René Vne, being neither here nor there in terms of a job, dreamed of becoming a real estate agent, once. In her quest for the perfect house, she encountered many a hidey-hole. 

“The story I’ll tell,” she said, as she peered into her screen from a location unknown, “is of the house that changed me, made me decide to give it all up, and hightail it out of town, giving it all up for a life of digging potatoes on a countryside farm.” 

“I couldn’t have done it without the divorce,” he said, hand to throat, checking to make sure his collar button is closed. “At least I knew how to dig.” His fingers were calloused and his hair was cut short, carefully away from the collar, neck scrubbed raw like he was back in his mother’s grasp although, of course, Vietnam.  He’d never be clean again, not under his nails or behind his ears. Maybe that’s why he dug this house underground.

Days he worked in an office, not an accountant, but white collar at least, answering phones. “I’m quiet,” he said. “I pack my own lunch, and never invite a co-worker home.” His kids knew where he is living. They understood how crazed he felt when his wife went off to explore past lives with another man. He didn’t shake her or even come near because he knew his hands were skilled enough to stiffen against the larynx to stop a person’s wind. Instead, when the blood rushed to his fingers, he ran outside and started digging.

At first, it was just a way to calm down, but the callouses built up in his joints and at the edge of his palm. To his wife the hole he dug looked like a grave. How could she understand? She sat a bit, calling up whomever it was, then scampered away to her mother, and refused to return with the kids or the dog.

Al remained, waiting for the situation to change, and day by day, the hole grow exponentially, becoming at least as big as the garage, which is where he laid out a tent so he could watch for her car. Pretty soon it got colder. The empty house began to give him the spooks. When his wife finally did come back to check up on things, she took one look at the yard and agreed to sell the house and the land. They would scatter their things and buy separate places, his being a grassy plot of land on the side of a hill.

“At first I just  camped out,” he said when Vne came by for the tour, “but once I started digging I couldn’t stop.”

The kids eventually went off to college.

Having lived for years with their mother’s woo-woo, they didn’t understand why their dad had become obsessed with the ground, but they shrugged and helped him dig out the space for the windows, then came again to help him fit in a round hobbit door.

“Real cool, dad,” they said when he figured out the plumbing. It wasn’t as if he had to eat out of garbage cans. Actually, life was better. Some artsy friends wanted to form a band, and the walls were sound proof.  Girls at that point began to hang out. He had pot and drugs, plus the thrill of doing it in a cave. How to sum up the experience?

“At some point I decided to paint the visions I saw in the dark,” he said, showing me a hall in the back. “See here, this one I did on black velvet? It’s for a buddy from ’Nam, with the gates of heaven floating among purple-orange clouds. Later I added a parakeet.  See how it’s bigger than anything? That’s how strange my life has been.”

Vne was so moved that she begged to live with him in the house. Upon being refused, she returned to her job, only to discover her zest for sales had flagged. Disgusted by buyers salivating over cute little boxes, she gave up her life of greed, and decided to create a home of her own. The directions to reach the place were precise, although GPS coordinates took the place of street numbers and names. Vne included details about rocks and bushes to miss.