By Tom Noyes
Featured art: Two Nudes in a Room by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Fresno, Fargo, Toledo. Albany, Tallahassee, Boise. I hit every town in a tux. When the crew and I crash the wedding—I try to time it so I’m rushing the aisle just as the bride and groom lean in for their kiss—the church erupts in confused gasps and worried whispers. Eugene, my best friend and agent, himself a three-time groom, holds the opinion that, in terms of nerves and anxiety, weddings are worse than funerals. With a funeral, what’s done is done. With a wedding, futures are at stake.
E’s theory of weddings could explain why things get hairy sometimes for the show and me. Three seasons ago in Dallas, the bride’s stepfather, an off-duty ATF agent, stood and drew his service revolver just as I reached the altar. Last season at a synagogue in Baltimore, one of the groomsmen, a former D-1 linebacker, took a running start and squared me up, yarmulke to sternum, knocking me flat and breathless. Usually, though, the spectators, ushers, bridesmaids and clergy recognize me, and relief sets in, and then euphoria. Kingsley Carter and his show New Digs for Newlyweds is in the house, and it’s all good.
Good fortune can be just as overwhelming as bad, though, and I’ve had more than a few giddy brides faint in my arms. I won’t lie: a fainting bride is a beautiful thing, as sweet and tender as the baby’s breath in her bouquet. We had a groom go down in Season Five, though, and that was a different story. No one caught him—no one, including myself, even made an attempt—but he ended up being okay. His collapse was slow and gradual, like he’d been hit with a tranquilizer dart. The ring bearer, the groom’s nephew, was the first to act. He knelt and eased his velvet pillow under his uncle’s dizzy head. Sweet kid. Cute as they come in his little bow tie, his little cummerbund, his little mop-top haircut. I’m not used to being upstaged, but I’ll admit this kid stole the scene, the whole episode. Our audience lapped him up. I’m the first to admit reality TV has its limitations, but sometimes it’s hard to beat.
After the ceremony, at the reception, the crew and I make the rounds interviewing family and friends to get a feel for the couple: what their personalities are, how they met, the highlights and lowlights of their courtship, etc. Eventually we sit down with the couple themselves, and even though most already know the score, we explain to them the nuts and bolts on camera for the benefit of any new viewers at home. The upshot: while the couple’s away on an all-expense-paid two-week honeymoon, we’re going to build them a house.
Believe it or not, some couples whine off-camera about where we’re sending them for their trip. They’re told we’re setting them up at an island resort, and they ask, “Any chance we could get a ski trip, like the one you sent Guy and Tricia on in Season One?” or they’re told they’re going on a cruise, and they come out with, “You guys ever send anyone to Disney World? ‘Cause we’d be up for that.” Get over yourselves, is what I think. Plus, we have no wiggle room. Destinations are up to our sponsors.
Of the three honeymoons he’s had in his life, Eugene maintains that his first and humblest was his favorite. He took his second and third wives to Paris and Barbados, respectively, but he and his first bride, Lynnette, just hunkered down for a week in a Seattle bed-and-breakfast, and to this day he has trouble talking about it without choking up. The two of them, E and Lynnette, have recently reconnected—after all these years, it looks like they’re considering taking another hack at making things work—and I couldn’t be happier for them. I’ve been E’s best man at his last two weddings, and both times I knew he was doomed before the ink was dry on the marriage license. Lynnette was the only keeper of the bunch. In my business, show business, you learn that sometimes the first take is the only take you need. There’s a lesson there, a lesson some of these show couples who bellyache about their honeymoon destinations might consider.
Eventually, even the most headstrong brides and grooms cooperate. New Digs for Newlyweds has never had a full-blown mutiny over a honeymoon, or anything else for that matter. Never before our most recent couple, that is. Lawrence and Donatella Jagow-Mancuso. Larry and Donna. Given my role in what went down, I have a lot riding on how things shake out. There’s the possibility of legal and PR fallout, of course, but more importantly there are questions of my future with New Digs, my future with Eugene, and, relatedly, my aspirations to be an actor, a real actor, as opposed to spending the rest of my working days as a reality show host. So I’m at a crossroads. A few of them.
