DIARY OF A HOUSE
by Laurie Blauner
Bedroom, Jan. 13, 2016
Every room is safe and dangerous. Ghosts squirm into action and wander, reenacting what made them ghosts. Words spoken in an empty room reverberate, returning to the speaker. In Medieval times people had only one space for everything. I, the bedroom, am nestled within a house that is nestled within Seattle, a subtle city. No sun comes through my two windows, only a frozen gray sky, a giant’s sigh or a sad exhalation.
Because I am a bedroom there is the usual furniture: a bed, dressers and tables crammed with old cosmetics, along with jewelry, scribbled papers, pennies, and crushed clothes. An animal that appears to be wearing white gloves and slippers is dying. The couple that sleep in the room, a man and a woman, have allowed this creature, with blue eyes, in, close to them, and now must learn to push the animal away. Everything else inside these rooms disintegrates too, but slowly, often imperceptibly, a chair thinning, wall paint streaking and worn, floors coated with dust and dirt, curtains torn, knobs wobbling. They have lived here twenty-six years. The animal can hardly walk and its shallow, fast breathing fills a corner, blurting out steadily. The animal is the size of a little plant and dies elsewhere, at the vet. The woman cries. But I want to tell her about unexpected noises, the tapping on floors, knocking on ceilings, the telltale scratching that she will continue to hear. I want to explain about the small ghost in the basement.
Bathroom, Jan. 24, 2016
Every room becomes a story within a story. The old man with a leg brace that lived here alone before the couple arrived couldn’t get out of the bathtub. After flailing, his brace scratched the tub and a neighbor came to help him. I, the bathroom, am a lonely place where people have no available defenses and what happens is a result of the immediate time and space. They must face everything, and then leave.
In the Roman era water had religious as well as cleanliness value. In Tudor times people were afraid that dirty water spread illness, especially syphilis (BBC, History of the Home, Dr. Lucy Worsley, 4/11/11).
I am a witness. The woman is a biological room that is often remade, used, left. I have glimpsed sex and hidden fears and secrets. At another house in Montana, the woman’s angry ex-husband opened the bathroom door so violently that the doorknob left a fist-sized hole in the wall because their toilet overflowed.
Living Room, Feb. 2, 2016
Every room is also a door. The woman used to drink and black out when she lived in Missoula, Montana. Sometimes she didn’t know where she was when she woke up in the morning. Here, in Seattle, once when her husband wasn’t around, she drank wine until she vomited up what resembled red pieces from a heart. She is doing better as she’s wearing herself out. Sometimes she’s living in the living room. She misses the trees, large and full of photosynthetic secrets, the fresh air, spaciousness, and the circle of snow-embroidered mountains outside or in Montana. Even though she almost ran into an industrial building when her car slipped on ice once when she tried to drive home snow-blind.
Before the 19th century, I was known as the “parlor,” from the French “parler” to speak. “Living room” was used more widely after 1918, after World War I, during the influenza epidemic, when it was known as “The Death Room” since it was at the front of the house and that was where bodies were held. Before it was a room for receiving guests and now it’s a room for leisure activity that reflects the personality of its designer (blogsurabhi.wordpress.com).
I keep the weather outside. I’m growing older, my expression changing. The man and woman peer out my windows at neighbors, watch television recreationally, calculating how much too much news costs emotionally. Sometimes there is a knock at the front door and someone or something outside comes inside. Sometimes it doesn’t open.
Kitchen, February 21, 2016
Every room overfills with want and the desire to put certain ingredients in a mouth. People have illusions, certain food is better than other food, and electricity, the way it animates the refrigerator, stove, microwave, and explodes through the house, making everything suddenly alive. I’m a room people feel they should have done better in. What’s the difference between the woman’s hard-boiled eggs, the man’s bones, and rocks? I don’t exaggerate. Be careful of my knives and the mixers and shredders that escape from drawers.
The first censuses in England counted only “hearths,” a cooking fire over a stone, not the people. Consider times and places, the invention of utensils, graters, food processors. It’s not surprising that people ask for more.
The Yard, March 3, 2016
Neighbors border the lawn and greenery. They come in all varieties. My nearest neighbors have claimed the spaces in front of their house as their private parking spaces. A family lives across the street whose young daughter is afraid of spaghetti horses and words made from fire. She sells homemade lemonade in front of her fence in the summer. Sometimes she gives it away for free.
When the woman walked her cat in his harness and lease she met:
the woman who loves cats, feeding them all, and yet owns none.
the grumpy bachelor whose walls are filled with chiming clocks and who owns two flightless, yellow birds.
a widow who thinks too much about everyone else’s life.
the couple who lived on a sailboat for many years and settled into a house only to travel as often as possible.
a couple who adore their classic Mustang car, spend all their free time washing it, and believe all the neighbors should be enthralled with its roar too.
