They are back. For a short while it seemed as though I had imagined them all coming over the threshold, creeping around the house, dreaming by the kitchen window, looking out at the apple tree or lingering in the room at the top where you can look at treetops and sky, asking me questions about the chimneys and who my neighbours are. The Invasion of the House-Viewers. They come, they are charmed, then they go away and think about dimensions, stairs and the fact that you would need to go to Japan to find a smaller bathroom.
When they come, the house smells of sandalwood, geranium and lavender with a subtle background of coffee and there are poetry books on the tables and shelves. This is not a ruse. I like burning good-smelling oils, I always have fresh coffee in the morning and I read a fair bit of poetry, what with workshops and such. So it’s authentic – the house, with its original fireplaces, one wooden beam in the kitchen (never actually worked out why it’s there), its mouldings around the mantelpieces and original sash windows; and me, the real article with my books, my beads and my nag champa incense sticks. One woman came yesterday on behalf of her friend – casing the joint, as it were.
“Oh, I can picture her here,” she said. “She is artistic, are you artistic? It feels as though you are.” Well that’s me, lady, Spasticus Artisticus, only I don’t mention the illness and how it’s getting harder to crawl up and down the stairs. But she wasn’t looking at the books or the rose quartz so exquisitely placed in relation to the amethyst with its purple teeth glinting in the afternoon sun. No, she was looking at the hand-thrown pottery vase and the pictures on the wall, mostly bestowed on us by my late mother-in-law who was, god bless her, very artistic and made beautiful pottery artefacts as well as buying nice pictures for her walls. They lend me a quality that may or may not belong to me. It doesn’t matter. It’s lifestyle, supposed or actual, that people want to sense. Hence the notion of coffee and freshly-baked bread, flowers on the table. It’s all crap, you could say. Illusion.
But – everyone knows, or most people do, that you go into houses and can sense atmosphere, even when the people that live there are not present. Some have a smile you can feel in your body as you walk around the place and some make you feel as though you’d just walked onto the set of The Shining. This house smiled at me. I tried to shrug it off because of the dimensions, the stairs and etc. but it called me back to have another look. The woman who lived here before was an organic gardener. She showed my children where the blackberries were. The house was quite bare, hardly a picture, but the few things that were around – a piece of tree trunk she used as a stool and the wooden kitchen table (both of which she left us) were good and we felt the life in the house was good. She took it with her, the life she made, but left some essence of it behind too.
So I am glad people are charmed by the house. When we finally sell it we will leave something of our substance behind, but we’ll also be taking it with us. “Under purgatory’s temporary sky,” says Osip Mandelstam, “we often forget/that the happy repository of heaven/is a lifelong house that you can carry everywhere.”