This House | Edward Mc Whinney

        This house has too many doors. It’s easy to become confused. And there’s always something to be mended in an old house like this: ballcocks and doorknobs, cracked window panes surrendering to draughts, the latch on the back gate, the fluorescent strip light in the parlour or scullery where sometimes I smoke a cigar while cooking sausages and brewing green tea on a primus stove, the cellar cistern leaking, two strips of board on the attic stairs broken, the skylight above the west wing landing has a hole in the glass, and away out there far away beyond are the far off stars and there are slates off the roof back and front. The scullery window looks out upon a quiet street, a cul-de-sac, a line of trees wafting in a cool breeze, and as I gaze out I feel that I am the sole inhabitant of somewhere wonderful between here and nowhere though I am soon reminded that sole inhabitant I most certainly am not. My neighbour, Harvey, for example, regularly makes his presence felt. He is a virile young man with a real life. He has a business to run. He counts money as if it really matters. He has a wife. He also smokes. He drives a Peugeot. He has a holiday home in the warm south of Spain, some sparkling resort near Malaga. He has graves to visit. The teams he follows are subjects for oscillating passions, the sporting rollercoaster ride, despair in defeat, joy in victory. I hear him shouting at his television during the big games. Being a social animal he sometimes has all-night parties, noisy hedonistic events spilling into the cul-de-sac and the backyard; Saturday nights; cocaine, cunnilingus, wife swapping. I’ve seen silhouetted figures performing fellatio under a tree. I don’t know whether he is religious or not, but he is stacked up to the attic with insurance policies. He told me. But nothing to proclaim religiosity, no outward sign like a crucifix around the neck, holy pictures behind the door, sign of the cross at mid-day or when a hearse passes by. It would be impossible to imagine him sitting at his table ruminating like this. He cuts his little hedge with a chainsaw and occasionally decides to engage in major works which create real human situations, drawing me once more out there into the reality of day-to-day earthly existence such as recently when he decided to do up his roof, heralded one fine morning by the sound of scaffolding being erected at the side of the house. I looked out. You could hang yourself on that. I observed the scaffolders not with a little indifference, but the significance of the structure did not immediately impinge on my consciousness, until I saw Harvey stepping out his front gate, swinging boldly to the right and turning in at my gate. He was walking up to my door. Now an intrusion of this direct nature was and is of major concern. I heard the doorbell and I’m certain my eyes popped with alarm as I threw on my hat and stumbled down the stairs. I’m doing the roof, he said. I was bored immediately, this boredom also being a form of panic. I’d have agreed to anything to see his back going away. Next thing you know there’s this scaffolding all over your yard too, blocking out your light, casting a dark shadow across the typewriter screen. The overcast sky was threatening. You could hang yourself on that scaffolding, I thought again. And then chose to forget about it immediately. It would go away. Of course it would not go away, and sure enough the early afternoon peace of the house was broken yet again by the shrill sound of the doorbell and there stood Mrs. Joseph Wall, an elderly widow from up the street. Despite her frail appearance and fragile frame, hands and arms skeletal, face wizened, she conveyed an electricity in the face of this situation. For once in your life be tough she snapped. You’re the man around here. Tell him he can’t have so much scaffolding obstructing our light and movements. I assured her that I would deal with the situation in my own way. I flexed my muscles as it were. In days gone by I recalled how I’d take the dreaded walk to the office, damned it seemed for all eternity to work in that hell of a place. Sometimes as I walked over Patrick’s Bridge I’d throw a coin down into the torrent of brown water. The brown flood water would devour my coin, of course, my offering, and I would pray for a break, let something happen, I prayed, to get me off this damned conveyor belt. It would be November. I chose November because it was a month that always sent the shivers through me, a month not only of ice but of death. The Grand Parade itself had the aspect of an open grave. Tall undertakers clad in black scurried into the buildings out of the rain, a thousand years of merciless toil captured in their wan smiles. And when I stepped off the misty street into the office block the clamour that arose to greet me seemed so loud that it struck me as being ridiculous, though I had heard it many times before, in the way that you arrive in an instant where even the most acceptable and certain things are utterly bizarre, like breathing, like walking on two legs in a horizontal position and this goes on no matter the beautiful blue day, no matter the gorgeous fresh breeze, that sensation I recall as though it were happening now, stepping into the hall of mirrors, the clamour that arose like I had never heard it before, and as I stepped inside the cage for another afternoon of drudgery I asked myself, well whatever happened to Epicurism, should I say Hedonism, and whatever is wrong with Hedonism because even as I sit at my desk they’re at it everywhere, down the streets he jives, the hedonist, the gold in his teeth rattling, the jewelry on his wrists, hey babe, down the streets he jives and in the jungle too and out in the woods and on the mountain slopes and by the water’s edge, they go to it pell mell while I sit chained to this desk, smelling Mrs. Bertie Mulumpy’s facial cream, pretending to be immersed in the work? That afternoon as I strove to deal with my next door neighbour’s scaffolding, it all came back to me and I realised that you might retire from the office but you don’t retire from life. He took me back through his house to view the problem. How long would that scaffolding be there, I asked? It would take them three or four months to finish the job, he said. His builders had other projects. That’s too long, I said. Not only is it blocking our light, it’s also restricting our movements. Mrs. Wall says she has to squeeze out into her yard to hang up the washing. My neighbour, the very practical man about town tried to argue that there was no other way for the builders to get at the back roof. It was time to get tough. No, I said. They’ll have to take it down. I want that scaffolding out of my yard. Sensing the steel in my attitude he guaranteed me it would be taken out but how was he going to get at that side of his roof? Reality, continuously and without tiring, coughs up such problems. The world will go on as usual, I said to myself, without feeling any level of consolation. The world is a miracle, I continued, still trying, it’s simply miraculous. The cranking of the cranes over in the docks, the bombarding of the Lebanon this week will be the bombarding of somewhere else next week, all that faraway rubble and smoke, a man next door erecting the scaffolding to repair his roof. The builders were outside now. Sudden elevated voices broke through the peaceful afternoon breeze. They were examining the job. Harvey was telling them how I had objected to the scaffolding and now they were trying to think of a way around it. How would they get at that awkward bit of back roof? We’ll have to go with a tower here, I heard one of them say. It’ll be awkward but.… Another one of them shook his head, scratched his head, spat on the bush, lit a cigarette, did all those things with admirable nonchalance before setting to work and deconstructing the scaffolding that had taken them hours to erect and upon which a fellow could easily —

