|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Frances Wilson is a biographer, whose books include The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth and Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey. She teaches writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Read an Excerpt
The house in question stands at the western end of an almost semicircular road that curves off a wider suburban thoroughfare. Approached from that end, the house remains invisible until one has rounded a long, thickly hedged garden on the left; even then it would not be the first one you noticed, opposite you, in a row of architecturally identical, semi-detached homes. Your eye might be drawn instead by the pristine paintwork of a house a few doors to the right (one of the few to have retained the original look of a 1930s semi); by the newly concreted garden of the house next door; or by the abutting house on the left, with its comic grid of mock-Tudor window frames. The house we are approaching refuses to accost the eye in any way; indeed, it seems to have retreated from the street, to have settled itself a little further back in space and time.
Perhaps one’s gaze doesn’t settle swiftly on this house because the colour of its pebble-dashed exterior is oddly indeterminate. It is certainly a kind of grey, but a grey so lifeless it barely registers on the retina; it might have been chosen to make the house fade into the clouds above, or to seem a blunt outcrop of the pavement below. The owners of the house could tell you that, when painted a decade ago, it had looked almost tasteful, but the colour (if it is a colour) has faded with shocking rapidity. The structure itself looks as though it has been subject to an alarming erosion, here and there kept at bay by repairs and additions that appear only to have accelerated the decay, to have burdened the house with a weight of optimism it can no longer bear. Atop the wall of the small front garden, a fresh concrete pediment caps a structure that is visibly crumbling on to the pavement outside. By the low iron gate, the slightest pressure on the right-hand pillar will cause it to rock back and forth with a worrying crunch. The pebble-dash is dropping off in chunks, the window sills spalling, the green paint on the front door peeling away to reveal several previous generations of the same green. If you were to risk a knock at the door – if, that is, you had taken the ‘For Sale’ sign outside as an invitation, and not a warning that something was distinctly amiss here – the mottled chrome handle would doubtless come off in your hand, and if you reached for the doorbell, the resulting toneless rasp would be enough to dispel any thoughts of domestic harmony within. In sum, it’s a house that might have been abandoned long ago, or given up, as a concrete franchise on hope, by its inhabitants, left to eke out its last days along with their dwindling prospects. But behind its elderly net curtains (of a colour now indistinguishable from that of the house itself), something is moving: ending and beginning. The house is being transformed, so that before long its interior, which is still full of the stuff of several lives, will start to resemble its sorry exterior, and speak only of what it once was: how it was made out of hopes, plans and dreams that have absconded, leaving their grey shadows behind.
Soon the house will stand empty for the first time in a quarter of a century. Whereas it took years for the façade to reach its current state of decay, the abandonment of the house will have been effected within the space of a week. I am its last tenant. (There will be others, as there have been before; but they are not part of this story, and I can barely credit their existence.) The house will seem to me to rebel against this far too rapid domestic escape act. It has already embarked on a stealthy revenge for the violence inflicted on it in recent days. As if its unfamiliarly echoing rooms have somehow discerned the intensity of hurried shame with which their curators have cleared them of furniture and effects, the house begins to restock itself with ghostly mementoes. Until a few hours ago, the variously sturdy or dishevelled objects that occupied this space had seemed to persist only as temporary reminders of a job to be done and a deadline to be met. But their spectral replacements are already alive with uninvited significance. This house, so swiftly cleansed of all tangible history, suddenly insists on reminding me that something has happened here. The place looks – so I imagine, in a brief fancy I would like to pass off with a wry detachment I can’t quite muster – like the scene of a crime. From the corners of my vision, certain blanknesses obtrude: pallid voids lately hidden by ageing furniture and gloomily familiar pictures (these gaps now dustily outlined like improbably proportioned or oddly articulated corpses). Here lurks the evidence of something recently deceased. The absent bodies seem to want to speak, to tell of their long history and rapid demise. But as my gaze falls exhaustedly on patches of strangely vivid carpet and sharply patterned wallpaper, I would rather not listen, and so continue my distracted survey.
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