The house is allowed its own rules. Damp comes up through the living room floor, but that’s okay, what newspaper was invented for.
Next month will mark the 42 years I have lived in this house, all but the last four lived as a couple. That’s most of my life in this place. Now as I prepare to leave I reflect on what a strange thing it is to occupy space in the sort of dwelling we call a house. Doors and windows define an outside and an inside; there are stacked cubicles we call rooms; and the rooms contain more objects than the people and other animals who are supposed to live here.
Those objects perplex me, how some of them acquire an immediate residence in the layout of surfaces that the rooms provide, while others move fluidly around until they find a proper place. And they all resist my decisions to thin them out. You’ll be sorry, they say; you’ll be sorry if you let me go... and often I am. Sometimes I try to be rational, but then that breaks down and I blindly chuck things into a bin bag, or the fire, or last resort, into a drawer or cupboard. I’m supposing that there will be many more tranches of the disposal-fever when my desperation will allow me to be more brutal with these objects of my life.
Lockdown in beautiful weather has made me more present in the house, garden and places where I can walk. Maybe I appreciate more acutely what I have now and what I’ll lose, so I try to push away my ambivalence as justifiable nerves. How does the house feel? Now I sense a sullen resistance: plumbing goes wrong, a gap opens up under the gutters, something non-human is mewling in the roof above my bed. It seems like a call for attention, a pathetic attempt to keep me here to sort things out.
Truth is, we were always too laissez faire with this house; reluctant to impose our will against its own. For the first twenty years we normally cooked and ate in a small room six-foot square which also contained an outside door and the staircase. This was solely because it had been the kitchen for the previous inhabitants and despite the fact that our contribution to the accumulations of building add-ons to the old cottage was a ‘utility room’ at the back which was double the size of the ‘old kitchen’. It took twenty years to discover that in building a utility we had been building a kitchen. And so the two rooms reversed their roles, eventually.
The house is allowed its own rules. Damp comes up through the living room floor, but that’s okay, what newspaper was invented for. The conspiracy with the ecosystem —rats, mice and wasps— have had to emerge into open warfare before we wanted to violate the roof spaces with pest operatives. Mainly it has been a sensitive cohabitation between people, now just me, and the house.
I’ve never been happy with the idea that ‘home’ denotes a cosy sense of belonging. There’s too much potential for aggravation, always an incipient chaos of ‘things’ that has to be tamed. Dwelling is different. It seems to push both ways between the house and me and is not just an affection but an exchange of physical stuff. Four decades of the squames from my skin infiltrate every crevice of the house and the crumblings of its walls are in my lungs.
What can I say to my dwelling except, it’s not your fault, you never did anything wrong. It’s about me, not about you. I worry about your future as much as I worry about my own.