After that first day of filming the wedding and reception, the crew and I typically split up for the night. They head to their hotel rooms, and I retire to my forty-five-foot Motor Coach, which is usually parked a few miles outside of town, away from the cameras. The tree huggers in our audience wouldn’t approve. The beast has a two-hundred-gallon fuel tank and gets six miles per on the highway. Hell, I don’t approve of those numbers. What I do approve of, though, is the glove leather and rosewood-finished bedroom, the granite-topped kitchenette counters, the surprisingly roomy dual bathrooms, and the two-person steam shower/sauna. And I approve of the fact that the Motor Coach’s four tires are on terra firma. I don’t do airplanes. I have aviophobia in spades. I know it’s not rational—I know the stats don’t bear it out—but the heart fears what it fears, and a couple seasons ago, Eugene talked to the network and was able to get me out of the air and into the Motor Coach. Man’s good at what he does. Despite us not lately seeing eye to eye, there’s no denying he’s a dynamo of an agent. I’ve told him as much, and I’ll tell him again when he simmers down, comes off his high horse, sees fit to listen instead of just preach. After our last phone conversation, which ended with him hanging up on me, my first instinct was to text him a reminder in the form of a question: “Who’s working for who, E?” I resisted, though, took the high road in hopes for peace, and called him back. When I got his voicemail, I said, “This too shall pass, E,” and I told the sweet sonofabitch that I love him like a brother. If there’s no Eugene Upchurch, there’s no Kingsley Carter. To not realize this I’d have to be a fool.
When the lights go on, though, when my crew and I are on-site and shooting, it’s not about agents or contracts or network executives. It’s about the talent. It’s about me making it happen. It’s about my waxy, tapered sideburns; my firm pecs in my tight, sleeveless work shirt; my hip-clinging tool belt; my steel-toed boots; my Nike hard hat; my Mr. Clean hoop earrings; my relaxed-fit button-flys; and my amber-tinted safety goggles. It’s about what Eugene has referred to in the happier past as my dual money-makers—my radiant smile and my cleft chin—and it’s about what’s smack-dab in between these winning features, what’s hovering in that liminal space that’s not quite mouth, not quite chin. It’s about my soul patch.
A gesture toward hipness? I suppose that’s part of it. Who’s not after the 18–34 demographic? Truth is, though, I had other, more substantial reasons for sprouting my patch. Beatnik jazz musicians invented the concept; the whiskers between their bottom lips and chins cushioned their faces against the mouthpieces of their horns. So it looked cool, but it also had purpose. Two sides of the same coin, and what I’m all about. My soul patch isn’t just a marketing tool. It’s meaningful in light of what I currently do, build high-quality, breathtaking homes on TV, and what I want to do in what I hope is the not too distant future, act in movies. Not just any movies, though. Not art house films that no one but the occasional college professor sees or understands, but not stupid shoot-‘em-up blockbusters or anything starring robots or set in space either. I want to be part of pictures with heart, with integrity. Pictures that depict the human soul in conflict with itself, that speak to and evoke the healing and redemptive potential of beauty and truth. And while I know integrity can’t be bought, that beauty and truth aren’t for sale, I’m looking for projects with at least some potential for box-office appeal, productions which, even in a small way, can help breathe life into our nation’s floundering economy. Form and function. Sign me up.
I love what I do on New Digs—I do—and I tell Eugene this. “Don’t get me wrong, E,” I say. We get in these back-and-forths about my career, my future. Eugene thinks New Digs is as good as it gets. He thinks we’ve reached the pinnacle. He wants the show to run forever, for my current list of sponsors— jigsaws to jeans, hammers to hair gel—to write their checks forever, for my website to keep getting hits forever. “We’ve made it. We’re there. Where we want to be,” he says. “Now it’s just about maintenance. This is the gravy. Maintenance is the gravy.” If I didn’t know better, I might suspect that he doesn’t think I have what’s required to make the transition to the silver screen. If I didn’t know better, I might think this.
Eugene has been with me from the beginning. He and Lynnette gave me my start. Fresh out of community college, armed with my associate’s degree in construction management, I was spinning my wheels doing crew work for a home-building outfit based out of Bakersfield. That summer I ended up on a job building a new house for Eugene and Lynnette, who had just tied the knot. She was sweet, funny, true: all the good things. “They say you can’t go home again, E, but maybe you can,” I said to him when, fresh off his latest divorce, he was first mulling the possibility of looking her up—this was a while back, before he and I hit this rough patch—and out of my mouth it seemed to make no sense whatsoever, but he kind of whimpered into the phone like my words had hit some soft spot in him and taken root, so mission accomplished.
