That day I left the house early. It was cold outside, a deep and deadly blue up there. I watered the rose bush and the dahlias for the last time and apologised to them. I cleaned the house so it looked like everyone had gone for a walk, and that I was late in joining them.
On the way, I looked at everything for the last time, each thing jumping out from where it had always been; doors, trees and cars that I was sure had never moved were all scowling.
I walked the slope of the centre of town. It was harder this time, for I was heavier than usual—with my dad’s full rucksack, with crackers and water and the kitchen knife.
Then finally before me, the doorway without the door breathed darkness out onto the streets and into me. That morning, it looked relatively unremarkable. Maybe it’s asleep, I thought, maybe no one had gone inside for years. I tried checking in with myself for any signs of regret, but nothing.
I walked the weed-lined pathway that would lead me into the black. Finally came the shakiness that had evaded me all morning. I looked the darkness in the eye, an inch from the door frame and I saw nothing. And then I went in.
One foot and then the other. The view of the outside zoomed out and sped away from me when I turned to look back. It ran from me like I’d suspected it would as a child. And within that was the confirmation that anything was possible, and anything could happen to me. I felt not crippled by fear, but heightened with relief.
Something cracked underfoot as I started for a deeper darkness. A still shallow black revealed I’d collided with a pool of leaves that had collected by the doorway. And then I looked at what had been hidden from me my whole life. A wide corridor. As if the dimensions of the house had shifted to that of one in the country. It was all that was there, and seemed to lead to itself, again, and again. The floor beneath me was dry and grainy—naked floorboards. The walls were covered in wallpaper, the bumpy kind I would’ve picked as a child. They were tinged brown with an age of filth and unknown stains.
It smelt ordinary—of dust, like a dead house would. No smells of life, death, people. I felt giddy and strange. I felt helplessly confident, unafraid.
I walked boldly—wide, heavy steps. True to what I’d assumed, the corridor was one long untwisting tunnel, lofty and wid. There were no shapes in the darkness yet, no feelings of other presences rubbing against my own.
I thought of the girl’s uncle and his imagined eternity. I wondered when I’d start to come across remains of those killed—those who’d dried out from dehydration, those who’d gone loopy from the tedious journey and the daylight deprivation. I wondered if, then when that would happen to me, whether all I’d invested in the homes over the years would make the slightest difference.
I covered a lot of ground before I felt drained enough to want to close my eyes. I thought the house might awaken when I’d lost consciousness and act. But I went to sleep anyway. I wanted whatever the house wanted.
I woke up spluttering. I was deeply confused about my surroundings, then, about whether I was alive, or if this was death. Then, because I could still conjure emotion, I realised I was still living. I was angry. I’d missed something, or the house had died long ago. Despite what I’d seen it do to the outside when I’d first stepped in, I was unconvinced, forgetful. I would die here, and it would be a boring death.
Each ‘morning’ I’d open my eyes. I’d squeeze my thighs and shake my head until I couldn’t see anything but fuzzy blackness. Only when my head began to thump did I know I was still alive. I started walking into each new day of blackness with a deeper shade of indifference. Maybe I was being punished for my presumptuousness. Maybe I’d offended the house with my overfamiliarity. I thought of the hunched figures I’d drawn with their magnifying glasses. I thought of my mum. I tried to predict whether she’d have been angry with me. I concluded she wouldn’t have, and even if she would’ve, she couldn’t perform anger. This was the better she wanted for me after all.
My dad would’ve hated to see me like this, though I told myself the man he’d become later on would have empathy. I thought of how I’d known him as a child, the intimidation, the might of him that probably only stood out because of my mum. The story he’d told us had so far been the closest to mine. I wondered if he resented us. He never talked about his world outside of ours, we had not been suitable listeners, my mum had made sure of that. Towards the end, he’d seemed like the kind of man to expect to see her again. I imagined him with her now, as I stretched out in the darkness and waited my turn.
I thought of Eliza and how she’d died for the city. That was who my parents should be turning in graves over, not my feebleness. She was detached like Mum, in her own obnoxious, glossy way. She wasn’t like Mum, or me, she was stronger. She could face it. She could fill in the gaps without need for imagination. I never thought I’d lose her.
I tried not to miss them. I was here to escape, but it was a journey I’d still hoped would lead me to them.
I wondered how far away I was from the outside, sliding down the wall to the floor one ‘evening’. I tried to decide which of my parent’s stories I believed, that’s what the house was waiting for, I thought. My eyes were dry and my sockets felt like they might swallow them. They tried to refocus themselves in the darkness, so that I saw shapes in the corridor I told myself were not there. I closed them, and this time, let my head weigh heavy on the wall, intending to really sleep.