Wyrd Daze Six Star Fiction: Housebound by L. B. Limbrey

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Housebound by L. B. Limbrey

I was a woman once, but now such a definition seems only approximate, like a name discarded after a divorce, a different self, a different life time. As to names, I am not sure what mine was anymore: I have been instead The Beeches, Fellside, and No. 5 Elm Walk respectively. I have been red brick and stuccoed, had my basement torn up, and an extension put in that does not quite fit. Trailing behind me, a many-changing cloak (not always seasonal) I have had flower gardens, bramble-patches, vegetable gardens, fruit cages and decking.

I have seen dereliction, weeds creeping up through the nervous system of pipes, rats nesting, birds making their homes within my walls, teenagers scrawling their bleeding hearts across my innards, homeless men finding shelter from the storm.

There has been rot, damp, infestation.

There have been families, single owners, absentees, renters, holiday-makers, a brief stint as an independent gallery… I liked the artist’s commune. I did not like the Hutchinsons. There has been love, and the absence of it.

I am not a haunted house, but perhaps I am a haunting.

And then there was him. I knew from the first moment he fit the key in the lock of my blue front door, that there was something special about him. It was the way he carried himself, the reverence and humility, the patience. He smiled at the cobwebs clogging my plasterwork, bit his lip in excitement as he explored the further reaches of my attic space, blushed at the blousy hedonism of my garden. He whispered something when he arrived, but all that mattered to me was the way he said, “Home.”

Most stirring was the touch of his hands on the banister: it made me shudder, sigh, settle into my rafters as if I had finally, for the first time, been seen, known, acknowledged.

I do not know who I was before I became this place. There is no recollection of life, of love. There is no defining memory of selfhood. I remember though, how I came to be this place, how I was cursed. Though, as I have no memory of what was before, it does not feel so much a curse, only a different thing, an unravelling of the matter to be put back together as something else.

It was night time, and I shouldn’t have been out. There is no specific reason as to why that was so. I have sat through countless nights now, experienced many without and within myself – I know how few women walk alone at night. I know how badly that can go.

There was a man. I am not sure if I knew him – would that make a difference? I doubt it. I do not want to be a vengeful thing, a spiteful house. I do not want to dwell on the cruelty of another.

There was a knife. How many times did it pierce me? Perhaps the number was important, wrote the spell in blood more potently: seven or twelve or three are all auspicious numbers I believe. But then all numbers make up all things so what use is a human conception of the numeric compared to the building blocks of cells, the exact equations to support a beam, or a floor, or a lintel?

There was pain. But there is pain everywhere.

I remember looking up at the bright smear of the night sky, the high-reaching branches of trees trying to hold the celestial in their brittle fingers. I remember thinking, this would be a lovely place for a house.

He moved into the drawing room whilst he began his renovations – everything was gutted bar the bathroom (which needed more aesthetic attention than anything else). He set up a small camp-bed and a paraffin stove to heat up his soup, and a little table on which to make sandwiches and go over his plans for me – detailed, intricate map-works, blueprints of re-enchantment, rehabilitation, love poems in mathematical precision and an artist’s solemn flare.

He began with the electrics, unthreading and re-weaving the delicate tangle of my veins until I lit up once more. I felt it coursing through me, flickering. At first it exhausted me – quiet, dying for so long, the sudden shock of current almost overwhelmed me. But at least he had an easier time of it after that, working into the early hours of the morning on plastering or laying floorboards or installing large, gleaming appliances. I watched him work with deft, devoted precision: replacing rotten windows, engulfing my walls in papers: sometimes gilt or flock, or sometimes pale and empty, which he would then caress with rollers, brushes, lustrous paints, peeling off the perfect line of masking tape and giving a satisfied sigh.

I do not know when he began to hear me – or perhaps I only imagined that he did. Perhaps I projected my affection onto him out of a hollow, displaced loneliness.

After pain, indifference, abandonment, he was kind to me, treated me with reverence, did not recoil at the mould or the mites or the architectural quirks of me.

It is a true thing when people say that buildings talk – have you never listened to them? The creak of doors, the chattering of pipes, the sigh of a house settling, the whistle of a high gale though holes in a window pane. We whisper, we murmur in the half-light early hours, we reflect your own noise back at you, demand of you a recognition.

He could hear it. He could feel it. Sometimes, he would even reply.

Ironically, I was never a domestic creature before. If the idealised woman were to turn into anything, she would not just be a house, but a home: a warm, safe place to burrow into, cocoon within, clean but well-loved, always in the process of cooking but never feeding. Beautiful in a way that suggests no effort was made, when it was.

I was not an ideal woman, I do not think. Families especially I found difficult – no homely, gentle atmosphere could be coaxed from my walls until he came. I think that is why most people did not stay long.

It’s a nice house, they might say wistfully, but not a home. And they would pack up their bags and leave and I would scream, the lights suddenly surging, a high thin noise of pain, and then I would remember I did not need them or their pity or their life.

That I was whole (so I thought) and satisfied.

He began to ask me what I thought – whether forest breath or ocean view were the better colour for the master bedroom, whether I would prefer a gas hob or the expense of an aga: he mused its warmth would be a comfort to me, “A beating heart.”

I blushed at the thought, that he could see me as a living thing. Somehow, he always guessed my preferences correctly, knew perfectly what would both suit me and fulfil me.

It took six months – structural damage repaired, extension modernised, electrics updated, aga installed, the addition of things like wi-fi and satellite television dishes, the intimate joys of sanding, polishing, decorating, the placing of furniture with a period mindful precision.

Throughout this time, increasingly, he began to dream, to desire, to sow seeds of something strange within himself: he dreamt I was engulfing him, swallowing him up, that a sad-eyed woman stood in each of the doorways murmuring, that hands caressed him from the floor, the ceiling, that the beating heart of the aga was bleeding, irreparably staining the reclaimed wooden flooring.