The day I met Eugene and Lynnette was a scorcher. Middle of the afternoon, I’m shirtless, holding a five-gallon water bucket over my head, my finger on the spout button, alternatively drinking and dousing my face. You know: eyes closed, neck arched back, delts and traps taut from supporting the weight of the bucket. A perfect pose even though it wasn’t meant to be a pose, which, of course, is what the perfect pose is supposed to look like. I was interested only in wetting my whistle, but in Eugene’s eyes, I was selling iced tea or lemonade or sports drink. Lynnette told me later that she tingled when she saw me that afternoon, that the sight of wet and shirtless me inspired in her the desire to escort Eugene back to his Mustang convertible and make love to him right there on the shoulder of the road. Having that kind of effect on somebody by doing nothing, by just looking like yourself and being thirsty, is hard to beat— it’s a quality I try not to take for granted—and because Lynnette and E are the people who first saw this potential in me, who took the time and made the effort to nurture and cultivate it, they’ll always have me in their corner.
Anyway, no sooner do I put the water bucket down than the two of them are sidling up to me. Eugene’s slipping his business card in the hip pocket of my Carhartts, asking me have I ever done any modeling, do I have representation, do I belong to a gym, and Lynnette’s asking if I’m wearing sufficient sunscreen, how I feel about regularly scheduled haircuts, if I have any hang-ups in regard to full-body waxes. They’re both looking at me in the same way, over the tops of their sunglasses, and the two of them seem to be fighting the same grin.
Within a week I have headshots, within a month regular catalogue work. Eugene and Lynnette put me up in an apartment around the corner from their house, hire me a personal trainer, lease me a car, get me a cell phone, even set me up on a few dates, enough of them for me to realize models shouldn’t date models. I eat all my meals with them. Lynnette’s a great cook. The fact that she’s beautiful to boot makes me think now that she could’ve had her own Food Network show. Anyway, we build ourselves into a team, into—I’ll say it—a family, and one thing leads to another which leads to another which leads to New Digs for Newlyweds, and the rest is history.
One of my biggest regrets, Eugene’s, too, is that Lynnette wasn’t there to enjoy the fruits of our labor when New Digs came calling. Her and E’s marriage didn’t explode in some melodramatic way; rather, the air just gradually went out of it, like a slow-leaking tire. There were long working hours, long solo trips to visit sick parents, and long-standing fundamental philosophical disagreements about having children. When the two finally split, I worried if I’d have to pick a side or be cast as a go-between, but Lynnette drew back from me as she drew back from her marriage. Class all the way. It was a gracious, even chivalrous, gesture. Eugene got full custody of me. Now that Lynnette’s back in the picture, brightening Eugene’s future, I wonder if his perspective might change, if he might be reminded that sometimes risks pay off, that sometimes the grass is actually greener, and he might be willing to budge a bit in terms of how he envisions the rest of my career unfolding. Eugene says gravy, but I don’t want gravy. Not yet. I don’t want New Digs to be my last stop. A few film scripts have come my way, and I thought some of them looked okay, but Eugene said he hated them, so I started tinkering around with my own script idea, but he didn’t like even the idea of that. He’s used the word “foolish” on a few occasions, which was bad enough, but in one conversation he got loud, talked over me, barked the word “selfish.” I’m selfish because I want to explore my potential? Because I’m willing to take an initial pay cut and decrease my visibility in order to try my hand at art? Can sacrifices be selfish?
This was one of the questions posed by me to Donatella Jagow-Mancuso the night she came to me in my Motor Coach. Yes, the night of her and Lawrence’s wedding. Yes, she and I made use of the steam shower/sauna. You need to see past these details, though, to get to the essence of what transpired that night: two people in need who were willing to help one another, willing to lend their respective ears. Donna was concerned she might’ve just made one of the biggest mistakes of her life by marrying a make-over project instead of a man, and I was wallowing in my identity crisis, worried Eugene was right, that my acting aspirations were nothing but self-deceiving pipe dreams. Sometimes a steam shower with a stranger is what you need. The shower offers intimacy, the stranger objectivity. I know I felt better afterward. Revived and rejuvenated. By the time we changed back into our clothes, I was telling Donna that Larry deserved another chance, that she’d invested too much of herself in his betterment to give up so soon, and she was telling me that to give up a dream is akin to dying, that sacrifices can never be selfish no matter how you slice and dice them, and as we went back and forth like this, I began to feel a wave of artistic recommitment and re-inspiration. It’s a wave I’m still riding even as I face the more unpleasant repercussions of the night in question.
