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The house didn’t awaken until 20 years after it was built. It was a two-bedroom, one-bath, one-story house on a third of an acre of land on the western side of Olympia, Washington. The house was constructed of old growth pine and doug fir that was felled in Northern California and trucked in on I-5, the wood seasoned by cool mountain air and the salt of distant sea spray of the west coast Pacific Ocean. It was these qualities, the slow march of time witnessed by forest, ocean and mountain, that ultimately contributed to the thoughtful observations of this particular house, but the house would realize that later.

Houses, of course, aren’t alive, though they are built from wood and stone by human beings, lived in and reflecting the lives of those therein.

Yet it could be said that some houses have more of a presence than others, possessing a particular character. Within that character, or atmosphere, is where a house awakens, not from a sleep but to a kind of passive awareness, created by the impression of its residents.

When the house awakened, it wasn’t thinking of such things, or much of anything. The house drifted on the lives of the people who had bought it and commissioned its construction, beginning in 1979 with Ed Dalton and his wife, Pam. Ed and Pam were a hands-on couple, preferring to do their own repairs on the home, which the house appreciated in its own way, as after such repairs were completed they rarely needed to make another.

For a hobby, Pam enthusiastically gardened, with pots of petunias and morning glory flowers in the front of the house, and a small vegetable garden of tomatoes, carrots and fresh herbs in the backyard. Ed worked for the state courthouse in downtown Olympia as a law clerk, and at home he and Pam would cook together before watching television or reading. They had one son, Rich, whose childhood and adolescence was happy enough, but even the house could tell such a relaxed atmosphere couldn’t compete with the restless dreams of youth. Soon enough Rich had moved to Seattle, where he eventually made his fortune right before the dot-com bust in 2000.

Ultimately, Ed and Pam grew old and retired, selling the house to a young Gen-X couple.

Melissa and Dan Renton were both artists, both working corporate jobs during the day and dedicating themselves to creating more art at night. The house enjoyed the presence of acrylic paints and paintbrushes in the second bedroom, the thoughts of creativity that floated through the air and sank into the wood and stone of its walls. In response, the house reflected the ideas back to its residents, allowing them both to grow in their artistic pursuits.

It was Melissa’s idea to paint the exterior of the house purple on a whim, and Dan agreed, being a fellow painter. The house watched as they picked out the exact shade of purple in the living room, choosing a mix of eggplant and violet. It was a purple that was more eccentric than royal, gentle enough to not be an eyesore to passers-by or neighbors, but daring and adventurous.

The house accepted their choice as a matter of course, for the house had been built on wood that had grown for a thousand years, trees grown on mountains that had witnessed eons of history, and thus, the house understood humanity’s need for adventure. Humans lived such short lives, people that felt like they would live forever, whose existence was gone in an instant compared to the forces of nature that surrounded them.

Creating and doing daring things was their way of imitating immortality, and the house didn’t begrudge them that, wouldn’t have resented their need for it even if it had been able to. Dan and Melissa were done painting the house in only a few days, and despite the Pacific Northwest’s propensity for rain, it didn’t rain once during that week. Even the house didn’t understand that one, but it was grateful nonetheless.

“It’s the purple house, now,” said Dan, smiling when they were done.

Melissa nodded.

“You’re purple, now,” said Melissa, patting the front exterior wall of the house. “The only purple house in this whole area, maybe in the whole city!”

The house preened under her praise, even after the couple went inside to clean up.

The only purple house, for miles! What a wonder.

I am Purple, said the house to itself, taking on the label as its name.

As soon as it did so, the latent awareness of the house increased, so as to almost be tangible. The house was still not alive, of course, not in a way that was detectable by any scientific or rational means, but there was still a kind of awareness that arose as soon as the house claimed its name. For the dream of a home, which means so much to so many, is among the most potent dreams of all, and even inanimate objects could be affected by the sheer weight of such an immensely important human dream.

Somehow, despite its sleepy residence on a quiet side street in the city, the house’s legend grew merely by its own existence, and soon it was known to the local community as “the Purple House.” Dan and Melissa’s combined presence in their local art community grew, holding modestly lavish parties at the house which attracted fellow artists and curious wealthy benefactors. The dreams powering the now-awakened house affected all who entered, inspiring and invigorating the visitors. Their paintings were sold in galleries nationwide, buoyed by the adventurous spirit of the awakened house in which they lived.

The Purple House, as it was colloquially known, continued to have an impact over the years, with even bikers and drivers on its side street becoming rapidly inspired to change their entire lives after merely being in its vicinity. The Rentons would have continued apace, had it not been for the Great Recession and the years that followed. Out of necessity, they realized they had to sell their beloved house after several gallery sales fell through, putting them at risk of foreclosure.

Melissa and Dan cried after setting up the house for sale, and the house wept with them, in its way.

For several days after, the groups of prospective home buyers noticed the lighting in the house was slightly dimmer than expected for the brand new bulbs the Rentons had installed before viewing.

Melissa and Dan finally got an offer from a younger couple, the Delaneys, who were not at all the creative types. On the day Melissa and Dan moved out, seeking greener pastures up north in Port Townsend, Melissa turned in the doorway and placed her hand gently on the front door of the house for the last time.

“No matter what happens,” she whispered to the house, “you’re always going to be the Purple House. That’s your name, and that’s what you are, if you want to be. Do you hear me?”

Yes, said the house, and somehow Melissa understood.

She nodded, turning away with difficulty, fighting back tears, and walked to the car where Dan was waiting for her. As they drove away, the empty house creaked aloud in grief.

The new owners soon moved in, and decided the purple paint was too distracting and garish for their tastes.

They hired a painting crew in due time, and the purple paint was covered over. Soon the house was no longer purple, but a beige-ish green, its slats and siding muted to better suit the quiet temperament of its new owners. Having lost its namesake, the house’s awareness was lost likewise, and the structure itself became what it always was: an inanimate object.

However, a name is greater than an object, and can contain all the power of both a will and a dream. As soon as the house was painted over, its awareness took flight into the sky, drifting above forests and mountains, leaving the confines of its previous shell which no longer could contain it.

The dream of the purple house lived on, inspiring those who were receptive to its awareness. To many, their flashes of insight were seemingly random, but appreciated all the same. High above the waters of Puget Sound, the name of the house drifted freely, having finally become a dream.

I am still Purple, said the dream of the house. I am free, and if you wish, you can be as well.

Jenny Zaret

Jenny Zaret is a writer and instructional designer living in Maryland. She watches more than the recommended daily allowance of anime.

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