Front-page newspaper item: "Hospital purchases derelict property from local citizen. New parking garage planned."

Back page newspaper item: "Homeless man found dead in Wal-Mart parking lot"

Fifteen, twenty, fifty years before, the intricate little Victorian cottage cradled among rose arbors and gazing balls would have been called "quaint", "picturesque", even "an asset to the community."

Not any more, not since Miss Nancy, the last of an old family of means, kept company by her cat, a bowl of goldfish, and an elderly parrot, had been taken out of her gingerbread castle by the City Coroner on a gurney in a body bag one raw spring day.

There had been survivors, cousins, who saw the cottage, its near-pristine antiques (Miss Nancy had dusted them herself every day after the last of her housekeepers had retired to Florida in 1963), Tiffany glass windows, and prime location, as a prize worth struggling for - to the death, if necessary.

So, the fairy castle which had sheltered Miss Nancy since her birth in 1898 languished as an unwanted but greedily contested jewel box in probate long after the earth settled and the grass began to grow on her grave with its small, pink granite headstone and its seasonal decoration of plastic flowers even as the living ones she'd tended so lovingly, broke through their little wooden fences, wickets, and trellises to run rampant around and even over, the intricate details of her now contested gingerbread house.

Miss Nancy's gazing balls disappeared, or were smashed, the birdbaths tipped over, and the cat, which had been tossed outdoors by one of her nephews, eventually took up residence with a young couple two blocks over after desperately crying at many an unresponsive back door.

Windows were broken.

Complaints were made: Miss Nancy's gem was now a filthy eyesore, a safety hazard.

The cousins sent workmen who placed raw sheets of plywood over the Tiffany windows and nailed the intricately carved doors shut even as rose trellises collapsed outside and dust piled high inside - still, probate dragged on and on and on as such things often do.

The nearby hospital, which Miss Nancy's father had helped found, attempted to purchase the property. They needed more parking spaces.

Legal technicalities, which were killing Miss Nancy's home, saved its life even as it smothered beneath a layer of ever-thickening Boston ivy: there was no clear title; unless eminent domain was called upon, there would be no sale until ownership was settled.

The local historical society attempted to purchase Miss Nancy's former pearl- until fire caused the kitchen roof to cave in. After this, the more valuable antiques were retrieved by the cousins and placed in storage until a final settlement could be reached even as all the remaining houses in the neighborhood behind the hospital had been purchased and razed to the ground, leaving Miss Nancy's former pride and joy standing in the middle of the barren wasteland, a derelict island of green jungle in the summer and come November, a tangle of bare branches with intricately bricked and crumbling chimneys poking out of it.

Squatters were evicted several times and the still beautiful but unpainted doors nailed firmly shut over and over again as the cousins continued wrangling in court - the value of the place was now triple, thanks to the hospital's parking garage; never mind anything already spent on lawyers.

Miss Nancy's intricately carved front door was found swinging open - a workman nailed it shut.

A homeless man, an unmedicated schizophrenic who'd signed himself out of the ward he'd been placed in by his family, was found dead and bloodless in a nearby soccer field. This was nothing new in the every day world- such minor tragedies occurred every day and barely warranted notice in more than the police blotter column in the local newspapers of any town above 20,000.

Miss Nancy's intricately carved front door was found swinging open - a workman nailed it shut.

A homeless man, a crackhead who dealt on the side whenever he could manage to stay out of his own inventory was found dead and bloodless in the city park down the street

Miss Nancy's intricately carved front door was found swinging open - a workman nailed it shut.

A bag lady and her six bags of string was found dead and bloodless beneath the 19th Street viaduct by a County jail road crew picking up trash along the highway

Miss Nancy's intricately carved front door was found swinging open - a workman nailed it this was eating into the final take of whoever the probate court awarded Miss Nancy's expensive eyesore. The cousins met; in between hostilities they decided on which one of them would deal with the disobedient door, any or all costs to be taken from the estate once awarded.

Once again, Miss Nancy's intricately carved front door was nailed shut - over, and over, and over as the homeless, and a few underage runaways quietly piled up in a bloodless heap of human rubbish at the back of the city's newspapers until an advocate tried to stir up support, "Someone is preying upon our most vulnerable citizens - we must do something!"

