Annoyance And Triumph, Of Sorts

God placed the gift upon those who create and build. There is something viscerally satisfying about the act of creation, be it a work of art, a cord of neatly stacked firewood, or replacing the wiring in my Victorian-era farmhouse. The wiring was decrepit when the house was finally sealed up, and had declined to improve with further aging, but my electrical contractor has done a marvelous job of not only upgrading everything, but also preserving the basic beauty and atmosphere of this grand old home. There is neither a socket nor a light switch to be seen in the living areas.

Of course, the devil could not let this go unmatched, hence Zoning Boards and Inspectors. I do try to not be overly harsh, for I understand the town’s dismay over my arrival- it stood to benefit greatly from the development plans laid out, and they had the property virtually within their grasp. Nonetheless, it seems petty to place needless obstacles in my path. Fortunately Joshua is up to the task, taking some personal pleasure in the reversal of fortune represented by my plans to reoccupy the house.

So, the wiring is now reluctantly admitted to be up to code, the barn and stables are now properly permitted and under construction, the McAllister Family Cemetery does not require relocation, and the interior work is well under way… It has been a marvelous maelstrom of activity.

Of course, it has left me little time to consider on further topics for this little journal. I am mindful of the question posed in comments to the previous post and I shall address them in a somewhat timely manner, but for the moment I do believe I shall laze about and draw something that existed elsewhere and place it here. What follows was originally offered as a guest post at Etherian’s Island in October of 2003

The house was more difficult to find than I had expected. One Hundred and Fifty Three years is not such a great span, but for this once small town… the changes had been profound. A small town had become a larger town, had become a suburb. Still, there were traces of the past to be found in the historic buildings downtown, and the aged ante bellum farmhouses that had survived the rapacious maneuverings of developers. One in particular called to me.

There was no road. There had been, but the house and the property had been unoccupied for so long that the track had overgrown. Yet landmarks remained; the lay of the land had not changed so much. There was a bit of a struggle on going between the trust that held the property and a group of land developers who envisioned multi-million dollar homes and a championship golf course. But the legal strictures of the trust were strong and the land remained as it was. The house had been empty for more than fifty years.

Given the contention surrounding it I was required to be secretive, approaching cross-country, taking most of a day to reach it. The air was warm- summer giving way grudgingly to fall. The heat was real, but it hinted at the cool night to follow, the buzzing of beetles giving the lie to the day. I walked out of the woods, past the faded “No Trespassing” signs, crossing the low rise to bring the house in to view. It sprawled across the next small hill, still majestic in its own way, despite the obvious toll of decades of disuse. The outbuildings were gone- the stable and the barn, either removed or collapsed.

The sight of it gave me pause. Suddenly, and again, this seemed foolish- what was the point of coming here? Everything that had made this place precious to me was gone long, long ago. There was nothing here… no. Almost nothing.

I crossed the field of high grass and brambles, feeling the weight of the past settle upon me as I drew closer to the dilapidated structure. The years certainly had not been kind, nor had the occasional band of squatters, for some of the damage was obviously deliberate, the work of teenagers marking the spot of their private drinking parties.

The sun was setting behind it as I drew closer, stepping in to the shadow of the house, into the embrace of it. The long, wrap-around porch was sound, barely creaking as I walked along it, past boarded up windows and the sealed front doors. There had been changes, of course. Nothing lasts so long without changing. Nothing but me.

I spotted the way in with little effort- one of the windows had had its plywood carefully removed then replaced more than once. I slid the wood from its frame and squeezed through, my large pack making it a tight fit. Somebody had actually gone to the trouble of attaching a handle to the inside of the plywood cover so I used it to seal the window behind me. The house, so old and full of ghosts, now had one more.

I was in the southern parlor. The room was empty of course, but I recognize it and my mind’s eye filled it with those familiar things that made it such a delightful place to take a morning’s breakfast or brunch. The house was gloomy with so many windows covered yet it was as if I could feel it warming at my presence. Silly, yes, but suddenly I as if the house were so very happy that I had come.

I stepped through the arch to the entryway, the front parlor: the grand staircase sweeping up to my right, the entry to the northern parlor across from me, the hall to the dining room offset to the right from that and the entrance to the sitting room leading due west. I dropped my pack, suddenly eager to be free of the weight.

The house was empty, just some beer cans and other trash piled in the corner near the front doors- whoever made a habit of visiting this place at least had the courtesy to clean up after themselves a bit. I strolled through the lower floor, pausing to remember here, or there, noticing things that were now missing, or were new. There was a scent to the place, even after all these decades, even after being empty for so long, I could taste the familiarity of it.

The staircase beckoned.

By then I was nearly manic. I snatched my pack from the ground and swept up the wide steps, but something halted me. A memory, an echo, teasing at me and taunting me until I sat a moment and finally called it up from the place it lay buried. I turned it over in my mind, tasting it, feeling it until a trick of the deepening darkness and my own desire conspired to make it real.

I saw him, standing at the foot of the stairs- he could not look at me nor I directly at him, that would shatter the spell, but I knew that this memory of him, this pale echo of him knew me. He heard me.

“I came to say goodbye.”

We said goodbye long ago. We parted- you on your path to future days; and I, on mine to oblivion.

“But I held on to you. I was selfish, but no longer.”

I understand, but this is not the place for goodbyes.

“I will come. I will see you in the proper place. That is why I am here.”

Would that I had eyes with which to see you…

He turned to bring his eyes towards me and the moment collapsed in to the shadows. For the first time since setting out on this journey a twinge of sadness brushed my heart. Not grief. Not bitterness. The time for those had passed.

Upstairs I made my way around to our bedroom and my old dressing room. It was quite dark and I had to use the flashlight I had brought to find my way. Once there I opened my pack and drew out the lantern, filling it with oil and priming the wick before lighting it. The pale yellow illumination suffused the room, rendering it in an almost surrealist cast of flickering shadow and light. Another time this might have been depressing, the empty room, the bare floors, the walls stained and faded, but to me it was a welcome sight. I knew this place. I could feel the past alive in it.

The remainder of the pack held only a blanket and one large, carefully folded and wrapped item. I spread the blanket on the floor and took out the package, carefully opening it, laying out the contents, smoothing the fabric. Then I began to undress.

The dress precluded slipping out the way I had come in. Fortunately the door out the back to the garden was easily opened from the inside. The sun was almost below the horizon now and I stood a moment to admire it as I had so many times before, so very long ago. I set out westerly from the garden, walking in to the lowering sun until I encountered a rusted iron gate, still hanging awkwardly from a single hinge attached to the skewed granite pillar whose twin lay broken in the grass opposite. The remainder of the fence I remembered was gone. I could see the stones, three neat rows of them, miraculously unmolested by those who had claimed the house as a favored nightspot.

I counted the headstones- fifteen of them. So, he was the last to be buried here after all. I stepped to the end of the short row, my feet touching the very spot where I had stood One Hundred Fifty-Three Years, Two Months and Eleven Days before. The day my beloved Jeremy was given to the Earth to hold for all eternity.

Come, Elaine. Sit with me once more.

“I miss you, Jeremy. I will always miss you, but the pain is gone.” I set the lamp atop his headstone and spread the blanket, tamping down the tall, dry grass, then carefully took my seat, folding the dress and the petticoats just so.

Your wedding dress. How appropriate.

“Let me tell you of what has come to pass…”

Seated there by my husband’s grave as darkness fell, I made my final peace: a quiet, laughing communion with the memory of the one who had made me so happy, so joyful, so alive.

And we were interrupted only once…

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