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Rated: E · Short Story · Experience · #1691869
The anatomy of a living space
         The three little steps leading up to the entrance were in very good condition for being walked on every day.  Very few chips were noticeable, and the cracks contained themselves to the sides covered by the shadows of improperly but regularly trimmed holly bushes.  The bushes tittled in strong summer winds but mostly gave quietly the way to the top of the steps.  At the last step you could comfortably lay your hand flat on the top of them, and if you stroked the leaves with just the right strength you could make your whole body tingle half with briddling pleasure and half with mitigated irritation, like scratching an itch on the bottom of your foot.  That experience was mostly for ever-fascinated children, however.  Most forwent the holly bush and fell into the shadow of the grawndling door looming just beyond.
         The door was larger than most, and very heavy.  It barely creaked when it opened, but it let air dart out of the interior as if it had been silently gathering on the other side, waiting for someone to let it free at last.  The door was dark wood, but it was natural, not painted over with some haughty forest green or belligerent velvet crimson.  It looked, felt and smelled like Ent.  It was an immense, lumbering man with sun-baked skin and a kind but gruff voice who guarded the people and pets inside from wind and water out.  When you opened him he obliged, with hardly a complaint; but he did not take kindly to mistreatment, groaning heavily when handled carelessly.
         Inside was the sound of settlement.  It wasn't eerie but neither enjoyable.  It's the same sound you hear when everything is so quiet around you your ears start to ring.  The sound of a TV on mute.  The sound of a winter night in the breshled seconds between a frog's hiccups.  You listen so hard to the silence because you know something will soon break it, and the sensation only becomes strange if nothing does.  Beyond the big man's wooden backside there was the sound of settling, but a few seconds later the mice could be heard sprittling around within the walls.  If you only knew a mouse by its rhythmic music, you'd think it quite a nice addition to any settling house.
         To the left was a well-lit and cozy room with khaki walls and new tooth white trim.  A perfectly symmetrical bay window with forty-eight panes showed what was happening out by the holly bushes.  There was a small place to sit in the windowsill, but hardly comfortable.  It didn't lend well to lying down even for a person of small stature because of the sharp angle of the window's wings.  In winter the sill was too cold and in summer too hot; in spring it was too beautiful to sit inside at all and in fall, well, you could sit there if you wanted to wrest the spot away from a snoozing cat in the ecstasy of sashling sunshine and mice-filled dreams.  Across from the window was a fireplace, made of bricks of such brickly color and lain in such perfect order that other chimneys huffed and puffed with envy that they weren't attached to it.  The bricks just above the place were blackened from bottom to top in a handsome, jagged isosceles triangle.  If even a finger had cleaned above the fireplace in all its years, its artistic exquisiteness would have been vitiated.
         A rug every shade of brown and slightly too big for the room hugged the icy wooden floor, blending into it as a caterpillar into a tree.  Its complexity of design offset the simplicity of the bay window and the paradigm fireplace, but complemented them in symmetry and mellory.  A grandfather clock adjacent to the fireplace pinned it down on one corner, while a small wooden table with wobbly legs and a drawer that scratched itself when opened sat in another.  Next to the table, naturally, was a divan so ordinary it doesn't deserve mention.  Furniture you can sit on is the sleething proletariat of the living space.  It robs the visual atmosphere of a room.  It screams for attention but has nothing to say.  It is constantly in need of cleansing and repair but lends no sort of aid in letting it happen.  Instead, it happily soaks up the vices of smoke, dirt, and body odor; it permits – no, encourages – sloth as well as ignorance of one's own surroundings; and it concentrates all attention to the lowest and least exciting meter of a four meter room.  In heaven there are no chairs.  God chose clouds as seats because they're the closest visible thing to nothing.
