by Amy Pettifer
The Upstairs Landing, Above the Kitchen, First Window
Stock still, hand on hip, the sea is getting up. He’ll be heading for the wave crash about this time—distant and grey as the sun hits it. He will bring back catch. I light matches to smoulder leaves at the garden’s end. Beyond that, there is another gated arch and another garden, where the onion roots are. Coral nails chipped from digging in mud. The dog has something in its jaw and tears away with it hanging. He runs like a bullet and barks when he hears horns. I look up at a face looking back, watching as I move from tree to tree. At the gated arch, I press myself against the brick, behind the flat, blackened back of the evergreen. I look back at the house and the window with bars. I imagine I can see someone marking my every move (I can’t of course). There are only dry skeletal leaves and paint chips and rot. It all hangs by a thread. I am shuddering but I am streaked with sun.
In the mirror I look paler today. I run my hand over my jaw and see that it needs smoothing. I have been pacing this passage from end to end, deterring people from climbing the stairs. I have listened to them—whistling, plotting, scraping plates and the clatter of their footsteps on steps. I smell onions and pepper and lunch.
Last night I dreamt of gutting fish. Unhooking hooks from gills and dragging a blade down a silvered belly. I threw the gloaming redness to the dog to chew.
Flicking back through photo prints, oversaturated with bled light, I notice the accidental matching of camera flares to the beautiful green, orange, red and brown trees in the garden beyond. I look again through a lens, through the window with bars. I focus and refocus from tree to tree. I mark the darkness that floods from the skirted edges of the evergreens. I imagine I can see motion that mirrors the sweep of the sea (I can’t of course). A golden haze throws the light—it is colder inside than out.
Stock still, hand on hip, the wind is getting up. He’ll be walking through the black leaves and wet grass about this time—matted green and a lack of light. He will bring back a brace of rabbits by their ears. Wood burns, sending the smell of summer charcoal from under the birches—through the gated arch to another garden. The dog’s paws leave pink-pocked scratches on my thigh. He runs when I throw for him and then runs again. I look up at a face looking back, watching as I work, functional and secret. Not ornamental or grandiose; I am aware of myself waiting for the leaves to drop and straining to hear the whistling (I can’t of course). I am still in the same place.
In the mirror I look paler today. I have been pacing this morning back and forth—rearranging the pictures in the hall, moving from chair to chair according to the light and burning out the bulbs. I have been checking the maps and the photographs that lie in the drawers. I can smell things roasting—spiced and blackened.
Last night I dreamt of skinning furred flesh; unlooping wires and scoring and jointing. I threw the loosened coat to the dog to chew. It tore away with it in its jaw and barked at a distant horn.
I pin photo prints through plaster, smoothing the edges and straightening them against the frame of the window with the bars. There is blue light against the red brick and the clouds are streaked. I look through the window through a lens. I mark the forms standing proudly and the darkness that floods from the skirted edges of the evergreens.
Stock still, hand on hip.
I imagine I see motion.
I can’t of course.
The Front Bedroom, Ground Floor, Middle Window
The crunch of gravel on the pathway woke me and then the thud and then the silence.
This low-ceilinged room has been giving me heavy dreams. I bolted hot, then awake, then cold, then terrified. I felt pressed between the ceiling and the floor like velvet in a vice. I smouldered like threads and fibres over a hot bulb. Bald, black insects crept on the cold window ledge. I heard them scratching before they seized and died. They seized and crept like my dreams.
Living here allows me to believe I am someone that I am not. I become grander than I am; I lead a lusher life. I walk the halls in time to thick clock ticks. I sit in the window and look out onto a distance that is, for now, my own.
There is much movement outside today. The autumn has eaten everything except the long lawn, which is a pistachio green rarely seen at this time of the year. In the distance, great gobs of birds’ nests threaten to fall from the tops of trees. The world is the same colour as the clothes I am wearing this morning; woollen brown, slate silk, ashen tawn.
I am rooted to this chair like claws around a rock. Someone soon will surely have to prise me off —someone barnacled and strong.
More people are arriving at every moment. How many more will there be? I thought I would be more alone than I am. I run my hand along the curve of the flamingo pink wall; there are doors within doors, butted with smooth stone. A convex mirror hangs like a portal. I am shadowed in dusky pink dusk and feel ready again for sleep.
In the past I have shared rooms like this one, beds beside beds and full of someone else’s things. At night, in cahoots, we searched the tops of cupboards. We found fox fur, charcoals, empty bottles of scent, a book of mythical creatures with pages missing; a Christmas decoration singed and burnt smelling. We found a foiled picture of a kingfisher that prompted you to tell me a ghost story that scared me for a year.
Looking at a distance into this curving mirror I am further away than I seem. Things begin and end here—they are on their way out. It is like the final night when we are both told that we are too old and that things must change. I close the door behind me.
The view from here is best and for now it is mine, but I can see people on the horizon arriving; coming in from the street and the slate grey sea. In convex I am nearer to them than they are to me.
I am warmer. I am a gauzed, blue-bottled wing hanging here above the beneath—a tentative twig in a dark nest.
It blows as it blows.
And then the thud.
And then the silence.
The Refectory, Left Hand Window
The courtyard is darkening. Soon there will be nothing to see from the window. It is nothing like the city at night, there are no lines of light, just a lamp from an upstairs window and the evening beyond. Tall, towering, leafless brown trees reflect back into the blue of the room, over the tables and chairs and out again.
There are coats slung over seatbacks and the sugar dust from dessert on the tabletops. Run your finger through the caramel and lean against the kitchen door with sweetness on your teeth. Flick the radio switch and tune it to girl group swings. Light candles and place them in the corners.
Stand on the tabletops and think about the mountains; walking upward for ages with only oranges to eat; setting down on flat rocks, breathing out the view; unexpectedly finding foil wrapped chocolate in a forgotten pocket and sucking it, content as a fine film of rain falls.
Jump down from the countertop and hear the clatter of heels on tiles. Tip the long table and watch the fruits roll along the polished wood. When they fall watch the juices spill, like ices melting down the sides of cones in the hot air. The hot air of talking that fills the room. The more there are the merrier; unlatch the door; open all the bottles you can find. Flame spirits on the stove until all the matches are spent.
Think hard about the things you desire; wrap the things you treasure in paper and store them away. Close the window to the landscape and think only of what is here, now, before your eyes. Stand back and watch as things ossify. Relations frozen fast to your furniture, your fire and your blood-blue walls.
Become famed for your endings and the bleeding of night into day. Tip the front legs of the chairs and lean elbows to the window ledge.
The sky is bright, a very pale blue, filtered through a fine translucent layer of cloud. A red sandstone block of a building, spotted with lichen. Grey slate, ivy covered, ancient and cobbled beyond. Morning light creeping at the edges.
Sleep heavy at the table, lean against lean; the tops of heads forming a curved shape; creating a wave line from each to each.
Tree tops, top heavy curving a wave line from tree to tree.
Pale light licks at buckled ankles and table legs, casting ice cream colours that creep upwards to silent hands; leaving stickiness on everything they touch—melted right down in the moment and the air.