Larry and Donna were what’s known around the set as a gimmick couple. Two or three times a season, New Digs works one in. We built the “tall” house last season—a 7’ 1’’ groom, a 6’ 6” bride—and in Season Two, we did a handicap-accessible home for a wheelchair-bound couple. Along the way, there’s also been the full-body-tattooed newlyweds, the surfer newlyweds, the elderly newlyweds, the pregnant couple, and the milquetoast accountant-groom, bodybuilder-bride couple. That was the only instance on our show when the bride carried the groom over the threshold. Next season, sweeps week, the show’s scheduled two dudes, a mister and a mister, but this hasn’t gone public yet, and I doubt the suits will have the guts to go through with it. As for Larry and Donna, their gimmick was of the cops-and-robbers variety. Donna was an ex-vice detective, Larry an ex-con. You can’t make this stuff up.
For what it’s worth, my role on New Digs is and has always been legit. I pound the nails, saw the boards, sand, spackle and paint right along with the rest of the crew, and when a project’s done, the celebratory tears I cry along with the newlyweds when their new house is unveiled are heartfelt and genuine. I even do my own hair because I like how I do it better than how the makeup people do it. The cool way my blond highlights contrast with my brunette soul patch? Totally my concept. The makeup crew was like, “Please don’t do it,” but after I did, they were like, “Actually, not so bad. In fact, very chic,” and I was like, “In your face!” but in a positive way.
Authenticity has become an issue recently because, in addition to the problematic nature of the night Donna and I shared in the Motor Coach, there’s some trouble brewing due to some holes in Larry and Donna’s backstory, as in, they didn’t exactly tell us the truth. For instance, they told the show they met in a bowling alley, but now we’re hearing they actually met on the job. Larry was an informant on a meth-ring case that Donna worked just before she left the force. New Digs does background checks as a matter of course, but someone was obviously asleep at the switch on this one. As for me, as to the extent to which I’m to blame for this whole fiasco, as I told Eugene, I feel some culpability, but not full-fledged guilt. He called this semantic bullshit. I called it measured and nuanced. He told me measured and nuanced won’t fly with the suits. His advice is deny, deny, deny. He told me at the very least I should be prepared to give up the Motor Coach. He told me to be ready to rack up frequent-flyer miles.
Of course, the Larry and Donna episode will never air because of the lies, the misbehavior, and the blackmail stunt they’re now pulling, but, realistically, the episode probably wouldn’t have run anyway. There were problems from the get-go. Things started to get ugly at the wedding reception. Too real even for reality TV. We couldn’t do our usual sit-down with the couple because Larry was lit, and at the cake cutting, he butterflied the meaty part of his thumb like a thick-cut pork chop. He was lucky the cops were already on the scene—they’d been called when a couple of Donna’s former boyfriends traded blows in the parking lot—because they could rush him to the hospital in their patrol car. When one of the officers, a former colleague of Donna’s, asked her if she wanted to ride along, she declined. Hard to blame her. With her new husband’s thumb blood splattered over the lace bodice of her gown, she looked like she was in between takes on the set of a slasher movie. Plus she was embarrassed. Plus, well, I think she’d already decided that she and I needed to spend some quality time together. With Larry sleeping off his booze and pain back at their apartment, she had opportunity to slip away. She knew where to find me because, before the reception broke up, she’d asked, and I’d written it down for her on an hors d’oeuvres napkin. This napkin was in her hand when she knocked on my door later that evening. Word is, she’s still hanging onto this napkin, even now. She and Larry are citing it as evidence that their story’s legit, that whistle-clean, big-hearted, stand-up guy Kingsley Carter is, in actuality, a seducer and spoiler of vulnerable new brides.
Is Donna the first overnight guest I’ve entertained in the Motor Coach? She is not. Most of the time it’s a bridesmaid or a caterer or a bartender or a musician, but it’s not always women. Last season in Lexington, for instance, a bunch of groomsmen and I had a great night sipping bourbon and playing spirited hands of high-level poker. I’m an attentive host. I enjoy company. What you see on TV isn’t a put-on. I’m a people person. That being said, I swear it’s true that Donna is the first New Digs bride I’ve ever put up for the night.
