Rooms: before & after
“Thought is only a flash between two long nights, but this flash is everything.”
- Henri Poincaré
“. . . and memory unwound within me like a roll of film in which I played no part.”
- Heinrich Böll
The house is entered by the narrow doorway. The small vestibule extends onto a winding staircase and a long dark hall branches off into three rooms: living room (not lived in, in fear of breaking the valuables) kitchen, den. The winding staircase leads up to the bedrooms. The hardwood floors are worn and the carpets are stained from before we are even born. This is the house we inhabit. The rooms in this house are where the events take place. These rooms inform all other rooms and this house will shape all the other houses that come after. There will be an interval, a period of haunting in which you will be homeless, driven, restless, but you don’t know this yet. This house is the point of origin, all trajectories emanate from here, unstable and refracting exponentially. We are no longer there and neither is the house. We had all moved out by the time it set fire and burned to the ground. There is nothing left, no traces. Just a few distilled fractals return now and again in distant dreamflashes of fear. The truth of the events is confirmed where cartilage ossifies into rib, returning in fragments, their shadows creep in unannounced.
I had moved away and was living by the sea, you’re off in a war-torn country, when the crow comes in the night. He invites me to join him down the hall in his tiny room that is really meant for storage. His coat of blueblack feathers is shiny and sharp. He flutters around over the scattered clutter: balled up papers, cigar butts, bits of charcoal, petrified apple cores. Pointing with his ragged wingtip through the window to the disk in the sky, he announces: “my room is small, but i still have the moon!” The crow taught me how to render the likeness of things, how to see with my hands, how to fall face first in the snow. When we snuck into the chapel that time, he taught me that in order to play the piano one needn’t really know how to play.
With the tiny holes pricked in my eyelids by his talons, I recall the time we had fallen asleep together in your small single bed. The room with the locomotive wallpaper that matched the bed sheets stained with faded yellow sea horses. Later you’d paint the walls dark green and hang a poster of Jimmy Hendrix. Half awake, half asleep, duplicate genes, side by side in stillness, waiting to be woken up. and told to brushed our teeth in the bathroom with white tiles and blue sink that over time rotted into a musty catacomb with mildew Rorschach patterns on the shower curtains and walls. A collection of tooth brushes, yellowed dinosaur bones, now lie listless in a limescale pool by the sink. There are cracks in the ceiling.
It was unforeseeable then that you would have almost died at the wheel when the breaks gave out on the highway or that you would be behind enemy lines with orders to shoot. I’m on the east coast, on grey spring days of budding forsythia and ominous skies, spending time watching old films on VHS tapes rented out from the video store, they had all the classics of the silver screen. To Have and Have Not plays on the television set propped up on milk crates by the bed.
The yellow paisley curtains that hang in the den are just long enough. Hung on either side of the window, they frame the late day sun that makes the dust particles sparkle in the parallelogram of light cast across the dirty khaki coloured carpet and the arm of the old brown couch. The curtains are just long enough to hide behind. Tingling, dying to be discovered, I hope he finds me first, that we will be alone before the others are found or come out of their hiding places, that he will kiss me and then run away, later pretending nothing had happened. This is the last game. It is this summer that I learn what dieting means. I eat frozen yogurt out of styrofoam cups and I’m struck for the first time by the cadence of film without colour and wonder how on earth one ever gets a waist line so slim. A thousand hummingbirds taking flight, thick mascaraed eyelashes bat furiously and she gets kissed like he’s eating ice cream, the real thing.
In the kitchen he explains the theory of dark matter and the continuous expanding of the universe, the mysteries of nebula and galaxies. I pray they don’t come home early. This is the kitchen where shouting matches started. The decay in the fridge is never thrown away: brown lettuce, blue cottage cheese, black bananas, liquified cucumbers, flaccid carrots. The kitchen with all its pent up rage eventually caved in on itself. The ceiling swelled up and then burst under the pressure of the torrential summer rain. The incessant rain came down over three days and three nights. The leaves blocked the drainage system and the water, having nowhere else to go, seeped into the walls, coming in through the cracks and the holes drilled for electrical wiring. After, it all had to be gutted out.
We rarely eat in there together anymore. We got drunk one night and had words but there was very little exchange, mostly vacant stares. Strangers, splitting cells, separating into two separate entities, a process of mitosis. We are civil about it. I sit in silence folding and refolding the paper napkin, examining the Rorschach pattern left by lipstick and salad dressing, you make small talk. It is as if we never took that trip together through New England and never stopped at that yard sale, where we rummaged for an hour through racks of blouses, dresses and slacks, bins of handbags, belts, shoes, crates of fine china, christmas tree trimmings, collections of souvenir spoons and thimbles, shoe boxes of postcards and christmas cards, dusty books, stamp albums and National Geographics dating back to a time when a subscription signified class. I must have been the same measurements as the woman who had passed away leaving her possessions to be sold by her son-in-law by the side of road. Each dress I try on fits, you buy me the yellow one with the 70’s print that still hangs in the closet even though we no longer speak.
That summer, I also started sneaking cigarettes in the shed that stood in the back yard. Inhaling, exhaling, developing sophistication. I was certain the but was out, an hour later it all went up in flames. All of it. And even if the house still stood, its rooms would be barren. No one else would have lived there after us. But all of that, those rooms, that house, came a time before, before now, and now, after none of it matters anymore anyhow.