Donna Reed, being spooky.
Tom Disch’s poem “Donna Reed in the Old Scary House” appeared in our Fall 1995 issue. A prolific poet, novelist, science-fiction writer, and author of children’s books—including The Brave Little Toaster: A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances—Disch frequently published his work in the Review. He died in 2008. —D.P.
At first she is only mildly annoyed: the carwon’t start, it’s happened before. She’ll phoneher husband—what is his name?—at his office,and he’ll come pick her up. Another cup of coffee,meanwhile, in that funeral parlor of a living roomwith old Mrs. Marbleheart, who haunts this old house.
Through the fence’s iron trellises, the houseseems strangely familiar. It is her own, and the caris parked in her own driveway. In the living roompicture window a candle gutters, and a phonerings, alarm-clock-like, within. What a case of coffeenerves she’s got. It must be Alex, calling from the office.
Only that and nothing more; Alex is at his office,she’s in her spotless kitchen, the housewas built yesterday, on the stovetop the glass coffeepot burbles its ads, and a mechanic can fix the car.His name is Alex, and it must be him on the phone.Goodness—imagine falling asleep in the living room
sofa in mid-afternoon. But this isn’t her living room,after all. Alex died years ago, and where his officestood there’s now a mall. Her rotary phoneis landfill, and as for the house … The houseis the source of this nightmare, with its tireless carentombed in the old garage. And worse, this coffee
stain on the bodice of her bridal gown, the coffeegrounds ground into the wall-to-wall living roomcarpet, the mice squealing in the walls, and a car-ving knife with a bone-white handle from the Officeof Lost Wives—who could live in such a house?It dawns on her she’s dead. She lifts the phone
from its cradle, and the silence of the telephoneconfirms her fear. Ten thousand cups of coffeeago she was Donna Stone, a fictional house-wife and mother of two, alive in a living room,full of wise saws and instances, one of life’s best officemanagers, licensed to marry and drive a car.
Now she has nowhere to drive any car, no one to phonebut the office of “Please wait.” The old brands of coffeeappear on TV, but in another living room, in someone else’s house.
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