In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I’d be lying if I said that never before has tension arisen between bride and groom on account of me. Of course, we try not to convey this tension on the show. It’s not that kind of show. Besides, the nature of the tension is usually harmless and temporary. Here is a bride flush with emotion; here is a huge, gorgeous house being granted to her, a space for her wifely fantasies to come true; here I am, the emblematic bestower of this new domestic dreamscape. If when she hugs me her arms linger around my broad shoulders a bit too long, if she meets and holds my jade-green eyes post-hug a bit too fervently, if her kiss of thanks is closer to my mouth than my cheek, can you blame her? Even if you’re the groom, don’t you have to cut her a little slack? If blame has to be cast, blame Darwin. Blame DNA. Blame nature. Blame nurture. A fit, handsome man is providing for her, and she’s responding instinctually. Blame her hardwired urge to nest, her biological inclination to be had and to be held. We’re not talking love here. Not the brides on the show, and not the women watching at home who sometimes sneak thoughts of me while making love to their husbands, who buy my how-to books at least in part because of the full-color, step-by-step photographs of me showing them how-to. There are a lot of good-looking men in the world. A lot of beefcake. But how many come with the complimentary fantasy of a state-of-the-art backyard patio? A finished basement? Updated light fixtures? Installation of an Empire Tahoe Luxury 36” Heat Circulating Direct Vent Fireplace?
Of course it’s crossed my mind that Donna and Larry could’ve been playing me from the beginning. That she was with me in the sauna with his blessing, even under his instruction. That they teamed up to orchestrate the whole shebang. While I acknowledge this is possible and might even prefer to believe this version of events—I’ve never felt good about carrying on with married women; call me soft, but the cuckolded dolt, whether he in some way deserves it or not, is hard for me to put out of my mind—I doubt it’s true.
At one point in the night, I teased her about how her soft, feminine voice didn’t exactly scream cop. When I told her I couldn’t imagine her arresting someone, she buried her head in her pillow for a few seconds and then jumped out of bed, pointed an invisible gun at my head, and shrieked at me to stay down, to keep my hands where she could see them. Her face was rage-filled, her eyes wide and darting. When I started to talk, to tell her I stood corrected, she screamed at me to shut my yap, jumped back onto the bed, dug her knee into my ribs, and begged me to give her a reason to put one in my brainpan. When I yelped—the pain was authentic—she dismounted, dropped her gun, and laid her head back on her pillow. Her eyes and mouth softened, and she smiled sentimentally, as if she were remembering the good old days. When I told her she should be an actor, she re-buried her face in her pillow, and her sides gently shook a few times. I couldn’t tell if she was stifling giggles or tears.
For what it’s worth, Donna impressed me that night with her enthusiasm and, at moments, athleticism, but every moment we shared, even the most ecstatic ones, were tinged with some level of regret. When it came time for her to leave, she didn’t radiate satisfaction or relief. It wasn’t mission accomplished. Rather, in her soulful goodbye kiss, I could taste shame and remorse. She would’ve taken the whole night back if she could’ve. She hadn’t been there to do a job.
What I imagine occurred is that Donna spilled her guts to Larry when she got home. I imagine she fessed up and apologized as soon as she walked in the door—I doubt she even tried to think of a good lie to explain her night-long absence—and I imagine that Larry ranted and raved, that they cried together, and that, eventually, out of this shared pain sprang the idea to target me. They needed a villain to rally around, someone to punish instead of each other. We sent them to Costa Rica for their honeymoon. I imagine them sketching out the big picture of the blackmail plan on the airplane at forty thousand feet—my stomach tightens just thinking about all that empty air below them—and then I can picture them hashing out the details while sipping umbrella drinks at the resort’s poolside bar.
There’s one more reason I don’t believe Donna was scamming me that night in the Motor Coach. In the morning, before she left, I asked her if she might agree to read my screenplay. I thought she’d be a perfect reader. As a cop, I imagined she knew the world, the real world, in truer and deeper ways than most people, and beyond that, I’d detected over the course of the night her distaste for affectation, fluff and theatrics. She struck me as a straight-shooter, someone who seemed to know quickly and decisively what she liked and didn’t like, what was working and what wasn’t. I told her all of this and said that if someone like her was interested in what I’d written so far—Act One, thirty pages—I’d feel encouraged and empowered to keep going. No pressure, though, I assured her. Whether or not she felt like reading, I promised there’d be a top-notch Denver omelet and cup of coffee in her future. She passed on the food but agreed to read the script. And not only did she read it—with a fierce attentiveness, I might add, breaking only once or twice to look at the ceiling pensively, to tuck astray strand of hair behind her ear—but when finished, she offered me spot-on, rigorous, keen-eyed, affirming yet take-no-prisoners feed- back. To my mind, you don’t make this kind of selfless, honest effort to benefit someone you’re swindling. Maybe you read the script, move your eyes over the words, nod and say you like it, but you don’t take the time and expend the energy to get into a bona fide back-and-forth script development session. You don’t do what Donna did.