He began to take increasingly frustrated calls from a woman I did not know. Hollowly reassuring her that there was still too much to do before they moved in.

Them.

The family.

The prospect of a disruption to domestic bliss. I had tried to avoid it before, the knowledge that others would be coming. But I had seen the children’s rooms set up so neatly, so sweetly, and I had heard the long, drawn-out arguments about bathroom tiling (I would not in good conscious have seashell patterned tiles, I could not bear such an indignity as that), and I had heard him whisper it as he first walked in, “You’ll be a good home for us.”

And I had not wanted to admit it was true.

The Hutchinsons’ bird was called Polly, unimaginative until you realise it was a budgie, so perhaps only stupid. Their small children made dens in my eaves and ran about and scribbled on the walls, and there is still an unrequited line of longing written by their teenage daughter on a beam in the attic. Mrs Hutchinson was a bored housewife who did not clean but hired someone to do it for her, even though she had the time. Mr Hutchinson wasn’t often home, and sometimes smelt of his secretary.

It was the quintessential picture of modern life.

Polly was a good girl really, she didn’t speak, not human words, but she’d creak and settle and speak like a good house did. Polly was a gift at Christmas to the middle child. I loved Polly, her yellow feathers and her neat ways, the trill and whistle of her call.

The Hutchinsons’ would go out and I would talk to Polly, sweet and lonely.

They forgot to feed her. No one wants a budgie that doesn’t greet them, and Polly fell down dead, stiff as a board.

They had to go.

It only took a little push: a businessman in a loveless marriage loses his job and gets drunk, goes home, and his kids are misbehaving and his wife hasn’t got a kind word, and can you guess the punchline?

There was an awful lot of blood.

He still slept in the drawing room – though the paraffin stove was gone and he used the usual appliances, he felt strange trying to sleep in the wide expanse of the master bedroom.

That night he lay awake late, listening to the night around him.

They were coming tomorrow.

I had nothing to say, I was possessed of an all-consuming grief, a sadness I knew he could feel – his attention would be pulled form me, which troubled us both. There would be a family, a cat, a wife, other houses to attend to. I would have my walls scrawled on, my cupboards filled up, I would have them lying together within me.

He was restless, moving, the night too heavy on him.

He got up, paced the dark hallways, running his hands through his greying hair. He may have begun to cry, or to feel as if that were the only choice.

He heard a creak on the landing above, a knife slice of sound through the silence.

He followed it gingerly, unafraid, coming to the bedroom, finally, and finding me: a door closing, other parts opening.

As he reached satisfaction, his hand reached out for the wall in heady desperation, so he might feel all of me, so he might know me.

We slept in the tangled sheets of their marriage bed.

He awoke seemingly alone, knowing I was with him nonetheless. He felt, I think, a small flutter of shame, but then bested it. There were bruises on him, brick dust and plaster in his hair, splinters in his fingertips, nails had left shallow gouges in his flesh, but his blood sang with pleasure, he hummed contentedly about his morning coffee, lingeringly stroked my doorways and finials as he passed them.

All good things must end, as do all bad. Things are always ending, and beginning: good and bad are subjective notions anyway, especially when you’re all bricks and mortar.

They arrived – the family – early afternoon: I watched her, a pretty enough thing but red with the stress of moving, tired from the journey and six months of entertaining two small children.

She approached warily, not with the romantic eye he had, but with the practical scowl of the mother who is finally allowed into her nest. One child perched on a hip, the other holding her hand and chewing on the ear of a gingham rabbit, she approached.

He hadn’t given her a key yet, which thrilled me. He did not want to share me.

She called out his name – no answer. Knocked the door – no stirring within. Called his phone – it buzzed impotently on the side in the kitchen. She called out once more with more frustration, the smaller child began to whine.

He was upstairs, unknowing, pressed against an internal wall, moaning.

“For fuck’s sake,” she breathed, turning to the eldest, she put on her best smile. “Stay here kiddo, I’ll see what’s going on. Look after your sister, yeah?”

She couldn’t get over the garden wall, but she could see the French doors at the back were wide open. She asked with neighbours, who knew nothing: they were taken with the pleasant young man who had made such a nice job of the house, but he kept himself to himself most of the time: hadn’t left a spare set of keys with anyone.

“Daddy!” she heard a delighted shriek as the older child cried out from the gate.

“Jesus, where have you been?” She began to say as she rounded the corner.

He stood on the threshold hollow-eyed and worryingly thin, his eldest daughter running towards him, his younger grizzling where she had been abandoned.

Something, she was not sure what, something which she described only to her oldest friend as like the throat of a house, the teeth of buildings, seemed poised for one moment, and in one gulp, devoured him, the door slamming shut, a set of keys left hanging from the lock.

The house, she would later say, had a sort of smirk to it.

Perhaps I did, I’ve never been one to gloat, but I couldn’t help it: seeing his daughter, that’s what had done it. I knew he would have shaken me off to be with them, even if it were me he desired, me he truly loved. Even if he spent his nights half-mad with lust for me within me, he would have invited them all in, and been the happiest of families. Until they weren’t and they quarrelled and sold me off, and so it would all begin again, endlessly.

 I couldn’t possibly have shared him.

Now I am whole again, and satisfied.

L. B. Limbrey is a non-binary poet, horror writer and environmental activist. They have work published in Rituals and Declarations, Dust Poetry, Corvid Queen, Grimoire Silvanus, Cypress Journal’s ‘The Red House’ anthology and Dynamis Journal. They write the Queer as Folklore blog and do talks on women’s fantasy writing and queer folklore.

You can find them on Twitter and Instagram
and their work at www.scornalott.wordpress.com