Rallies were held, statements were made even as once a week or so, one of the cousins pushed their way up what had once been Miss Nancy's neat brick front sidewalk, stepped carefully over the toppling front steps, and nailed her sagging front door with its carved roses and ivy vines shut, muttering something about matches and how matches solved a lot of problems.

A month after the bodies of the unwanted started making bloodless appearances where they were least wanted, probate finally came to a settlement decades after Miss Nancy's death.

The winner walked away with the ownership unchallenged and the eternal hatred of his remaining surviving cousins.

The hospital was contacted.

Papers were signed.

Hands were shaken.

And the cousin walked away with barely a thousand dollars more than what he'd originally paid his lawyers for the property which was now his no, the hospital's - some fights you stay with for the sheer hell of the look on the faces of the losers - so what if you might have to declare bankruptcy to do it?

Another homeless man showed up dead and exsanguinated on the City courthouse lawn - atop the WWII tank with the bronze plaque on its quietly rusting flank, dedicating it to the lives of the men and women who'd lost their lives in service of their country, 1941-1945.

Miss Nancy's once beautiful front door stood open for a week before Bubba James showed up Sunday afternoon with his bulldozer - swinging to and fro in the wind, leaves from overhanging trees scurrying in to pile up at the base of the once-fine black walnut staircase in the front hall where small footprints went to and fro unnoticed in the thick dust.

Bubba Schurman, whose ass hung over all sides of the battered seat of his bread and butter just as his belly hung over his belt, backed the machine off of the flatbed trailer, lumbered over the remains of the limestone curb after flattening the rusting cast-iron fence before clattering up the brush covered brick sidewalk, kicking up rabbits and songbirds while crushing the remains of Miss Nancy's birdbaths and trellises beneath its treads.

Snorting diesel fumes, Bubba's dozer crashed over the front steps and slammed into the front of the house, which merely shuddered, shedding a few remaining pieces of millwork long bare of bright paint.

Bubba paused, lit up another Camel from the stub of the one in his mouth, backed up his machine all the way to the street and took another run at it after flicking the previous Camel into a tangle of roses and honeysuckle.

The house shook again, the sound of dusty bookshelves toppling over and dishes breaking the only response.

Bubba backed up, the engine of his dozer idling loudly, old houses were like this - they weren't like modern houses, all plaster board and sawdust. Few more like this and he'd be able to go back to his easy chair, beer, and football, with a weekend's overtime in his back pocket for this job.



Crash - it took three more backups beneath the bleak November sun before Miss Nancy's cottage finally collapsed, windows bursting through their plywood shrouds in a rainbow shower of Tiffany glass and toppling chimneys. Bats and soot flew out of their collapsing havens, a smelly black cloud in broad daylight, another backup, another run, and the front parlor went down, an empty goldfish bowl splintering beneath the iron and rubber treads, followed by the remains of china figurines, a brass and mahogany parrot's perch, and rotting antimacassars.

His job now easier, Bubba backed the dozer up all the way to the opposing curb and floored it: rotting lace curtains, dust, old books, and yellowed wallpaper whirling up around him like dirty snow as the outline of a burning woman in a white gown with long dark hair and clutching a large doll rose up before him, mouth open wide in a silent shriek even as she turned to ash and blew away in the early November wind.

Motor idling, Bubba paused in the midst of the rubbish, lit up another Camel, slammed the dozer into reverse, angling it this time it so that he'd be able to take out the remains of the kitchen, and floored it another five times.

Bubba wasn't being paid overtime to see weird shit.

Overtime was what Bubba was getting to take down some crazy ol' rich bitch's shack - overtime, which bought a giant flatscreen television and a case of Bud at Wal-Mart- both of which he enjoyed that night after three cans of Hormel extra-hot chili and a box of Saltines, a six-pack of Bud and a Camel with a box of Ho-Ho's on the side for dessert while watching football on his new flatscreen T.V.

Monday morning, the rest of Miss Nancy's gingerbread cottage was scraped up and taken to the landfill without further incident, leaving behind a few handfuls of broken Tiffany glass, which glittered like jewels in the early morning November sun.

Front page newspaper item: "Hospital holds pre-Christmas groundbreaking ceremony for new parking garage."

Back page newspaper item: "No homeless remains found in last two weeks."