White House, Red Flowers

Written By: Arielle  Dollinger

There’s a white house on the corner of Woods Lane and Main. Marked by window boxes consistently stocked with red flowers, it lives in a paradoxical state of vibrant stagnancy. There are always flowers; the flowers are always red.

My parents started taking me on weekend drives out east before I was old enough to know it. On each trip, my mom would point out that white house. Eventually, I found myself wondering what was inside.

The most recent product of my imagination, concocted late one night in my bedroom, is the following picture.

Inside lives one man. He waters the flowers in the early morning, before anyone is awake to see him. At mid-day, he sits down at the kitchen table to meticulously salt a plate of diced tomatoes. At dinner, a plate of beef in brown sauce receives the same treatment.

He cuts anything edible with a steak knife. Butter knives have never made sense to him.

He has family somewhere. Here, he is alone with his flowers. He appreciates his collection of blooms because they are a never-changing element in an ever-changing world.

I don’t know when it happened, but his house became a constant in my life, too. I see that house through car windows and I smile. It is always there.

Sometimes, I wonder what will happen when it isn’t anymore.

I imagine that the man, in his however-many years, has watched everyone around him change. I have watched everyone around me change.

The blue-eyed, clean-eating college track runner with six-pack abs veiled by J.Crew polos became a body-building meathead, eyes clouded behind marijuana smoke and abs displayed in Snapchat selfies.

The brown-haired boy who could never decide what or who he wanted became a husband, mind overcome by the vision of happy days in Nantucket with the girl in the scarlet party dress.

The boy with the whipped cream hair, prone to fleeing the country when he was bored, remained a dreamer in a maroon hoodie; but he became a dreamer who acknowledged the weight of reality.

The mousy little girl who was afraid of everything became the girl who acted not despite fear, but in spite of it.

When we change, it’s hard to say whether we’ve lost or found ourselves. Usually, the answer depends on who you ask.

The white house with the red flowers never changes, but I imagine that the man living inside does. I wonder about the life that has led him to that house. I wonder about the life that has led him to hide behind white shingles and red flowers.

The New York Times ran a story about the mysterious man in 1997. I’ve read it, but part of me still likes to imagine what he’s like. When I imagine him, I decide who he is and who he will be. I decide how much he changes and how quickly. I decide how closely he follows his daily routine — how long he spends salting tomatoes, which knife he uses to butter bread.

The real-life characters change on their own. And, most of the time, they don’t even know it.

The red flowers themselves change the same way we do. They are alive. They grow and they change and they die. The man replaces them with fresh blooms and the cycle repeats.

Life is about change. We change each other; we change for each other; we change in spite of each other.

The blue-eyed, clean-eating track runner changed me. Once the marijuana smoke clouded his eyes, I couldn’t find a way to return the favor.

There are always flowers; the flowers are always red. But they are not immune to change. No one is.