         A doorway farthest from the front door led into a kitchen, tidy and cute but lacking all the luxuries of a typical kitchen.  There was merely a marble-topped island the length of a jumbo Radio Flyer and a plain-looking breakfast nook, smiling at a sliding glass door which proudly welcomed the morning sunlight to warm up the small, unremarkable garden.  The kitchen enjoyed no stainless steel dishwasher, no set of glass cabinets, no smorgasbord of shiny silver pots and pans hanging from the ceiling like prehensile-tailed simians.  Only one electric outlet drecked the view as it peered out from behind the interlocked fingers of a spice rack.  A mirror-clean gas stove and monochromatic oven aroused images of an aproned 1950's housewife bending down to peek in at almost-done apple pies spreading savory smells throughout.  Nearby, the pantry and refrigerator nestled themselves into corners where they seemed to belong as a part of the house rather than part of the decor.  Each kept to itself in humble silence, essential but utterly unappreciated, while the garrulous grandfather clock in the adjacent room proudly announced its presence every quarter hour.  In a utilitarian utopia only the kitchen appliances would survive.  And people would sit on floors.
         Just beyond the kitchen, parallel to the back wall of the house, was a hallway with two doors.  One door stood straight ahead, and led to the outside; the other, near the kitchen entrance, belonged to the master bedroom.  It was always sunrise in this room.  The single window, at the head of the queen-sized bed, was guarded from direct sunlight by two ancient oak trees, dimming the light just enough to fire the room in color without burning it.  Bright red, purple, and orange pillows and rainbow blankets lay in tidy stacks underneath the sky blue walls.  By the bed, a radio as simple as can be found in working order graced a nightstand with sturdy, curved legs.  Two paintings on either side wall, a Valenciennes and a Remond, depicted landscapes of barely imaginable beauty: verdant hills borrowed from Tuscany; crystal lakes extracted from the Yukon; spirited, laughing cascades from the mountainous Caribbean islands, all mosaiqued into one masterpiece.  Surrounded by bucolic scenery, a melange of sweet colors on all sides, and the smell of breakfast always sneaking in, only hedonists could bear to dream in those soft sheets made softer by moonlight.
         Between the kitchen and the master bedroom was a narrow and poorly lit hallway that led back to the grawndling ogre.  There was no cave carved out under the staircase, for a door would barely open out to it, and no rooms branched off the hallway until it widened out further down.  But one picture hung on the wall, in a smooth frame handmade by someone very proud of woodworking.  The frame was light brown with three wood knots equally spaced angularly at one, five, and nine, but spatially just irregular enough to look natural.  In the picture was a man who could see nothing in front of him except the dirty cloud of inattention, but could hear everything from the lurching grumbles of the sepia behemoth to the rhythmic snobbery of the codger clock, to the repeated click and whirr of a refrigerator struggling to maintain status quo.  The listening man was handsome but worn by time, fit but somewhat frail-looking, and important in his day but forgotten almost altogether now, the Millard Fillmore of a boring hallway.  He waited, not impatiently, with pursed lips slightly curved into a smile, for someone to walk in his domain, and then he'd snap your eyes into his.  He watched as you went by, and if you happened not to tip your hat and wish him good day, as was usually the case, he'd calmly acquiesce and return right back to staring at his dirty cloud.  He didn't seem to mind the lack of attention, however, given the thin smile he kept through it all, perhaps feeling loved by the warm embrace of his frame.
         Close by, under the eyes of the ogre, a den the size of a small bedroom curled underneath the splashy living room.  The walls looked as if fireplace ash had been smeared on them – gray, fluffy, and all of it ready to fall off with a blow of one's breath.  The floor was heavily carpeted, it too a smoky gray, and soft like the winter coat of an Old English sheepdog.  The world's first armchair, or so it looked, frumped in the corner, unused.  Winter light from the outside crept in through the smokescreen of white trees and the muffled rustlings of hares and foxes, lethargically grabbing floating dust particles on its crawl toward the unrouseable corners of the room.  The light remained just as lazy as the seasons changed, but in spring the drullory of the room grew to candescence, and autumn's arrival softened the mood back down to an ashy Eeyore, faithfully discipling the yearly cycle like the rhythmic emissions of a pulsar.  The only contrast to the dour (but not dingy) atmosphere sat on a small shelf near the door.  It was a collection of ivory animals – elephant, penguin, tiger, kangaroo, horse, bear, and monkey – each one just big enough for the palm of your hand.
