Spring 2017: The Flurry

Spring came late that year.  It was still bitter cold and snowing in late March.  The family had been making regular visits after that first and every time she heard them coming up the walk, she hoped that maybe, just maybe, that day would be the day they stayed.  In the meantime, she treasured each moment they spent with her, mostly sitting in the kitchen together, talking quietly, and dreaming their dreams.

She began to file away the feeling and sounds of their lives–the slight weight of the baby (it was a girl!) when they laid her in her little bed to nap, the old dogs turning their circles to lay down after running around outside awhile, the woman’s soft voice murmuring about ocean colors, and the firm step of the man checking this or that.  She didn’t want to waste any opportunity to know them better, if they were going to be hers, and it would seem that they were . . . (She was still sometimes struck with terrible bouts of anxiety that they would not come back and she would be alone again, uncertain of her fate.).

One night, shortly after they arrived for an early evening visit, she felt a slight tug and heard a pinging sound.  It was coming from the window over the kitchen sink . . . with no further warning, she felt the last of the day’s sunlight flood in, pure and bright, pouring onto her counter tops, her walls, and her floor!  Oh, to be touched by the sun again!  It had been years since the plastic was stapled there, to keep the heat in through cold winters and to keep the heat out through hot summers.  She appreciated it, since there was no one inside to look after her, it offered some protection from the elements and changing seasons, but it was also terribly suffocating.

She had heard the phrase, the eyes are the windows to the soul many times in her life and had decided, in turn that her windows were the “eyes” to her soul.  A house could not see, of course that would be silly, but through her windows, she could feel the sunlight warming her everywhere it fell, no matter how cold it was outside; when they were opened she could feel fresh breezes and hear the birds and the people outside; and with the plastic gone, her body was filled with light–just as it was meant to be.

Windows were also a point of pride.  At her birth, she’d had only three, but after a few updates and additions somewhere in her first hundred or so years she was blessed with forty two!  And every last one of them had the shade pulled down and thick plastic stapled over it.  Well, every one but the one over the kitchen sink, that is . . . if she could have sighed, she would have, it felt so lovely.

That was how it began–The Flurry, as she would later think of it.  They peeled the plastic off that one window and watched the sun set, then began bringing in bags and setting them in the pantry.  They pulled up the old carpet in the living room, they scrubbed the sinks, counter tops, and the cupboards, and when they left late that night, she gleefully noted that they did not take any of the bags with them.

Over the following days, more and more boxes would come, they brought friends and proudly showed her off, they vacuumed and they bleached, they drug out the old kitchen shelves that the mice had ruined, and the man came one night by himself and stayed very late painting the living room floor.   The day after the floor-painting, they didn’t come in the morning or in the afternoon and as the day wore on, she found herself afraid again, even after all of their cleaning and care, even as she held boxes and boxes of their things.  It is hard for an old house, one that has held and loved so many over the years, to be alone.

That particular day was sometime early-spring, though she couldn’t have given an exact date for houses do not mark such things.  The last of the winter snow still lingered, but the sun had been staying longer and longer, and she was lost in her fretful thoughts when she felt the key wiggle in the deadbolt. She could tell by their shuffling steps that they were tired.  Moving quietly, they placed the baby in her little bed in the downstairs bedroom, brushed their teeth, made their way to their bed (which they’d set up in the living room of all places!) . . . and went to sleep.  It was the night she’d dreamed of for so long and she spent the whole of it listening to the sounds of their soft and steady breathing and dreaming dreams of her own.

That night would have been the highlight of her year if it weren’t for a few weeks later when she felt a small and strange thump, thump, thump, WUMP in the kitchen followed by the woman’s squeal of delight.  It had been so long since she felt such a thing, she didn’t recognize it for what it was until the woman spoke.  “Oh honey!  You did it! My sweet Sunshine, papa is going to be so excited!”

The baby had taken her very first steps: three of them!  Thump, thump, thump!  Before falling on her bottom with a WUMP!  A house cannot cry, and that is good, because she would have absolutely flooded herself so moved was she by the feeling of those tiny feet and the sweet sound of a mother’s joy.

The Flurry continued all through spring; furniture and appliances came, electrical and some plumbing were updated, old shelves were torn down and new ones put up in their place and it was glorious.  After spending years wondering if she would molder right back into the earth from whence she came, she delighted in all the activity . . . but it was just a touch more than delight.

That spring, the perfect season for such a change, her dread and loneliness were replaced with joy and the bright energy of a new beginning.  As they moved in, placing all of their possessions along with themselves in her care, she felt her sense of purpose swell, filling every dusty corner of her being.  And at the rate they were cleaning, soon there wouldn’t be any dusty corners at all!

