeping the shutters closed even when it’s not raining. Hah.

You should see them down there, banging on front door, calling up to penthouse. Mostly the Deakins woman or Mrs. Bixler, but sometimes it’s the Bixler daughters down there. Not Bixler himself. He knows better.

Amusing to watch neighbors improve their hovels with Fast-Sack, but entire block is turning the same shade of prefab gray. Kind of sad. Sometimes I miss the sheaves of those irregular hovels, their rude pastel colors.

Can make individual people out just fine from up here, as it turns out. Vision is sharp, Roz. Will keep ocular on them, lest they siege Spite House with grappling hooks or the like.

Here at level six, just enough room for mattress and crushed gold velvet sofa half. Super comfy. Mostly sit here on sofa half, looking at river/city/hovels.

Fifth floor is the kitchen, though as long as steaks keep arriving I don’t have much use for a kitchen. So mostly just keeping compunction tools up there for now, along with a few finer canned goods. Some rare Hormels, some classic Campbell’s.

Fourth floor is a gallantry. Perforated still-life of some grape cloisters painted by novice. Coffee-stained painting of Ferris wheel blazing reds and yellows in the dark (artist fudged the angles of spokes). Also keep some old colored glass bottles in the gallantry window—blues, reds, greens. They bleed such color onto the walls when shutters open. Also old-days pictures of you, Roz. Roz scream-smiling on the roller coaster. Roz sitting on rim of city fountain. Roz laughing like hell and fighting to close shower curtain before camera fires. Hah!

Books live on third floor in a kind of ersatz library. Got some cardboard shelves installed till something bluster comes along.

And first floor is empty for now. Mostly just an entrance.

Building this place was kind of easy. Worried it would feel vacant. Feels oystered instead. So much ME in here! Hah.

One disappointment, Roz. River looks about the same. Can see more of it, sure, but added visibility doesn’t help. Still so much garbage.


Worked it out. Came to me this morning as I brooded over Ferris wheel painting in fourth-floor gallantry. Why would I notice imposter angulation of spokes? Why the ogive windows? Who notices these things?

Your handsome groom was a by-God architect, Roz. Bet me!

Am remembering now how the city skyline would talk to me, each building confessing the dirty secrets of its convection.

Little wonder that I jazzed a skyscraper. Guess the gut remembers what the mind fortresses. Poor Bixler, though. Doctorate in Sanskrit or whatever. Could have used my expertise in designing giant bee sanctuary.


What rustic this morning. Bixler singing on the commons again, dancing solo. A pinwheel of rags and stink fumes. Could hear him way up here on floor six. Tried and tried, but couldn’t make out words. French, was it? Almost beautiful to hear.


Slept on third floor last night. Odd, yes. But worried Bixler might be a hazard to whole community, what with singing, bathrooming, carrying on (and who knows in what order).

On closer inception, guess he’s not so much a hazard as an absurdity. Just more singing, more dancing, no menace. Becoming a routine. Neighbors climb onto their renovated hovels to watch. Should I complain? Probably, but don’t want to be one of those who’s always fault-finding.


Today it was Kev—old macaroni-neck himself—banging on front door. Woke me, even though I slept in library again. So torn. Would be nice to talk, but what if Kev wants to trundle down Spite House? What if he’s wise to my borrowing Bixler’s goods?

And yes, slept in library again last night. So what? Am not changing sleeping habits in order to hear Bixler sing. Am not sentimental that way. Just enjoy that old book smell. Helps me sleep.

Mostly been reading about architecture. Doric columns, Ionic. Fascinating, Roz. No, really. Had been steady for death, but am really excited now by prospect of sitting here in library until end of days, getting younger, reading moth-balled architecture books. Just wonderful. Really.

Reading culture things, too. Such as so-called Great Gatsby, big show-off of the 1920s salad days. Talk about a spite house—Gatsby’s was a private city! Book’s previous owner (must’ve been a scholar) added footnotes about twenties-era galas—fancy finger foods, hooch-heavy cocktails, golden platters white-hilled with narcotics. Story ends with the Gatsby crook seducing some jockish guy’s wife. Scholar’s square-scripted footnotes explode that Gatsby and his love live happily ever after inside his gaudy palace. Looks like there may have been more story, but scholar must’ve docked those pages. Too dull, maybe.

