Friday, February 22, 2008

Henry Kuttner's "Housing Problem" (short story, fantasy): What if your tenants paid rent in "luck" rather than cash?

Quote from short story titled Housing Problem by Henry KuttnerThis generally readable story is a variation on the theme where an advanced contraption is discovered by mere humans, their bafflement, etc.

Story summary.

Mr Henchard is a rather self-sufficient old man, & a tenant of Jacqueline & Eddie in some small town in US. Eddie is the narrator. There is a reference to "coast dimout every night" & "war jobs paid a lot better" - so I assume it's set sometime during World War II.

Among his other possessions is a curious cage that he always keeps covered with cloth ("cretonne"), & won't let anyone near it. Home owner couple often hear funny noises from it, & conclude he probably keeps a canary. But they continue to be curious. Also, several incidents have made the couple conclude that Mr Henchard is "lucky".

Now Mr Henchard has to go away for a week. He leaves strict instructions with the couple: "I'm going to leave my bird cage here, but don't you touch that cover!"

Of course, human curiosity will make them defy the instructions. And they justify it with concern for the poor bird. And what do they find when the lift the cover? "Inside the cage was ... a little house... the cottage was strictly modern. It was the sort of comfortable, well-built house you see all the time in the suburbs. The tiny windows had chintz curtains; they were lighted up on the ground floor. The moment we lifted the cloth, each window suddenly blacked out. The lights didn't go off, but shades snapped down with an irritated jerk. It happened fast. Neither of us saw who or what pulled down those shades."

Over the next several days, they will discover milk bottles & newspapers left at the door of the tiny house, as well as mail in their letterbox! All attempts at contact are, however, denied.

And one fine day, they will see the sign "TO LET" outside the tiny house. Whoever lived there has left. Mr Henchard returns & is so irritated he leaves the house. But before leaving, he will tell the couple about the occupants: "What were they? ... The Little Folk, of course. Call 'em what you like. Nixie, pixie, leprechaun, brownie... But they want a quiet, respectable neighborhood to live in, not a lot of peeping and prying. Gives the property a bad name. No wonder they moved out! ... they paid their rent on time, too."

They paid rent in "Luck... Good luck. What did you expect they'd pay in - money? Now I'll have to build another house to get my special luck back."

Mr Henchard leaves this little house with bad neighborhood reputation behind when he moves out. Guilty-feeling couple leave it covered with cloth.

And one fine day - they find there are new tenants! Only these seem to be pixie equivalent of slum folks. Lot of clutter, bad maintenance. "The better-class pixies won't live there."

New tenants also pay their rent in good luck, but their version of good luck is "sloppy". Like when a truck is about to overrun Eddie, he will fall in a ditch & get all dirty, though his life is saved!

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of Henry Kuttner"

Fact sheet.

"Housing Problem", short story, review
First published: "Charm" magazine, October 1944.
Rating: A
Related: All stories by Henry Kuttner.


Anonymous said...

Magnificent story. Got me going on Kuttner.

Anonymous said...

Read this story years and years ago and always remembered till now. Something made me to look for it again. Loved it almost like the first time.