         The staircase, whose mouth opened just before the room with the bay window, arched steeply and creakily into the warmer air above.  The stairs' bases were painted a strightly star-twinkle white, capped on top once again with wood, here darker than anywhere in the house.  There was no lacquer on them left but they almost magically retained their luster.  If you gazed hard enough into one, you could see yourself a few shades tanner and a few degrees more beautiful.  At the top was another window: large, flat, and directly exposed to all the colors of the outside world.  As if the surrounding wall wished to flee and blend into that world, it camouflaged itself into whatever was outside: sherbert ice cream orange at dawn, lemon meringue on a sunny day, dreary periwinkle-gray in a thunderstorm, cornflower blue at night.  It transformed the second floor into a moody creature who woke and slept by the world clock.  Sometimes, if you waited long and sat close enough, you began to feel there was somebody else in the house.  The wind conducting tree leaves in a shadow puppet dance, the heated wood cracking like a throaty yawn, the colors changing like an irascible girl's mood; they transmogrified the upstairs into a weary guard tower attendant passing time by twiddling his fingers and tinkering with any little object he can find.
         As active as the upstairs window was, it hardly noticed the five rooms on the second floor.  On the left was a small bathroom painted a hideous shade of nineteen-seventies locker room blue.  Inside was a mirror with a small crack in the top right corner.  The mirror looked patient but menacing, as if it were waiting for a young boy to scream “Bloody Mary!” into it on a dare.  The shower spurted irregularly and didn't hold the right temperature, and the bathtub leaked if filled up more than halfway.  The wallpaper, also seventies ugly, was peeling off at the corners and left the wall underneath a semi-sticky yellowish-brown.  A chocolate brown medicine cabinet held the same magical luster of the stairs, yet received far less attention.  Of course, a bathroom is not a place one goes to chat with friends or have a snack, so the unsightliness of the bathroom was forgiven, and in addition ignored by the valicitude of habit, which so often transforms consternation into banality.  Shamelessly desensitized we are, if we allow it, to the horrors of a bathroom, like Nazi camp counselors staring half past their own reflections into waterless showers.
         Adjacent to this bathroom was a dark room with only one small window covered by a golden curtain which turned orange with the sun.  It was full of old books, decaying at their own comfortable pace, collectively exuding the resplendent redolence of aging literature.  Senescence makes the elderly ornery and disuse rots fruit, but, as respected libraries and bookstores are a testament to, decades of accumulating mildew don't change the written word.  Below the window sat a large desk, on top of which lay a few of these worn treasures, a banker's green-hooded pull-chain lamp, a few neat stacks of paper and a jar of ink, à la Michèle Montaigne.  The desk was orderly, though no one seemed to have written at it in a long time.  Its chair, unopule with a dark blue background and small yellow diagonal lines, was tucked into its place, coyly waiting for a wandering observer to have a go at writing poetry inside a sheeling mandarin glow.  The drawers were mostly empty – a rubber band here, a pencil stub there – as if someone had not quite decided whether they wanted to move in quite yet.  The desk and the bookshelves were the only things in the room, but it felt full.  Standing in the center of the room, all the shelves seemed to curve in towards the center of the ceiling, as if conforming to the shape of a palace's highest minaret, ready to collapse inward on the innocent observer.  Perhaps claustrophilia abets productivity.
         On the other side of the staircase, across from the ugly bathroom, was a more nicely-lit room with two big windows and walls the color of pistachio ice cream.  The oak trees on the side yard blocked the view of the house next door and covered the twin bed with shade for a Saturday morning sleeper.  A sewing machine sat on a small table opposite the window and a salmagundi of colored threads were neatly piled next to it.  A desk lamp which had seen many light bulbs in its day hovered maternalistically over the rather aged Singer model.  Looking kindly at a humming seamstress was a magniloquent bookshelf which nearly grazed the ceiling, this one not filled with books but with artifacts from some far off place.  Bright butterflies pierced in their abdomens by unapologetic pins shang out from behind a glass case; a five Kopeck coin, among some less revolutionary change, hailed from nineteen eight-six; and an oblong, warped version of Jesus on the crucifix struck blasphemous among the secularism of everything else in the house.  Above them, a contemporary collection of glass soda bottles and grinning stuffed animals dashed the room with white and scarlet and umber.  A diploma and an award not worth framing lay forlornly under an ash-colored puppy's feet.  Swirling dust motes mocked them, superciliously spritzing around and on them with ample attention from both sun and moon.