        I held my head in my hands. I gazed at the blank page on the typewriter. How did Dostoyevsky write so much? He was a gambler and an epileptic, living more on his nerves than Mrs. Brown. How did he do it? He had more time somehow. He was not immersed in a daily grind such as the years spent in that office in town or the other years spent in the Horevalley Country, grinding it out for bread. Somehow he must have built the space within which he managed continuity, for you suddenly realise that you have to build a tower, or some kind of space within which you must strive to get everything functioning to its maximum, to build a cone or space within which to facilitate your aptitudes so that you can fulfill projects, all the projects or merely the one project that you simply must complete. And this space you build must be built to exact dimensions, the dimensions to allow for the 5 percent of your brain that’s working, north, south, east or west, transaxial, sagittal or coronal, as well as catering for your own particular constitution or metabolism, so that for the intellect to function to the capacity of its 5 percent of brain space usage, you should include a gymnasium and a properly stocked larder and have a corner where you can whack off without destabilising the entity too much. The space you have to build will need the most detailed drawings, suited only to your own specific and unique needs and then discarded because the blueprint is utterly valueless to anyone other than your twin brother or clone. Words mean nothing. Words are all we have got. All is Nothing. Maybe silence is something. No silence is nothing. I hate silence. I have to keep up the noise, the flow of senseless words for that is all, other than that flow there is nothing. We are meat and bone. Without food, without water, without shelter from the hurricanes we would die and slip away like the trillion trillions into nothingness. And this is the point at which I begin to pound my head against the air as if trying to open up some kind of crack into another dimension, where answers to all the mysteries we are teased with would be revealed. At that moment I opened my eyes and looked out the window. The scaffolding was no longer visible but I could hear a sound like a distant hammering filtering in through the many doors because as I said this house has too many doors. It’s easy to become confused.

 read about the author Contributors.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

© 2003-2007  |  all rights reserved
xml feed  |  Contrary ® is a registered trademark of Contrary Magazine  |  write to usfeed://
commentary | poetry | fiction | chicago | autumn 2007  
Household Poisons | Thomas King
It Begins when the Leaves Turn | Grace Wells
The Intolerable Nature of Yearning | Katie Kidder
Figure 2 | Lindsay Bell
Egressive | Amy Groshek
Kampala 2012 | Damian Dressick
Today, October the Ninth | Allison Shoemaker
This House | Edward Mc Whinney

from the editor


On the Contrary
Archives | Search
Sponsor a WriterPoisons.htmlBohreen.htmlYearning.htmlFigure.htmlEgressive.htmlKampala.htmlToday.htmlContradiction-1.htmlReviews.htmlContrary.htmlArchives.htmlWritersFund.htmlshapeimage_6_link_0shapeimage_6_link_1shapeimage_6_link_2shapeimage_6_link_3shapeimage_6_link_4shapeimage_6_link_5shapeimage_6_link_6shapeimage_6_link_7shapeimage_6_link_8shapeimage_6_link_9shapeimage_6_link_10shapeimage_6_link_11shapeimage_6_link_12