Anton Toller, The Man with an Upside-Down House

J-P Humann

Translated from the German by the Author

Anton Toller’s early springtime stroll proved to be unsatisfactory. He had intended to observe the beginnings of the new season: the buds on the trees; the green arms reaching out of the brown dirt; the warm, blue sky. However, none of these things were present. The trees remained barren; the ground not yet thawed; the air, cold. The sky was blue when he set out for the walk, but had since become infiltrated by clouds that resembled his former girlfriends. At this last insult, Toller turned around and set forth for home. It is true that he was still walking, but it was no longer a walk of leisure.

Home was not the pleasing refuge that he envisioned. When he turned the corner to his street, he noticed that his house was upside-down. It was not that way when he left it twenty minutes earlier. He took solace that his house had a flat roof and not a peaked one; if it was peaked, it surely would have toppled over in this situation. Even given that luck, Toller was displeased. This was not what he wanted. To begin with, how would he enter? Yes, ceilings would make a fine substitute for floors: they were essentially the same, aside from minor details. But what of his furniture? Smashed upon impact? That would be intolerable. Toller had recently splurged on a piece of art, and grew concerned regarding its status. If it fell off of the wall due to the flip, it may be damaged; if it remained on the wall, it would be upside-down and likely to have lost its visual appeal.

Toller noticed his neighbour, the friendly elderly gentleman Mr. LeBlanc, stood with his jaw agape, staring at the upside-down house. Toller reasoned this was an opportunity for answers.

“What has happened here?” Toller asked the old man.

“Pardon me,” the old man replied, “I should not be gawking. Your house has become upside-down.”

“Yes, I see, but do you know how?”

“No, I just came out to tend my garden. That’s when I discovered it like this. Perhaps another neighbour saw the flip in progress.”

“Yes, you may be right.”

Toller went to the other houses that had a view of his own. He knocked on the doors and inquired to his neighbours about the recent event. None of them had any information to provide, but they did express marvel at the situation. Toller went back to his house. He tried to enter his home through an upside-down window, but with no success. At this point, he noticed a crowd had gathered on his lawn to see the house for themselves.

“This is not a spectacle!” Toller yelled.

The gathering was embarrassed. Toller was known as a polite man, and so to have angered him they recognized that they must have been acting foolish.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Toller,” said a woman from the crowd, “but this is simply remarkable. How did this happen?”

“I’d like to know that too,” Toller replied. He scanned the people surrounding him: neighbours, friends, passers-by . . . and criminals? “Are any of you responsible for this? Come clean now, and I will assure your punishment from the authorities will be less severe.”

“Responsible?” replied a man, apoplectic. “How could any of us possibly accomplish this?”

“I do not know,” Toller conceded. “This is beyond explanation, so I must consider all contingencies. If you say none of you are responsible, can anyone offer a superior explanation?”

“A gust of wind?” offered a man.

A gust of wind?” Toller repeated, in a manner that implied the suggestion was welcome for derision. “You think a gust of wind flipped my house and then placed it back onto the same footprint?”

“It could have been a localized gust.”

Toller removed his glasses and ran his hand over his face. He had only just noticed that he had a pounding headache. LeBlanc saw this, and strode over to his neighbour. LeBlanc grabbed Toller’s arm in a friendly way.

“Please, Mr. Toller, you’re welcome into my home for now. Rest for as long as you like, and make the necessary phone calls,” LeBlanc said.

“Thank you,” Toller replied. The two men walked into LeBlanc’s home. Toller took a seat in a comfortable chair near a telephone, and LeBlanc brought him coffee.

Toller’s first call was to the police department. He felt silly for making the call, but also recognized that it would be prudent to report the incident in the event that it was a serial case. The police did not laugh in his face as Toller feared, but they did advise him that they were unlikely to be of any help. They wrote down a description for their records, and placed it in the filing cabinet under “U” for “Upside-down house.”

Next, Toller contacted a representative for the city. They informed him that, while they were sympathetic, they could not aid him in any manner due to the house being private property. They instructed him to discuss the matter with a contractor.

The contractor also proved unhelpful. The estimate he gave Toller to right the house was exorbitant.

“What do you suppose I do then?” Toller asked the contractor. “I don’t have that money, and now people are crowding along the street just to stare at my home!”

“Charge them,” said the contractor.

Toller hung up the phone in frustration.

“This is a mess!” Toller said to LeBlanc.

The old man sat down next to Toller in order to provide an ear of understanding.

“If only my house was back to normal!” Toller continued. “If only it was never like this at all! I would have come home from my walk, taken a warm bath, and felt at peace!”

“That is not how it is.”

“I know that.”

“No, you don’t. Listen to me: that is not how it is. You may have this world in your head of the world as you want it, but that does not make it so. Your house is upside-down, not right-side up. I am an old man, and I have heard much advice in my lifetime. I will now give you the best I have ever heard: take things as they are and act appropriately.”

Toller smiled. He felt the peace in LeBlanc’s chair that he had wished to have in his own bath.

“Thank you,” Toller said.

His next call was to a realtor. Toller put the house up for sale immediately. It took only three days for the house to be purchased by an upside-down man. The transaction made both the upside-down man and Toller quite happy.

Sometimes things work out for the best.

J-P HUMANN is from Alsace.

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