Mom called yesterday to ask if I was ready to come home yet; I went directly to San Francisco from college, and I've been in Milpitas for five years now , but she holds fast to her theory that eventually I'm coming back to San Luis Obispo. "When you get done with your little experiment up there," she says. There are competing wrinkles in the mythical future she imagines for me; in one variant, she retires and finds a quaint little house in San Francisco, where I was living until I came here. Then we'd only be an hour apart from one another instead of three; we might see more of each other on weekends.

"Mom," I tell her, "nobody can afford to live in San Francisco anymore."

"Oh, but that can't be true," she says.

"You're right," I say. "there are are still rich people there. There are also people who spend all their money every month on rent and food, and have nothing left over."

"It's like that everywhere," Mom says.

"It's a little less like that here, Mom," I tell her. She doesn't believe me. My mother is a prophet of ruin. The last time I went home, she kept pointing out places that would be, she said, the next to fall--old brick buildings, crumbling strip malls, grocery stores.

"Everywhere," she says again. "You'll see." She's probably right. A surveyor walked through the neighborhood last week; I watched form my window, and I saw several familiar faces doing the same from theirs. But it's hard for me to imagine anyone wanting to do anything to a block like mine. Around the corner and down the street, somebody did get a big idea at some point in the 1960s, and put up the identical duplexes that stand there now in facing rows, one after the other, driveway distances between each of them soothingly uniform, unit after unit. My block's the odd man out; there's not enough of it to make it worth anybody's while, though that didn't stop somebody from trying, once.

We kick the ball back and forth for a while, comfortable and familiar. "You'd like it if you saw it in the flesh," I say at one point, defending my house against the impression of it she gets from the pictures I share on Facebook: my porch with its flaking paint, the nasty seventies chain-link that marks the boundary between my backyard and my neighbor's, the freeway visible in the background.

"But Gage, you're descended from kings," she says, for the hundredth time in my life, or the five hundredth, or the five thousandth; and I smile, because it's true, it's all true.

Devil House, John Darnielle