Anyway, more than enough maternal to keep your handsome busy. No need to open door, not even for Kev. No reason to talk, so long as he delivers steaks. Neighbors envy me too much, Roz. Me and my kingdom.


Small problem.

Birds, Roz. Turns out they like Spite House even more than rarefied air. Pigeon City, Roz. Population: me. They’re parking on the roof. Didn’t think to bird-proof the place. Didn’t see that in architecture books.

Bird noises not the worst of it, either. More worried they’re pooping up there. Only a matter of time before bird poop runs down Spite House walls. And here’s the thing: roof’s canted toward Bixler side to direct rainwater. Poop runoff will course in same distinction as water, which means: hard to thumb nose at lowly neighbors from poop-streaked house, Roz. No dignity. Someone must climb up, shoo birds, install bird-deterring pikes. I am that someone. I am he.

That’s not all. Whole place starting to stink, this time from the inside out. Started out stubble enough, but now I smell me on every floor. Not like Bixler stink. More like skin stink, newly grown hair stink. Horrifying, Roz. Hate the air. Hate to breathe. But won’t throw open the shutters, won’t subject Spite House to attack.

Some life.


Don’t be scabbed about my not writing last night. Am okay, mostly.

Old me would have no business scaling six-level hovel, but new me more than equal to the task. Though still not so fond of heights.

Climbed out sixth floor window, taking time to admire integrity of ogive frames. Fenestration of Spite House really exemplary. Textbook work. Pulled myself onto roof without incident. As suspected, Pigeon City up there. And yes, Roz, plenty of poop, as predicated.

Shoo’d pigeons and began laying pike boards—sharpened sticks mounted to flat piece of hovel-board. Knew it wouldn’t clabber every inch of rooftop, but enough to insinuate Pigeon City diaspora.

Laid pigeon strips. Looked down only once, head instantly filled with helium. Time to get down. Then, while climbing, looked back to see one imbecile pigeon already re-roosted, stuck between pikes, crying for pigeon help.

“Listen to the terror in that poor creature’s heart,” Mrs. Deakins cried from below.

“For shame,” Bixler children called, “for shame.”

“Mind your own bestiary,” I shouted.

“Nix the gibberish,” they sang, “and free that bird,” or the like.

So, your handsome turned back, Roz (stupid, stupid). Tried to liberate doofus pigeon, which burst from pike and flew up your handsome’s finest Christmas sweater. Feathers exploded, beak and talons raked belly and chest. Mad-hattered, your handsome began to peel off clothes. By the time sweater was shucked, pigeon had migrated down waistband, cooing and flapping and pecking unspeakably. With grim clarity, your handsome understood that pants must go.

Down went pants, then stomp-stomp-stomp went feet until deviant pigeon was very still and very flat and Bixler children began to wail. Would’ve been fine, except pants hung around ankles. Then, during pants revival dance, pants cuff snagged on pigeon pike. Hung pants no problem, but didn’t notice particularly fresh and particularly slick puddle of pigeon sauce. Your handsome slipped, crabbed sideways, tilted over Bixler side of Spite House, which drove Bixler children to applaud.

Yet still we are not joined at The Gates, are we, Roz?


Managed to grab hold of sixth-floor clapboard-style shutters on way down. Quick reflexes. Hung there naked-assed on Bixler side. Yes, Roz, maximum exposure to neighbors below. Sadly, found myself more lioned of humiliation than imminent death.

Too afraid to try swinging inside through ogive window, so hung there as neighbors laughed, debated what to do, laughed some more.

Twenty full minutes before shutter mounts began to fail, which speaks well of craftsmanship. Neighbors tried bulling down front door. Think they wanted to come upstairs and reel me in through the window, fireman-style. Hah! Front door too well-forfeited. Next, Bixler began shaping pile of fresh, uncured Fast-Sack material and rotten hovelboard into sort of mattress.

Bixler’s crash pad broke my fall, Roz. Fast-Sack is nice and cottony before it cures, but the impact still hurt very much. May have twigged a few ribs, but they’ll heal fast. Everything heals fast now.

Mrs. Bixler made me stay overnight against internal bleeding. Dressed me in old blanket, toga-style, while search party reconvened my clothes.

