Pensive Prowler #7 by Dmetri Kakmi
This House is Haunted
I have lived in this house for twenty-three years. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. After all this time, the very fibre of my being is imprinted in the walls. I can walk around in the dark and know exactly where I am, without bumping into furniture or stepping on the dog.
When I drop off the twig, the plaster and the hardwood floorboards will retain an impression of my passing and transmit it to the new owners. That’s if developers don’t buy the old weatherboard Victorian first and knock it down to build the bland ‘town houses’ that spring up like cancers in this seaside suburb. Or if the water levels don’t rise and swallow the flat isthmus.
I remember being terrified when we first talked about coming here. I flew into a panic. A voice inside me said, ‘You’re going to die in this house.’
The voice didn’t mean that a madman would come and shove me in a garden mulcher. Though that might still happen.
It meant that I would live here the rest of my days. This house that will contain the entirety of my life; and at thirty-three or thirty-four I didn’t want to think about such things.
At that age you want to fly, not be tied down.
Things were fine when we moved in and found a place for the furniture and the pictures and the books. The feeling of immanent death dissipated and I saw that I might grow to enjoy the slow pace and the quiet of our little compound in the middle of these neat, orderly streets, filled with houses and families, living cheek by jowl, sometimes speaking to one another and sometimes not.
It’s a pleasant, airy home, modest and inviting, filled with pleasing amounts of light and shadow that shift with the day’s sun. The garden makes its presence known through French doors and the many mirrors strategically placed to capture the deepening greenness in spring and bring it indoors.
I even found that my writerly self flowered in the quietude, where there’s time to sit and contemplate without interruption. All in all, I’m lucky to live here and the house has done well to add us to its list of occupants, like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House.
The previous owner, Mrs Cameron, moved here in the 1940s and died in the room that now serves as my writing room. This being the industrial western suburbs, the widow saw fit to run the place as a boarding house for men who worked the nearby shipyards and train yards.
I imagine it was a rowdy residence in those days, filled with boisterous men’s talk of an evening and cigarette smoke mingling with jasmine in the yard. The radio always on. Or maybe Mrs Cameron ran a tight ship; and perhaps a man snuck to her room at night to take her in his arms. Who can tell?
Sometimes, on hot summer’s afternoons, Mrs. Cameron’s presence is so strong in the house you feel you might bump into her in the hallway.
I know she hates closed doors. The door to the present-day bathroom, which used to be the entrance to the original kitchen, is always open. No matter how many times I close it. And I feel her press close when I cook in the new kitchen, which used to be a room oddly fitted with a sloping, rickety shower stall.
That’s an old house for you. They’re filled with uncanny presences. You have to drive them out and impose your own stamp on decades of previous occupancy, until you too become part of the fabric of the structure.
During our first years here, I kept finding mementos in the backyard: coins, tobacco tins, chipped plates, men’s lapel pins, cuff links, a perfectly good woman’s ring with a stone once, tin soldiers, a pipe. You name it.
The residue of the past rose through the soil to greet the present in silent acknowledgement.
An elderly man stopped on the street one day and said he boarded here when he was young. He looked at the house with such a surfeit of wistful longing that, briefly, I contemplated asking him in. But I’m a selfish sod and didn’t want to be stuck with him. Afterwards, I wondered if perhaps the pipe or one of the elegant cuff links was his. Or maybe he’d walked past to capture a precious experience. (It’s easier to think kindly of people when they’re not around.)
When all is said and done, that is all that’s left of anyone, isn’t it? Memories and objects. Even houses go on standing, for a time at least, while we vanish off the face of the earth, never to be seen again.
Makes me wonder what they’ll find when I’m gone. Lots of hats probably.
‘Look, another hat.’
‘How many hats did he have?’
‘Weird old bastard.’
‘Mad hatter, more like…’
Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.