Despite her age and current state of disrepair, she took great pride in the fact that even after hundreds of years, she still stood strong under and around them.  She may have lost much of her outer beauty to peeling wallpaper, chipping paint, worn out floors, and broken windows, but inside she was as sturdy as the day she was made–with wood hewn from the forest she stood beside, hand-forged and driven nails, and horsehair plaster.

After so long standing empty, she felt deeply the precious weight of their life–something only a house could truly grasp.  And knowing, as she did, how quickly lives came and went, it was a gift she meant to cherish.IMG_4195

Winter 2016: A Family

Afternoons passed the slowest.  Particularly on these gray, winter days, with the wind incessantly rattling her windows in their panes and the impenetrable clouds blotting out every ray of light.  Not that the sunlight could really come through the plastic stapled over the windows anyway.  It would be hours yet before her evening guests-a family of squirrels in the attic, a bat in the upstairs bedroom, and a family of mice in the kitchen would scuttle in and wreak a bit more havoc.  How sad that she had begun to think of them as her guests!  What had become of her?  Once a warm and stately home, where mice were driven out immediately and a bat would never have considered attempting to enter?

Of course it was partly due to her age, she knew that without truly understanding what “age” was because the many people who had come, walked through, and left never to return over the past few years were always talking about her “age.”  But even more so, it was a lack of care.  The basement was full of empty coffee cans, once filled with fasteners and tools for this project or that and the stairs up to the pantry were creaky and musty.  The first story floors had all warped as she settled, her original supports having been replaced with temporary, ratcheting poles that had never been made permanent as intended.  The walls were stained, the wallpaper peeling, and all of the carpet was rotting where it lay, old and dirty.

The kitchen ceiling was cracked and sagging after that terrible leak in the roof.  The bathroom ceilings were stained as well, dry wall giving way to mold.  There was a new roof, now, but the damage remained.  Every available surface held evidence of the rodents that had taken over when the last, human occupant had left for good.  There were holes chewed through doors, excrement everywhere, and little piles of cracked acorn shells in the attic.  Who could ever want to live with me?  She thought to herself.

She had been truly beautiful once–the envy of the block with state of the art windows and so many in every room that sunshine poured in any time of day.  Six spacious bedrooms each with their own closet, a large yet cozy kitchen, two indoor bathrooms, and . . . oh . . . was that the front door was swinging open?  A moment passed before he crossed the threshold and she realized that the man was back again.

This one had come a bit ago and looked around.  They had talked of age again and he’d pointed out several of her more serious flaws.  Truth be told, it had been an entirely humiliating visit and she’d hoped to not see him again.  She no longer got excited when a person came to look, and this one had not been any different than the rest.  But now he was back and why?  Just to insult her further?  Mock her in her lowest hour?  He paused there, in the entryway holding the door open and she realized she had been so focused on her embarrassment reliving his last visit, that she had failed to notice he wasn’t alone.

At first, she thought it must be the other man or “agent” as she had heard him called.  He always came with whoever wanted to walk around pointing out her inadequacies.  Of course, it could also be Will, coming to check on things as he often did.  If it weren’t for Will, the pipes would have burst and all would have been lost after Mamie moved on.  Then she heard it, so faint at first, but getting louder . . . a baby!  There was a baby!  How long had it been since the sweet cries of a baby had echoed against the walls?  The pitter patter of tiny feet, the squeals, the giggles . . . oh how she missed having a family of her own.

They all grew up, of course, and grew old.  She had held some from their first breath to their last and it had been her joy and her honor to shelter them as they went about their lives.  Truly, it had been a fascinating two hundred and thirty or so years!  The way styles and gadgets had changed!  She would never forget when the wood stove for cooking had been replaced with propane! Or the day they turned her first light-bulbs on back in eighteen whatever it was.  So very exciting!  She’d had her doubts when they decided to move the plumbing inside, but it had worked out famously in the end and it filled her with pride to always have the latest updates.

But it wasn’t always easy.  There were hard times for the people she held and she could tell by the way they paced or sighed or spoke in low tones the children couldn’t overhear.  When the people worried, she knew she might not get her usual upkeep and she didn’t mind; she was built to survive such times.  But this had been different.  This time she had simply stood empty, something she’d never done before, and there were no people inside to care if everything slowly fell apart or became overrun with creatures.

First, the mice had come with their scratching and nibbling.  How horrifying that had been!  In no time at all they became quite bold, chewing holes right through the walls!  Climbing the chimneys to make each and every room their own.  Then it was the squirrels.  There were fewer of them, but the damage they could inflict was ten fold!  They chewed holes right through her solid wood doors!  Between that and the leak in the roof, she quickly found herself in state of wretched disrepair.  After which, began the parade of gawkers, none of whom wanted to take her on.  By the time the first bat slipped in through a broken, attic window, she could no longer muster any indignation.

