Do you sometimes wake up and wonder where the dreams stop and reality begins?
The last twenty years or so might not have happened. There’s no way to be sure. Sometimes I’m convinced that I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be 1990-something again. All this ”recent” history will fade away into something I can’t quite remember except in little flashes of detail.
Here’s why I say that—almost every time I have a dream, it takes place in my Grandparents’ house. They lived in white colonial with an attached barn that was so big you could have parked three other houses inside. I’ve written about that place a thousand times in different ways. In the book MIGRATORS, that’s where the family lives. I lived there in 1997 when my grandfather died. That place is the reason that I moved to Maine. Well, I suppose my grandparents had something to do with it too.
I lived in that house for years and I never felt like I really understood the entire place. There were mysterious corners and hidden nooks. When we were kids, we were warned away from climbing into the top lofts of the barn because the boards might not be stable. There were things up there—mostly bird droppings—but there were things.
One time, watching TV, completely alone in the house, I heard the dog run up the stairs. I rolled my eyes and started to get up from my chair. Their dog was always getting into some kind of trouble. I figured I would try to prevent whatever mischief he was planning before it could gain momentum. I froze, halfway to my feet. The dog was lying down a few feet from me. Of course I went upstairs anyway to find out what had made the noise. There was nothing.
That’s just the way that house was—there was always something going on. A door might unlatch and swing open an inch or two for no reason. Down in the cellar, an enormous albino snake might slither out from under the oil tank. There were buckets of snakes who made their home in the foundation of the house and the shed. In the spring, out near the bulkhead, you might startle half-a-dozen basking in the morning sun. Always something going on.
Some houses are alive and some are dead. It’s like those gourds that look normal on the table, but then you pick them up and they’re all dried out. The shell of the thing still looks the same, but it’s devoid of life. I think most people live in houses that are like that. Maybe the spark went out over time, or maybe they were built that way. Other houses are clearly alive.
I’ve always been on the fence about this house where I live now.
It almost always seems safe/neutral/dead. Almost always.
Over the years, I’ve been through this house one room at a time, renovating and claiming the space as my own. The only untouched corners are the upper reaches of the attic and the depths of the cellar. I’ve chased all the secrets back into those far places. Every time I tackle a project, I try to breathe new mysteries into the place. I write messages on the subfloor before I put down cement board for tile. I put a note in a jar and leave it inside a wall. I’m trying to bring this place to life, I guess.
I wonder if it’s working.
The book I’m sending today has an old house that’s part of the story. I really enjoy that kind of tale. Like the Marsten house in Salem’s Lot, the house in Stay Away plays a part in the book. It’s definitely not dead.
I look forward to hearing what you think of it.
Hope you’re happy and safe,