The house keeps on shivering.
I’ve called for a builder in order that he might assess the problem, and he recommends a doctor. The doctor didn’t know what to do himself, although he prescribed some pills because of a nasty rash in the kitchen near the microwave, and he also wondered why there was a patch of stubble in the hall.
‘Do you ever shave the floors?’, he asked, somewhat accusingly.
‘Of course not!’, I laughed. ‘Why would I do such a thing?’
‘I just thought you might be one of those house- rights activists. They have such weird beliefs. Shaving a house, they often say, gives it some dignity’.
I pointed to the floor of the living room where we were both standing and I indicated that the carpet had not yet had a chance to grow, though the previous house- doctor had stipulated a month’s wait at least until the shag pile had developed. ‘Would I have willingly ordered carpet’, I asked, ‘If I were in the habit of shaving the floors? Now I understand that stubble on the floor might be the next big thing in interior decoration, although I’ve heard that it can be quite painful on the feet. But I can assure you that the house, in all purposes, is allowed to follow its own developmental path’.
‘Hmm’, the house-doctor said. He wrote out his prescription and he passed it to me. ‘I’ll look into this’, he said, ‘But I’m not promising anything’.
The house kept on shivering all through the night.
I wondered if it was anything to do with me. Bad luck seems to follow me around, or maybe it is that I take to heart anything that goes wrong in my life, that I take things so personally. I have, however, never been happy in my new home. There was a curious burping noise when I first moved in, which was revealed to be a build- up of installation gasses in the main bone structure, and a nasty lump had to be removed a few weeks later, under aesthetic, a process which meant that I had to stay with my parents until the house recovered. But now this constant shivering, which, eerily, occurs more often at night, seems to confirm that such matters are completely out of my control.
I go through the next few days with a grim determination that the problems of the house should not ruin my enjoyments of life. At work I am personable and polite and all conversations regarding the developments of my living space are answered with an airy grace, underscored by a ruthlessness in not inviting any of my colleagues home to view the place. I describe to them the exact colour of my carpet – when it finally grows – and they applaud me on the colour that I have chosen. ‘It is obvious’, I am told, ‘That you have a flair for decoration. Maybe you would like to work on our office, when the next budget comes through’. But I look around at the plain, glass and steel building, and the whole place gives me the creeps.
‘It just doesn’t seem alive’, I whisper. ‘How can one ever get a bond with an inanimate object? Who hasn’t fallen asleep at night lulled by the heartbeat of their own house? I’m sorry, but brick and mortar have nothing for me’.
I do not hear from the house-doctor for a while. Yet the shivering gets worse, a continual flexing and spasm evident in most of the inner walls. At last the rash on the kitchen wall clears up, although the house-doctor was correct, a path of stubble on the hallway floor would hint to me that a razor was being applied to it in a methodical fashion. One night on television I learned of a horrible disease affecting houses of a certain period, and a whole street in Basingstoke closed down and condemned, the houses coughing and spluttering, the walls braking out in cold sweats. The programme made me think and I wondered if my house, too, had caught such a disease, though it comes from a healthy stock and good breeding and is the result, I was informed at the time of its purchase, of a natural, free-range house-to- house courtship. The only problem I could see is that there was, in its heritage, a quarter bungalow, that its grandfather was a seaside shack by designation, and by their nature, single-storey houses have long been prone to infection.
One night the shivering became so bad that I could not sleep. The bed kept on moving with each involuntary shudder, and I found myself walking the neighbourhood. The night sky was clear and I could see the stars above, and even the Coca-cola moon shining bright with its red neon laser glow. I could see beauty in the world, and for the first time I wondered if this beauty came from nature. Could it be possible? I remembered the years of my youth when I once saw a squirrel, and as my mother hurried me away from it in case I caught its diseases, I was entranced that another creature could also exist on this planet without having been designed or tested for usefulness. I remembered how wonderful this squirrel had looked, how sure of itself it was, and how there were once trees and the squirrels had lived in the trees. Heavens, they had even eaten nuts and still survived without succumbing to some allergy! But the stars, despite everything, were still there.
I returned to my house. I could see it convulsing at the end of the driveway. As I reached out to open the front door, it seemed to shrink back from me. When I breathed out a sigh of relief in the hallway, the walls broke out with chicken flesh bumps, and I thought to myself, ‘It’s almost as if the house is repulsed by me . . . ‘ . It was only when I got to the kitchen that the moaning started.
A deep, deep throated yawn. Which was most strange, because the house was not installed with a throat. I clung on to the furniture as the house swayed from side to side. Ohhhh, it said, ohhhh. It was as if there was an ache somewhere within it, and I thought about applying a paracetamol to its bloodstream, but then thought better because it would invalidate my warranty. Ohhhh, the house said. Ohhhh. The swaying got worse, as if the house were drunk, and I started to slide down a wall. Such a stench! Of stale sweat, and I could feel a clammy odour seep from the skirting boards. Then the heart beat started accelerating. No problem, I thought. Houses often suffer cardiac arrest. My Uncle’s house had three bypasses before it finally expired. But this was a pounding, a rushing of blood, and I could see veins underneath the wallpaper. The house was rocking from side to side, now, as if in the throes of some primeval dance. I wondered if its bungalow ancestry was coming to the fore, or the impetuosity of the maisonette. But this was worse, much worse. At last I fought my way back into the hallway to see something horrific, something so tremendously appalling that I have never set foot in such a house again.
A pair of arms had sprouted from the walls. The house-doctor told me later that in just two generations – and no doubt accelerated by the chemicals used to speed up the growing process – the houses had evolved, and grown inner arms by which they could amend themselves for maximum personal comfort. And what were these inner arms doing? They were shaving the floor, right where I had decided to grow my new carpet. Scrape, scrape, scrape. I ran into the night and I hid until morning in the shade of my garden shed, my only comfort coming from the red neon glare of the Coca-cola moon.
You can listen to an audio of this story here https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/shivering-house