Saturday, June 28, 2008

'The house that Jack built'

this is the introduction to a 'novel in progress' (dreadful term) of which an earlier blog ('Capacity for crulety') is a crucial moment. So I'm fucking with your head by popping these in out of synch, but hey, ships traverse strange currents and sudden wind-shifts, so just ride the waves if you will...




'The house that Jack built'
Chapter 1.


They stand, diminutive, before the giant house.

It looks unowned; its obvious wood-rot, need for re-pointing and sagging tin roof glow in the autumnal light with a strangely blessed and benign neglect. It was Peter’s Dads home and the young man for whom honour is a living word kept it on after his Dad died five years ago. It was too big for Peter and his young brother Simon anyway; so various renters have maintained, or not, its sprawling garden. Whilst Peter played Dad to his younger brother, a decade of local autoparts workers, farmers then a teacher and his family variously battled, lived with or caused this decay of wood, this blurring of once clear lines, this home or house.

The house; has it been waiting? Though the light is not bright Lisa shades her eyes to better see it. She has not come here before, all is new yet old, strange yet familiar. Before her, almost all around her so big is it, sprawls a sagging red brick federation with cream concrete pillars supporting the return verandah. Within, beyond the door that is locked, lies a long and dark central hall, its gloom and grimy paint interrupted by archways and pendant lights of shallow upturned frosted-pink bowls. Two small rectangles of bedroom come off at either side. These are cool pea-green and a shadowy teal-blue, baby-pink and old-lady-lilac. They are old country rooms, made for two boys, two girls, a guest and the parental bed. Single long windows are close-lidded by blinds with frayed and braided pull-hoops. There are posters of rainforests, or in one room, famous trains. Behind the front door lie beautiful things now dusty, a pleasing decay that whilst inert of itself creates swift imaginings of things held soft to the heart in a clutch of lavender. Ceiling fans. White lace drapes. Dust motes that hang in space.

Peter and Lisa will traverse all of this soon, and call it theirs. They will read in a mammoth lounge and dining room where a wall knocked out leads to the old kitchen. Peter will grow muscles along his spine from chopping wood to feed the combustion stove and Lisa will learn to make stirfries in a wok on a single ring of gas supplied by a bottle out the back. The house will be cold; the ceilings go up to 18ft and off the kitchen a wraparound rear verandah houses a 1980s peach bathroom that is perpetually mouldy. They will learn to keep rugs on their laps in the evening, and Lisa will work with the mouldy bathroom by planting a small rainforest of ferns in it. As she bends over the stove old boxes in the attic overhead will hold tight to their secrets. And as she gazes out of the kitchen window chook sheds will make her smile and plan.

But now they stand quietly as Peter fishes in his pockets for the keys.

Lisa sees herself busy gently fixing here. The house will whisper to her what it needs done and she will set about it. The house has an air of both incredible stillness and expectancy. Nothing moves, all is silent waiting. She sees herself restful here, but busy with the work of her hands.

“I love it” see says turning to Peter.
He sighs, “me too”.

Don’t you think it feels like its waiting?
For us?
Maybe just for something to happen.
Like us, he says.

(No, she thinks. Not like us.)


***

In bed.

As I turn away I feel his sleep. He sleeps. I had been so milk-washed and warm too. Then the house shook and shimmied. Wind picked it up and squeezed its arthritic old bones. Warm wind of autumnal rot and wet squeezed with its cold fist. The house gasped and flinched then stilled.
He stirs, I go still. He has to sleep, one of us has to sleep.
I roll to face the grey window square. We are in the lilac room which faces out to the property’s front. A tallboy looms in the corner, keeping sentinel over us as it has for so many previous sleepers in the old oak bed. The wind suspends itself in dawn stillness. It is at this time, always this time that it happens. My lungs slow their movement.
I hear it. Quiet at first then closer- the voice that calls. I listen. The voice calls my name.
The voice calls my name into the day. It is my own voice. If it is my own voice, then where am I?



About.

She gets up and moves through a house all a twitch, all a flutter. Early morning light refractions and a silence as vast as a yawn. It makes her feel stretched, this quiet, bigger and more open to the vast wastes of land beyond their drive. There is porridge soaked to cook for breakfast and ripe oranges to squeeze. The birds gossip, the toilet flushes and the stove gets fed a log. Outside a cat closes in for the kill. In the time that its mouth stretches monstrous around a starling a radio spurts dj talk, the porridge is burned in the pot- let their jitterbug day begin.
Later they stand at the edge of their block. She looks sadly at their new house, which is an old house in an area being newly developed. Around them acre lots are pegged out with string. The driveway curves in a slow arc up to the garage, the path makes its line to the front door, just as it should. Yet despite the huge expanse of gnarled old gum trees that hover aver it the house looks undressed and vulnerable, old and alone against the huge expanse of sky and dirt, dirt and sky. Windows like lidless eyes look back at her. She’ll get finished washing the lace drapes today. The garden will have to wait until they can afford to hire help to do something about it; it’s so overgrown it seems to dwarf the house beneath it, huge branches arced over a small child, in protection or threat she doesn’t know.He turns to her and smiles. ‘Here we are then’ he says.

2 comments:

PROUD WOMAN said...

oooh... I just thought i'd have a quick trip to your blog... and i'll be coming back to settle in and read this later on this evening 'Lil'!!!! I'm making a grapefruit tart at the moment - I hope it's as yummy as lemon tart!!!!

PROUD WOMAN said...

I was enthralled... i can't wait to learn some of the house's old and new secrets... there's many mysteries lurking in the shadows I think!!!

hanging out for the next instalment 'Lil!!!! please!!!!