“A Death in the House,” Clifford D. Simak, 1959

“A Death in the House,” Clifford D. Simak, 1959 – Old Mose Abrams–a stubborn widower, bad neighbor, and bad housekeeper–finds an alien and its “birdcage” ship in the woods.  The alien is repulsive-looking, smelly, but Abrams can’t leave a thing in pain to die in the woods.  He takes it back to his farm.  He calls the doctor but the doctor says the plant-like alien is outside human knowledge; he takes his fee and leaves it to its fate.  Before leaving, he tells Abrams to try the university in Madison.

In the meantime, the alien dies.  Abrams tries to get a coroner to certify the death, as well as purchase a burial plot, but is thwarted by the doctor, who says that the alien isn’t human.  Abrams appeals to the local preacher, but the preacher won’t intervene, as the church wouldn’t approve.  Finally, he buries the alien in an unmarked grave in his field, which he plows to protect the grave from snoopers.  The sheriff arrives and questions him about this suspicious activity, but he reminds the sheriff that whatever “it” was he buried, it wasn’t human and it wasn’t property, so there can’t be a crime.  Suddenly, a reporter shows up.  Despite Abrams’s loneliness, he dislikes the flippant reporter and decides to rebuff him.  Eventually, a researcher from the university arrives; he insists on seeing the body, but Abrams insists that it’s at peace and should remain undisturbed.  More curious people show up and Abrams gives them short shrift.

Abrams grows lonelier and thinks of getting a dog, but a new dog would remind him of his dead dog, and perhaps also Molly, his late wife.  As if in answer, a plant begins to grow from the alien’s grave, a plant that looks a bit like a skunk cabbage.  Another visitor arrives, “a dark and intense man” who claims to be president of a flying saucer club.  Abrams chases the wild man off with a shotgun.  The alien plant develops into a being, similar to the one that died.  He  gives the alien his life savings (all silver coins) to repair its ship and it leaves.  Abrams will be as lonely as ever, now without friends, family, and savings.  Before leaving, the alien gives him his “Companion,” an orb that brings of feeling of community and happiness, even though the alien will find traveling in space very lonely without it.  The alien does this despite the fact that he found the old man to be pathetic and bumbling; however, it saw a need to honor the old man’s desire to be kind.

Comments: Read in Best of the Best.  Themes of empathy, loneliness, religion, the elderly, life, mourning, death, the Other.  Has the feel of a parable or fairy tale, with the repeated entreaties to all those expected to provide help and the symbolic gift of silver coins, his entire material wealth. 

Excerpt: “’I tell you, Sheriff,’ said Mose.  ‘This thing came here from somewhere and it died.  I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know what it was and I don’t hanker none to know.  To me it was just a living thing that needed help real bad.  It was alive and it had its dignity and in death it commanded some respect.  When the rest of you refused it decent burial, I did the best I could.  And that is all there is to it.’”

Author: Wikipedia: “Clifford Donald Simak (August 3, 1904 – April 25, 1988) was an American science fiction writer. He was honored by fans with three Hugo awards and by colleagues with one Nebula award and was named the third Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in 1977.”

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About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1946-1959, death/immortality, difference/tolerance, emotions/intimacy/empathy, fantasy/fable/fairy tale, love/family/children, mourning/grief, religion/soul/spirituality, the Other, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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