         The hall overlooking the stairs led then to two smaller rooms.  One of them was set up as a bedroom but used for storage.  It smelled like a basement: dusty, cool, and faintly like powdered laundry detergent.  Dozens of beer bottle boxes were precariously stacked on top of one another like the jagged stalagmites of a weather-eroded canyon.  In the corner lay a small stool and a beautiful frosted glass chessboard.  This was a particularly sad sight: a luxury gone to waste because it had been offered no use.  It had been placed in a comfortable nook of the living room when first received as a gift, but the novelty soon wore off and it became a tripping hazard more than an item of revelry.  And so it was moved to its present spot, where no one, rather serically, could trip on it.  A foosball table with a slanted bottom board and warped spinners found a place near the window; it was too worn to play on, too damaged to be repaired effectively, and too beloved to be thrown to the street.  Tchotchkes littered the windowsills – a three-inch copper maple leaf, a miniature sailboat with the word “Friendship” on its side, greeting cards from the past twenty-five Valentine's days to be used for arts and crafts projects one day in the future, a digital watch which had stopped counting the seconds around the turn of the millennium, a slingshot with a broken rope, a pair of rusty, red-handled pliers, a restrefted music box which still sounded off-key, a greddled set of wind chimes, and a few miscellaneous scraps of fabric.  Understandably, the room gathered a lot of dust and disorder.  But it didn't seem to matter, since no one was ever very interested in staying long enough to judge.
         The other room down the hallway smelled like mandarins and real flowers.  There was a single bed in the far corner, with cream sheets and a lavender bedspread.  Sitting on the bed one could reach both windowsills.  Timeless trinkets – a bobblehead, some baseball cards, a small framed photo – sat on the sill near the foot.  Here the smell of citrus was the strongest in the room, but still mild enough to ignore.  The other sill, near the pillow, was empty except for a thin layer of dust on the lamaise just underneath.  A unisex dresser snugged itself into the corner to the left of the door with just (oddly) a child's pair of rounded-tip safety scissors on top.  Clothes of all kinds were tucked, not in disarray but not exactly neatly, into the four dresser drawers.  Soccer shin guards and knee pads trecked around in the bottom drawer; T-shirts, jeans and belts in the middle two; a secret stash of sweets and a thick pack of never-sent love letters underneath some underwear rounded out the top.  Between the dresser and the door, gold tacks pinned a flashy poster of a minor league baseball team to the wall.  Some overpriced souvenir pennants accompanied the poster, shouting an identitiless “I was there!”  On the other wall, farthest from the bed, rarely-opened boxes filled up a long but shallow closet.  Useless homework papers with their encircled A-plus's too cute to throw away and missing pieces to toys and games lost long ago waited obediently in those boxes for a curious spring cleaner to examine and replace them, examine and replace them.
         And then, reaching the bottom of the closet is a sad occasion.  There is no place left to look.  You can stand in that last room quietly, arms akimbo, listening to your surroundings settle and waiting for the tiny voice of restlessness to move you along, to go on with your life.  It waits for the empty stare at the floor, followed by the sigh and the clap of the hands that says, “well, that was fun, let's move on.”
         But that voice is ignorant.  It doesn't realize that this is life.  A man is a collection of his memories and experiences, and the only way to pump up the tire of his life, so to speak, is to reflect on those experiences, to investigate every nook and cranny of his identity's domicile.  Later he can perpetuate routine.  He can walk past the rooms, overlook the listening man by the staircase, cross the big door's threshold, and walk out into the bright light to gather more memories and experiences.  But sooner or later he'll always have to return home.  There, he can heat the experiences of the day and add the resin of home, that amalgamation of familiar sounds and smells and feelings, and get the incorporeal substance that allows each day to smoothly flow into the next.
© Copyright 2010 Jonathan (go0danplenty at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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