By Susan Pope

November 18, 2019


It was just a gray concrete shell, wrapped with chain link fence. A dream home, unfinished, left to sun, dust, and rain. Around it, pastel mansions with swimming pools, iron gates, and razor wire. In the valley below, tents, tarps, and shacks with goats and chickens.

Each day, we passed the sad skeleton on our way to the beach or village. Through the arched glassless windows, we glimpsed the blue green waters of La Bahia de Santiago with its boats, barges, and strip of hotels along the playa. What tragic story of death, divorce or drug gangs could this lonely husk of a house tell?

At first, we barely noticed the changes. A slit in the fence. Scraps of wood against the wall. Then, sheets of metal and bits of plastic. More boldly, gauzy curtains across a door. Slats from window blinds woven into the fence. Each morning, something new. Each evening, beams of light, whiffs of smoke, and voices speaking softly.

One afternoon a man labors up the hill bearing jugs of water. He squeezes through the gate and drops his burden on the concrete floor. He wipes his brow and nods.

When our holiday ends—as they must—we pass the house one last time. Inside the fence a small dog yips a warning while a woman stirs an iron pot atop an open fire. A teenage boy hoists a backpack, pushes through the gate and heads down the hill.

From behind a curtain, someone sings.


Susan Pope writes nonfiction from her home in Anchorage, Alaska. Her writing reflects intimate connections to home and family as well as a restless pursuit of faraway places. Her work has appeared in Pilgrimage, The Southeast Review Online, Hippocampus, Under the Gum Tree, Burrow Press Review, and BioStories, among others.

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