It’s internally and externally satiating to own a piece of land. The sounds of lawnmowers and leaf blowers are the rhythm of something tame that is noisily dying. The children of the couple next door were always smashing a vehicle or motorcycle, and another used to shoot out street lights with a gun and ended up going to prison. At summer occasions firecrackers smile brightly in the sky, bursting with impatience. Some days I go wild, unkempt, with merchandise receipts, candy bags, dandelions littering the too-long grass, chickens clucking from a house a few blocks away. The neighbors are wary, yet friendly, waving at one another, not wanting attention, yet present. All are standing on their property.
Basement, March 21, 2016
Every room wants to discover something about itself instead of its occupants. I’m the room where bones are excavated. I’m the room full of ghosts, which is about time and its attendant failures, how it is backwards and forwards, inside and out, up and down, sometimes all at once. Time is the enemy, or friend, of the woman and the man, and a part of living creatures. I see the cat that visited the basement often although it no longer resides here. The cat used to jump among the shadows, perhaps for something smaller that moved, insects, mice, rats, a bit of dropped food, or enticing smells. The woman talked to the cat, which a few times tried to say “hello” in return at night from the basement. The cat too was searching.
I’ve settled deeply into hard clay filled with sewer lines, water pipes, and gas lines. During a lengthy rain I leak through one corner and one wall. I’m made of tenacious cement with one wood-paneled room, three crude rooms, and a bathroom, with a shower that once resembled a coffin. There is an art studio, a shop, the man’s television room with a speckled linoleum floor and a large room with file cabinets and a washer and dryer. I’m a receptacle for some of the forgotten objects and projects of the humans that live here. I’m still in their dreams.
Sometimes one of three ancient wall telephones rings across from the bathroom. All are black and Western Electric:
a rectangular one with a rotary dial and a bell-shaped receiver.
another more modern phone with a handset, rotary dial, with keys, and a receiver.
the last one is an old pay phone with a G1 handset, rotary dial, coin return and pull.
The conversations on these phones are uneventful, having once travelled through the ears of ghosts.
I’m sinking imperceptibly but the whole house comes with me. I care very little. I believe in slow self-destruction. I believe in being self-contained. Will my ghosts go with me when I am gone?
Stairway, April 21, 2016
Since her cat’s death the woman has become vague. Everything is blurred and exhausting. She constantly needs her glasses. She doesn’t wake well. Her mind wanders across the floors, rests on a window or ceiling, although something is screaming and clawing its way out of her. She is different and she wants all around her to act accordingly. She plucks a jigsaw puzzle, puts it together incorrectly and calls it done. She’s always missing.
Count every step, up or down, like a thought. Stairs have existed in some form or another for a very long time, since the ruins of Jericho. My old carpeted ones greet a closet turned into shelves near a corner that leaks rain. I am narrow, suffocating, and lead from the main floor to the basement. I am convenient. I prophesy unlinearly, seeing what uncoils from a mouth, a pool of red, or a former owner fighting with his mother and sister, or a door like a book slapping open, a motorcycle tangled in a fence, a dream filled with jokes, or a future where everything is too small. A flurry of feet is my reward, breath settles around me. And then it happens all over again.
Door, April 28, 2016
What is rattling my knob wants to enter or leave. All these rooms want more future, even if it’s bloody or cursed, sad or deliriously happy. I’m a conduit. I have hinges and peepholes and locks. I can do what a room cannot. I lock people in and out. I watch other rooms. I have a trajectory.
My ancestors, the earliest known doors, are from the paintings of the Egyptian tombs. Our shapes include double-leaf, double door, French windows, half door, flush door, sliding glass door, etc. The oldest doors were made of timber (Wikipedia). The woman and her sister were kept in their bedroom when they were young and their mother was busy with men. What they wanted was inside the far kitchen refrigerator.
I bray and squeak and moan, gossiping with passersby or with a window. Beyond me could be anything and everything.
Laurie Blauner is the author of three novels and seven books of poetry. Her fourth novel, The Solace of Monsters, won the 2015 Fiction Contest at Leapfrog Press and is forthcoming in October 2016. Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review, The Collagist, Caketrain, The Georgia Review, The Best Small Fictions 2016 and other magazines. Her flash piece “Assembling an Anatomical Life” appeared in Cleaver’s Issue No. 5. This is her first published piece of non-fiction. Her web site is www.laurieblauner.com.
Image credit: Inspriation de on Unsplash