Anyway, what matters is that, no matter what, I’m coming out of this thing a winner, at least in terms of my art. Donna’s critique has served as the key to my unlocking the script’s potential. Turns out the key was the female character hanging around the fringes of my plot. The protagonist’s love interest. Donna wanted more of her. She said, “Okay, I know right now the film’s not about the girl. Not just about the girl. And I don’t want it to be just about the girl. Can it be a little about the girl, though? A girl like this, it’s got to be about her on some level, right? Maybe some pretty major level?” And that’s what I needed to hear. Now it’s mostly about the girl, and it’s good. I might have written myself out of a starring role in the film with the revision I’ve done—the part I was envisioning for myself has gone from major to minor—but this could be a blessing in disguise. First I’ll walk, then I’ll run. I’ll cut my teeth on a solid supporting role or two before looking to take on the leading-man stuff.
As soon as Donna left the Motor Coach, I called Eugene. It was early—between six and six-thirty—but over the course of our years together, until just recently, of course, it’s been our habit to touch base every morning. When Lynnette answered his phone on the first ring, I recognized her voice immediately even though it had been more than ten years. I was surprised and, of course, thrilled. Still am. Eugene was in the shower, so she and I chatted a while. At first she seemed a little shy, a little reserved. I think I woke her up—there were some awkward silences on her end—so I forged ahead and mentioned that I was calling to talk to E about my screenplay, that I’d been having trouble selling him on the move I wanted to make into film. In response she spoke slowly, seemed to choose her words carefully. She said that sometimes people have to agree to disagree, that whether or not I ended up getting E’s blessing, I’d still have to do what I had to do. And then Lynnette interrupted herself and out of the blue asked me if I thought she was being stupid for giving things with E another chance after all these years. She asked me if I thought she was a slow learner.
Her question, how her voice broke when she asked it, made my heart drop, and I realized that both of us were doing something we shouldn’t be doing, putting each other on the spot. We both had things we needed to work out with E, and I didn’t want to get to the point where Lynnette and I felt like our respective interests were in competition with each other. Our first conversation in a decade, we shouldn’t be making each other feel like monkeys in the middle. With this in mind, I redirected our chat, aimed our words away from the present and future and toward the past, where there was less at stake. I had in mind E’s notion about the difference between weddings and funerals, and it seemed to work.
The mood lightened as we reminisced about when the three of us were young, when everything was new and just beginning. Both of us did the obligatory “If I’d have known then what I know now” thing, but we also reaffirmed for each other how happy those days were. I mentioned to Lynnette the time she and E took me horseback riding at her parents’ ranch outside Tempe, and I reminded her how she’d told me that no man, John Wayne, Michael Landon and Robert Redford included, ever looked better in a saddle, in a cowboy hat, and as I was remembering this, I couldn’t help but wonder if trail riding was a tourist option in Costa Rica. Maybe a place where Donna and Larry could ride on the beach, side-by-side through the surf, until they came upon a romantic seaside bistro where they could tether their horses in the shade and unwind with some wine and arroz con pollo. Thereare worse ways to re-begin a marriage.
Lynnette responded by reminding me—she thought she was reminding me—of how she and E used to tease me about how lucky I was to be good-looking because of how shitty the house was that my crew and I had built for them. She called it a money pit and cited the leaky basement, the nightmare plumbing, the shoddy electrical, the cob-job roof. She laughed as she talked, and I did too despite the fact I didn’t remember either of them ever mentioning any of this to me, kidding or not. Truth is, to my mind, that house had always been perfect.
Tom Noyes’ novel, The Substance of Thing Hoped For, will appear with Slant Books in 2021. His most recent collection of stories, Come by Here: A Novella and Stories, won the Autumn House Press Fiction Prize and the Independent Press Awards’ Gold Medal in Short Fiction. He serves as chair of the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and as Consulting Editor for the literary journal Lake Effect.
Originally published in NOR 9 Spring 2011