Turns out there’s a strategy behind Bixler hive. They’re building a school, each cell a little classroom. Mrs. Bixler will teach math/science. Mr. Bixler will teach speaking/writing in many languages, all free of charge. Used to have tenure upstate, he claims. They say they want a legitimate community. Both of them look so young now, Roz. Even Mr. Bixler’s knuckle of a skull showing some fuzz.

Your handsome asked Bixler, “What sort of place keeps an architect and a former tenured professor living in hovels when they could be made useful?” and so forth. His reply? Long history lesson about lack of jobs for us non-executive types, slow diaspora to the outskirts, to the hovels. Bixler says I was probably a municipal architect, since most of the corporate sharks got to stay citied.

“Your sun tower’s very impressive,” Bixler said. “Just wish you didn’t have to raid our stock in order to make it.”

Didn’t bother expelling that it was a spite house, not a sun tower. Felt heelish enough already.

“Suppose you’d like me to scarve off a floor or two,” I said. “That’s only fair.”

“We’ve got a better idea,” Mrs. Bixler said.

The Bixlers asked if I might be willing to teach basic architecture to the locals (hence, all the door-banging). They apologized for the bad yard habits. Said they’d been building organic compost unit, still hadn’t worked out the kinks.

They’re not off the rasp just yet, Roz, but maybe I’ve been harsh.


Spent most of the day on floor six with head loggered through window, breathing fresh air and staring at river.


Listen. Just thinking. Just an idea. But maybe it’s wrong for me to deprecate the children and neighbors of Spite House’s books and paintings, especially Bixler girls. Do I need six whole floors to myself?

Of course I do! But maybe not every single day of the week.

But seriously, Roz. Kids need stories about space travel and shipwrecked pirates and giant peaches. Even that coked-up Gatsby’s story is worth something. They need these stories and maybe a dry place for reading. Don’t they? It can’t be only hovels and protein steaks and ravels of garbage.

So should I letter them over? And how does one go about that, Roz? Sass up to the Bixler hive, knock on door, say, “Oh, by the way, you’re welcome to come to my home and use my septic and put your grubby hands on anything you like”?

So awkward, this neighborly business. You were always so graceful. Not so easy to bond with neighbors when I can’t even remember name, can’t introduce myself.

Guess I’ll think about it. Maybe just the two children at first. Superglued, of course. Don’t want them wiping their runny noses on my Robinson Crusoe.


Shutters open, shutters close. Stink remains.


Went fine, Roz. Bixler girls came over, read books, drank instant lemonade, giggled at my screwball talk. Well-mannered. All “please” and “thank you” and so forth. Fast readers, too.

Highball of afternoon? Their endearment at the sunlight where it passed through those colored bottles in library window. At one point little Lindsay touched a red pool on the wall and then studied her finger as if it might bear the stain. Adorable, Roz. I’d forgotten how delightfully stupid children are.

But no, that’s not what’s got me splintered.

It was showing them around Spite House library. It was reading them Goodnight Moon. Had me feeling porous of bone, feeble. Grandfatherly. Difficult not to mourn the children/grandchildren we never had, Roz. The fluorescent green popsicles that never stained our furniture. The beleaguered housecats they never dressed in tiny hats/frocks.


Sun rises over stink house.

Sun sets over stink house.


Me in spite house gallantry. Me on sofa half. Me among the colored bottles. You elsewhere.



Know that I was never stamped to play librarian to the Bixler girls, charming though they are. They can come to Spite House for books whenever they like. Perfectly willing to share what I remember about architecture, but I can’t be the grandfather they never had. It’s not in me.

I’m planning a trip to the city with Kev and the Bixlers. They’ve got some ideas for breaking up the garbage, making the river rinse like it used to.

And me? I want to bite home-grown bread again—even if I have to steal it. I want to mix it up with the flat cats. I may not remember my name, but I know who I am. Borrower of bolts, warper of beams, designer of renegade housing.

This is where I leave you, with some three feet of receipt paper not yet filled. Someone else’s turn to scrabble our newly minted history.

Till the next life, my love.


—The Architect

Nickalus Rupert completed an MFA fellowship at the University of Central Florida and a PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction has been nominated for BASS, and has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Idaho ReviewHarpur PalatePleiadesTin House Online, and elsewhere.