When I Was House-Like, Inside

When I Was House-Like, Inside

When I Was House-Like, Inside 1920 1440 Roppotucha Greenberg

When the house burns down, big trucks will take us to the shelter in the city. I think of the lodgers’ bare feet on the gravel, but I can’t imagine the rest. It feels exciting and blank. Birth is like that. My inside-child will arrive in a convoy of trucks like antique furniture. I can’t think it into happening. My aunt gives me castor oil, but it slithers down my insides and nothing happens. She asks me if I got any letters from her son. ‘If it hadn’t been for this business,’ she says, ‘he never would have left.’ But I can’t think backwards either. I am all blank. There used to be other places, but I conceived here, in this bed, on the moth-ball smelling sheet, under the chintz cover. My child knows no other place.

My uncle says to stop with the fire hazards. The house will burn down. It’s just a matter of time. At three in the morning he is checking the fire alarms. The house is all noise. ‘Will you stop it, Jeff,’ my aunt shouts.  Tiny demon wives throw their shoes at him through the cracks in the walls. He brandishes the mop. ‘A bit of prodding, that’s all she needs!’ All along the gallery, the lodgers spill out of their rooms. The house spits out plaster. My inside-child wakes up hungry.

When it’s quiet again, my uncle tracks me down to the kitchen. ‘Selma, you dirty witch! Looking for food again.’ But I am a globe now. I could roll right over him. ‘It’s not for me,’ I say, and he retreats as if scalded. As I go up, I see him pacing and mumbling. He spills brandy on the carpet. He sets the sparks flying with a poker. But the house isn’t ready to burn.

In my room, a small demon mumbles in the wardrobe. My inside-child has climbed up to the window sill. She pulls my fingers and hums tiny songs.

‘Fine, but keep it quiet.’

She has a way with the house; the floorboards stop creaking, demon-wives stop gossiping, my uncle’s snores subside. She sprints on the ice. My belly is heavy and my legs cramp up. The rowan is bare except for a few wrinkled berries. I am suddenly mad for them; so tart, and that whiff of alcohol, I’d gobble them all, but what if I harm her? I want to hug her, but she blue-shimmers off to play in the hazels. I walk towards the light and hear her laugh, but then it goes quiet. I need to call her, but I don’t know her name. I don’t even know if she is a girl or a boy.

I am waiting in the wet garden. My back aches, and the night is losing its grip. The house looms and judges me. It won’t be long before it burns. Who’ll start it? A lodger with a cigarette? My aunt with an iron?  She wants me to make baby clothes out of old sheets. ‘No more rubbish out of you,’ she says. ‘Bad luck? What next. You’ve brought us all the bad luck we can get, girl. Watch: that’s where the head will go.’ I hid the cut-up sheets in the wardrobe, food for the fire demons.

I need to pee, so I have to walk back alone. All the stairs creak as I go to my room. My belly is big and quiet. I curl up in bed and wait.

My aunt says it’s my fault the child’s father is gone. When I walked him to the station, I was a grass-smelling moon, not a girlfriend. I had to stop to vomit in the bushes. From behind, he looked like a schoolkid. He looked like he was afraid of people seeing us; kissing cousins, dirty, worse. He didn’t kiss me before he left, but I didn’t mind. My uncle drove me back and stopped for petrol on the way back, ‘to kill off all vermin,’ he said.

I sip cold water to make her kick.

Nothing.

One more gulp.

I hear her singing in the attic, so I follow.

I climb up slowly and roll into the hatch, crawl through mouse droppings. ‘Come back!’ She keeps singing. The house’s head is around me.  I’ve crawled into some place behind its eyes. When the house looks out, it turns the outside into things: hazel trees into mildewed boxes, fields into old furniture, pylons into bats.

I touch something greasy, a rag, and another one, and candles beside the oily rags, and I know that things are bad.

‘Come,’ I whisper. ‘We have to leave this place. Your grandad has gone mad. He’ll burn us all down,’  

She stops singing and kicks. I crawl towards the hatch.

It’s closed.

I hammer on the wood. Nothing. I feel another kick, and then I am a sudden balloon of pain. The house is all my shouts.

It lets go, and I hurl myself on the door. I scream for my aunt. It comes again, bigger. All of me inside explodes, all of me inside is forever hurled into pain. I scream and kick, and as the forever recedes, I can hear the demon-wives rushing to help me. I look for my child’s face, but she burrows so deep inside me, I can’t feel her.

I can’t feel anything but pain, raw slabs of pain, and the hatch opens, and I shout about candles and rags, and then scream into the stern face of my aunt, the blurred faces of the lodgers who carry me downstairs on their shirtsleeved arms. Alarms go off.

And I understand: we will drive away from this place.

Then a huge wave, and I imagine the house erupt and burn all around me. As the pain recedes, it builds itself whole again. So, I gather miniscule shreds of time before the next wave floods the world and tell the house to stay strong, to fight bravely, to change hugely, and to let me go.

Header photograph © Tara K. Shepersky.

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