Arts Illustrated

Dream Home

By Shruthi Rao

Arts Illustrated Short Story Contest, Winner

'When I have a home of my own, I'll fill up my balcony with succulents,' she liked to say. She was a homeowner now, finally, but sans balcony and succulents. All she owned in the plant category was a tiny potted barrel cactus that she had picked up years ago at a garage sale. It had followed her from home to rented home until she scrimped and saved and accumulated some money, a figure large enough for a down payment towards a three-bedroom single family house with a garden and a swing in a place like Utah or Colorado, but this was not Utah or Colorado. Here, all she got was this little matchbox condo with one living room, one kitchen, one bedroom, one bathroom, and zero balconies.

Her real estate agent said this was perfect for her. Technically, it was. Safe community. Close to her workplace. Reverse commute. Stores within walking distance. The schools weren't very good, said the agent, but she had no use for schools, did she, ha ha. Anyway, that's why this place was so affordable. Dream home, he said.

Not mine, she wanted to tell him.

Her dream house was a home in the hills, perhaps with a stream burbling by. A white framed bay window, sunshine streaming in, maybe a tree just outside, dripping flowers in the spring. Or maybe a stone house perched on a rocky cliff, with a view of the Pacific changing colours through the day. A little bench outside the house, on which she could sit and watch the sunset, the wind in her hair.

Sometimes her dream home was more urban and practical. A home on the top floor of a high-rise building, maybe downtown, with a view of the Golden Gate. Or perhaps just a little place in a quiet street, with a balcony filled with potted succulents.

Looking for a new home was exciting. It was full of potential. The home could be anywhere, it could be anything. The imagination is not limited by the amount of money in the bank.

But the thing with buying a dream home is that after you're done, there is no dream left.

Now that she had bought this house, her world shrank into these 500-square feet. With no balcony. Not even a place to put her poor little barrel cactus on – except the window sill. She unwrapped a little figurine of Rodin's The Thinker, another steal from another garage sale, and placed that on the windowsill too.

She would raid other garage sales, and buy other knickknacks and put them all on the window sill, in a line. It wouldn't be a problem, wouldn't come in her way, because she had no plans of opening the window, ever. Because a closed window was more intriguing than a window that faced a brick wall. Closed windows could possibly open out into a garden with fruiting trees or pretty flowers. Or to a view of meadows, or hills, or the beach, or the ocean, or even snow-covered mountains, if that's what she wanted. She could still gaze at the closed window and let her imagination soar.

A closed window has immense potential. Like a dream house.

Judge’s Note

'In Dream Home, all elements of the painting were brought in, especially the ‘closed window’, which according to the protagonist, surprisingly, has ‘immense potential’. The dream home is nothing like what she dreamt of; the window may not offer anything to view but a brick wall, so better to keep it closed and imagine what may lie beyond: trees ‘dripping flowers’ or a beach with sunsets to watch. The writer has control over language and expression. I love this story for it offers hope from being boxed-in and tells us to use our imagination to open windows.

About Shruthi Rao

Shruthi Rao is the author of 10 Indian Women Who Were the First to Do What They Did (2019, Duckbill), 20 Indians Who Changed the World (2019, Talking Cub), Susie Will Not Speak (2018, Duckbill), The Secret Garden (2016, NSI), Avani and the Pea Plant (2016, Pratham), among others. More at