Houses don’t view time in the same way as people.
Neither do flats, apartments, bungalows, condos, huts or wigwams, but Rose Reach is a house. She is a very old house, with many original features: fireplaces, ceiling roses, even the old gas pipes in the walls for oil lamps.
She is at times a very fine house, with white walls and black beams that criss-crossed her face like corset lace, but at other times her white walls are splattered with showery spots of black damp, residence psoriasis, spreading across her once perfect cladding.
Rose Reach is aware of these different times because time for her is a series of rooms, categorised and separate but easy enough to travel between.
This is one of the benefits of being a house.
Rose Reach is currently watching herself being demolished, and she supposes, as her kitchen caves in, that she probably won’t be able to travel between her rooms anymore. She wonders if she’ll remember herself as a house when she is separated into piles of brick and plywood and shattered glass, but then she doesn’t remember herself as stone and sand and mulch, so she decides probably not.
She isn’t upset by this. Emotions for houses are duller, muted things, experienced slowly. Houses are cautious with their feelings, even as regards themselves.
It doesn’t surprise her that they chose to begin in the kitchen. The centre of the house, that’s what they say. That’s what they used to say. Before he came through Rose Reach’s front door.
She pulls away from the kitchen. She doesn’t care for it. She never did. It was an ugly room, not to her tastes. The ceiling was lower than any of her other rooms, and it made her feel clunky. Time here moves thickly. She rolls herself forward, away from the kitchen.
She has three bedrooms upstairs, one a box room.
Too small to be a bedroom, but it suited the baby.
Jack pushed open the door and swore when it hit loudly against the skirts, and then swore again for swearing. He wasn’t used to being quiet. He was a big man, built for big spaces. He should have been American or Australian or Russian, but he wasn’t.
He had thought about joining the army when he was younger, when it had become clear he was going to be a big man. But his eyes let him down. He wore glasses as thick as his fingers. On a normal sized person they would have been invitation to bullying, but on Jack they just served to separate him further from the world. With his big hands and big feet and deep voice and thick lenses, he was comical to look at, and that’s all most people did - look at him.
But Zoe had spoken to him.
He’d helped her move into halls. She dropped her plant and spilled dry earth everywhere, and no one had helped except Jack. They’d got talking, and Zoe had seen something behind his thick glasses and mountainous body, and four years later they’d married. Two years after that they’d bought a flat, and then they’d bought Rose Reach, and now they had little Susie.
Now Jack stood, frozen in the door, anxiously staring through his fishbowl eyes at the baby, waiting for her to wake, to start crying. Susie bubbled spit between her little pink lips, smiled drowsily, and went back to sleep.
“See?” Zoe said, “She’s her father’s daughter. Sleep through anything.”
Jack reached out and placed his hand against Zoe’s cheek. “She’s her mother’s daughter - the only other girl in the world who puts up with me.”
Someone’s banging on the door. Rose Reach pulls away from the box room, curious. The builders are all here, pulling her to pieces, enacting the revenge they’d been hired to do. Out by the porch, a neighbour is complaining about the noise.
Rose Reach thinks about shaking her curtains at the woman but lets the impulse go, and the woman stomps away, happy she’s said her piece. The porch is both empty and full, and is soon to be forgotten.
Rose Reach wishes she had done something differently, caused the door to jam or made the air too cold for him to stay. If she had, there wouldn’t be so much pain.
Houses feel regret. In this way they are similar to people.
The plumber at the porch was a friend of Jack’s. He walked in and introduced himself to Zoe and Susie. Susie was home from school. It was summer, and the windows were always open. They sat together in the kitchen, and Rose Reach was embarrassed because the plumber had to lower his head.
“The last people built this as an extension. I think they must have been about four foot tall,” Zoe apologised, fixing the man a cup of tea.
“S’alright”, he said, smiling.
“Thank you for offering to help. With Jack away so often…”
“S’alright,” he said again. “It’s good experience for me. And I know Jack doesn’t like you two here on your own. He asked me to pop by. So it’s no trouble. S’alright.”
Susie looked up from her drawing and smiled at him.
Rose Reach has a vase of flowers in her living-room window. Even today, they day they kill her, fresh flowers in her window.
Flowers for thanks. Flowers for a funeral.
The flowers on the upper landing were dying.