A soft sigh brought her out of her sad rememberings . . . not the man, and certainly not the baby . . . it was a woman.  She must be the mother.  Had the man brought his family here to look?  If she’d had hands she would have been wringing them, but as it were, she could only stand tall and still with her terrible hope and her terrible fear known only to herself.  She had thought herself past the point of wanting, but to see a young family, it was impossible to not yearn for them to be hers.  And in her state???  What mother would want to raise a child in her rodent infested nightmare?

But before she could work herself up any further, she heard the woman quietly breathe the words, “It’s perfect.”

Perfect?

She said it with such awe . . . as if she couldn’t believe her luck.

They proceeded to walk from room to room discussing this or that.  The man would point out flaws, just as he had when speaking to the agent, and the woman would murmur some acknowledgment then start talking about paint colors and shelves and carpets and cabinets, counter tops, and windows, and curtains . . . she even picked out a room for the baby.  It was hours before they finally stepped out onto the crumbling, old welcome mat and locked the door behind them.  When the squirrels and mice came in from the cold to scratch and skitter about, she hardly noticed them and when the bat flew in to rest upside down behind a particularly large peel in the wallpaper she could not bring herself to care.

It was, without question, her best afternoon in years.

The Old House

 

 

 

Roommates: Meeting One

“Hello everyone and thank you all for coming.”

“Uhhmm, Bladder, why are you whispering?”

“SHHHH, Stomach!! It’s sleeping now and I don’t want it waking up until we’re done talking.  I didn’t invite Baby to this roommates meeting.”

“Oooohhhhh.”

“Yeah.  Look, I called this meeting to see if I’m the only one whose getting worried about the new roommate.  I mean, at first I thought Baby was pretty cool; it was so quiet and took up hardly any room at all.”

Around the small room, organs nodded their assent.

“Then, the other day, I woke up feeling like I was going to burst, opened my eyes, and baby was LITERALLY using me as a pillow!”

“Ya know, now that I think about, Baby’s foot has gotten caught on me three times just in the last week.  I mean, it’s always polite, all “excuse me” and “so sorry!” but that never happened when Baby first moved in.” Ribs chimed in all together.

“I’ve been getting a little nervous, myself.” Whispered stomach.  “I didn’t really want to say anything because I wasn’t completely sure it was Baby’s fault, but honestly, since just a couple of weeks after it moved in, I’ve felt positively awful.  It got better a few weeks ago, but still, I used to work with whatever came down about three or so times a day, now, if there isn’t enough there, I can’t control it, I just start kicking bile back up.  I’m not sure if I’m crazy or broken or what, but I just know it started soon after Baby moved in.”

“Well, that does it.” Bladder stated quietly.  “I don’t want to be hasty; Baby’s awfully sweet, but it sounds like we all have concerns.  I vote that we meet again in a month or so for a another check-in.  If things don’t get better in a few months, we may just have to ask Baby to leave.”

Everyone present nodded somberly and tried to move back into their normal positions, but there just wasn’t room, so they squeezed in as close to where they used to go as they could.  And just in time, too!  With a whoosh, a tiny hand flew out, smacking belly button in the back.  Belly Button let out a surprised yelp and Baby promptly held up the same hand in a gesture of apology. “So sorry!  Pardon me, Belly Button, I’m afraid I woke up with a start.” Baby said with an easy smile.

To be continued . . .
Roommates

She: How to Begin?

I’ve been talking to a girl whose name I know, but who hasn’t given me permission to use it yet, so I’ll simply call her She.  She’s been telling me stories about where she has been and all that has happened to her since she was born and I listen with a rapt ear because although I know of her, I have never truly known her.

I am not her mother–She is the daughter of misfortune and I listen to her now because I have spent the entirety of her life pretending she did not exist.  She would speak quietly and I would sing over her; She would tap on the windows of my soul and I would swiftly pull the curtains.  I knew with every painful beat of my broken, unhealing heart that she was there.  It is guilt which salts the wound and will not let it close.

Now, I am tired of her ceaseless whispers and tapping.  And so, after all this time, I have invited her in for coffee so we can talk. Well, so She can talk.  I have promised to only listen and relate what She says.  I have promised that no matter what she has to say, I will record it without altering her story.  I have promised to unlock the door . . . she need not tap on the windows any longer.

I think she knows this will not really be a record of her life, but rather, a record of her death.  By the time this story is finished, She will have relinquished the borders which give her substance and I envy her strength–reciting her memories, such terrible memories, in her soft and steady way. She does not seem to mind that she is fading with every word. I also, a bit grudgingly, admire her cleverness–She said she came only to speak her truth, and I let her in not realizing that, Continue reading “She: How to Begin?”