Jack looked at them, surprised. He stood, wondering if perhaps he had uncovered a secret, a child finding out Santa Claus isn’t real, and just for a moment is included, grown-up. No longer a strange giant, watching the normal world go by.
And then, riding on the back of his strange elation, Jack felt a moment of loss when it occurred to him that his wife didn’t keep the flowers alive when he wasn’t there. He told himself it meant something, that she put them there for him only when she knew he would be home. It was a sign of affection.
A petal drifted down from the praying head of the tulip, taking with it an ideal of his wife.
One floor down, Jack’s friend worked on, unnoticed, plumbing, plumbing, plumbing away.
Houses don’t keep secrets, and Rose Reach knew already what Jack didn’t, though she didn’t understand the significance of it in the way that Jack would come to.
The kitchen stands in piles in the garden, waiting to be moved to the skip. The builders are drinking tea, and the radio chatters away in the background, talking about sports and politics and television.
These things are important. Noises fill a house, and Rose Reach has missed them. She stares down through her bricks and window panes at the bones of herself. All houses die. All people die. Builders and shovels and mixing machines kill houses. Fire too, and flood.
Gas only kills people.
“So can you fix it?” Zoe asked, hips against the counter, an apple uneaten in her hand.
“When’s Jack back?” asked Jack’s friend.
“Two, three weeks.” Zoe scratched the skin of her apple, leaving a white scar.
Jack’s friend shrugged. “I can. But it’ll take a few days. Do you mind?”
Zoe looked up from her apple. “No. No. It’s nice to have someone here.”
“S’alright,” Jack’s friend smiles. “Glad to be here.”
Houses are homes when they’re full, that’s what people believe. But houses are always full.
Rose Reach is full now, even as they empty her. Rose Reach is a very special house, and will be full long after she no longer stands, long after her land has been sold and a new building stands on her bones.
Houses are full of memories. Houses are full of potential. Houses are full of ghosts.
Susie, eight years old, sat on the stairs, listening to her parents argue. She wishes she hadn’t told him. Her regret sits inside her, slothful and heavy. She’d never felt anything like it before, and somewhere in her mind, the feeling takes hold. Takes root inside her. It will haunt her for years to come.
In the future, boyfriends and husbands will tell her she did nothing wrong, and she’ll let them think that they’ve helped her.
Rose Reach can’t read minds, but houses can read emotions. Houses, like little Susie, absorb feelings and hold onto them, taking them into their insulation and mortar, releasing them slowly and painfully.
Jack was shouting, crying. Zoe was crying, shouting. Everyone was crying, shouting. Shouting, crying. Everyone felt so guilty. So apologetic. So angry.
The living room was silent, the kitchen too. The whole house had been silent for weeks, and then one night noise filled Rose Reach again.
Zoe stepped forward, tightening the rope of her dressing gown. She stands next to her husband, looking at the plumber flat on his back on her kitchen table. He is a frightful sight, his body pulped like wet paper.
Pulped by Jack the gentle giant, her Jack.
“You shouldn’t have brought him here,” she said.
Jack turned to his wife. “No.”
“He hurt her,” Zoe said.
Zoe reaches out and takes her husbands bloody hand. “Leave him here. We’ll call the police in the morning.”
Houses are homes when they are full. When they make you feel safe. Houses want to be homes. In this way, Rose Reach was no different from any house, from any person.
Rose Reach steps back into the living room. Her pipes shudder. She is an old house. When she’d filled the kitchen with gas she hadn’t realised how quickly her veins would empty. She hadn’t realised how little it would take.
The plumber gasped and kicked and then, finally, stopped.
The next day, the police came and went and came again. No one was charged. The law doesn’t stretch to arresting and imprisoning houses.
Rose Reach watches as Jack, Zoe and Susie stand by the front gate. Jack picks his little girl up, hugging her tightly.
“I’ll miss this place,” Susie says, not quite convincingly.
“You like the new place?” Zoe asked.
Jack dropped a kiss onto her cheek. “Good riddance. This house never felt right.”
Rose Reach watches her little family walk away. Houses don’t feel things the way people do. They are careful, guarded. Jack’s words didn’t hurt her any more than the builders pulling down her walls.
She turns back into herself, reliving all the families that had sheltered within her. Reliving the moment she killed the plumber.
Rose Reach is content to be knocked down.