I actually have an alternate ending to this story in my head. Maybe I'll complete and post up an alternate version at some point.
Also, for reference, I think I listened to this song about half a dozen times while writing the first few pages.
Of Growing Up and Growing Old
I have often heard people whisper about inanimate objects or places that have taken on some form of sentience. Sometimes these are associated with powerful or perhaps gruesome events. Sometimes they are just old and full of memories. Haunted, or bewitched, people say of them, and they are shunned and whispered about further.
It's strange, really, but I cannot entirely blame them. One would think people would welcome the extra communication, that they might seek such things to learn of things that only such things can know. But most would rather stay in ignorance, and those few that seek something more are often looking for an experience they do not entirely believe in, rather than knowledge or understanding. And learning the speech of such objects in a way that is useful is not exactly a simple task, as much of the time the objects themselves have not quite mastered their way of communication. For we have no mouths the way people do, nor hands to hold pens or eyes to see letters. And thus interacting with others in this existence is a bit tricky for us, at best, when we are just getting started.
My first memories are of an elderly couple, and for that I am grateful. They were a kind sort, and had dwelt within my walls for years, or perhaps decades, before I came to realize they were there. The old man had a taste for the classics; Byron, Yeats, Tennyson, and the like. He would spend many an hour reading aloud softly to himself in the den, a pipe in his free hand, flames crackling steadily in the fireplace. On occasion the old woman would tease him about it, and he would always retort that such poetry was not made for the page, but for the throat and the ears. And she would smile. And he would laugh. And they would sit there in front of the fire and read poetry together into the long hours of the night.
I wish I could remember more of them, but before I had quite come into myself the man fell ill and took to bed, and then one day as I stretched my senses throughout myself, I found him not. There was only the old woman, and she sat before the hearth in the den, a book open on her lap, and she stared into the flames in silence. Never again did I sense the old man in my house, and in short time the old woman also left, never to return.
I suppose I took their loss with difficulty. They were the first I had known. I had awoken to the sounds of their voices and learned to think beyond my wooden bones because of a curiosity of them, and I felt as if I had missed something in being unable to express to them my gratitude. But there was little I could do about the matter. They had never quite grasped my groans and silences, never understood the small movements of my own voice. But I do not hold that against them, for there is much I learned simply by observing without interfering.
For many months after the departure of the old woman, I sat alone. On occasion, visitors would come. They picked through and packed up most of the furnishings, trod up and down the stairs peering into each of the rooms and walking their length, and speaking nonsense about square footage and paint and plumbing. But none lingered, and none read poetry by crackling firelight in the den.
Then one day there came a man and his wife, and they made much of the moulding and the floorboards and the hinges on the doors in ways that put me ill at ease. The feeling grew in me over the next few weeks, as the couple returned again and again. They filled my rooms with strange furnishings and placed strange pictures on my walls. Then they began to change things.
They tore at my floors, or covered them with layers of fabric and foam. They took down the wallpaper in the hall, its small white flowers on pale pink disappearing forever into large black plastic bags and being removed from me entirely. They took off my doors and pulled out my windows. Men climbed on my roof and threw down shingles.
I must admit I did not take to it all very well.
It was difficult to watch them take from me what I had always known as familiar, what was left of the elderly couple. And so I resisted the nails they hammered into me, such that both pictures and shingles never quite hung straight. I let the floorboards sag and shift under the carpeting, causing it to ripple in places and tangle their feet. I made even the new doors strain and creak on their hinges, and I would shut them when they weren't propped open, and open them when they weren't bolted shut.
It was then that the people first started calling me “haunted” and speaking in hushed tones. This confused me at first, for I was no foreign spirit, and the memories I had were mine and mine alone, not belonging to the old man or the old woman, as was suggested. But as time passed, fewer and fewer of the workmen seemed willing to return. Strong words were exchanged between the foremen and the new man and woman. And eventually they, too, began speaking in hushed tones of haunts and curses.
The hammering slowed. The woman stopped trying to straighten pictures. People paraded in and out again, trodding up and down the stairs, talking again of paint and plumbing and prices. But these, too, slowed, until they eventually stopped.
This time, no one came to remove the furnishings, and they sat there and felt strange within me. They had seldom been used. The man and the woman had slept elsewhere as often as not, and the workmen stayed only as long as they had to before scurrying off to wherever such people come and go to when their work is done. The drawers were still empty. The closets had never been filled. The shelves stood almost bare, save a few knick-knacks that no one had ever cared for. And the den where the old man had read his poetry had been arranged to center around a large coffee table rather than around the hearth.
And so through the days I hunched myself in shadows, and I sighed aloud into the nights as I settled in my loneliness.
Days and months and years rolled together. Shrubs and garden plants dug their roots at my foundations, and mold and mildew crept in through the crooked shingles on my roof. I did not stop them. I do not suppose things such as myself think of death the way people do, just as we do not think of birth the same way. But often during those days I wondered if I, too, might not be able to leave this place, leave myself, and go beyond and fade into the distance. Yet seldom does any consciousness get to choose the time of any such departure.
People still came and went, from time to time. They were mostly rather young, ruffians looking for sport or lovers looking for privacy. I chased them all off. I had no desire for them and their trivialities. They broke my windows in retribution, but that, I suppose, could not have been avoided. It was enough for me that they would keep their distance as they did so.
It was so that I met the girl. She came with two boys, one on each side leading her by the hand, a blindfold tied across her eyes. I groaned. I was in no mood to deal with ruffians. The girl heard me, and she hesitated. The boys must have, too, but they shuffled her inside, promising a surprise soon enough. They led her to the center of the entryway and told her to wait just a bit longer, then dodged outside. One produced a hammer and nails and began nailing the door shut. The girl cried out and tore off the blindfold, but the boys leaned heavily on the door and she could not move them.
As the boys finished their work and the girl cried out to them from inside, I raged. It was not for the injustice of the matter, though in retrospect I wish it was. No, it was that they would force someone on me, and someone I had no desire for. I wanted them gone, all of them.
The boys' eyes grew wide with terror, and they soon fled, but the girl could not force open the door against the nails. She wailed as I groaned, and she made for the windows, but the ones on the ground floor had been covered with boards and sealed up. She did not go upstairs. Eventually her small fists must have gotten tired of banging on my insides, and I, too, realized the futility of driving her off. I let my voice fall silent, and she collapsed in a small heap beside the door, where I believe she cried herself to sleep.
She awoke some time later and tried the door again, and then the windows. This time I stayed silent, sensing her move about. She was tense; that much I could tell. But she was no longer crying. This time she tried the stairs, tried calling to people from the broken windows there, but no one responded. Day turned to dusk, and she wandered again down the stairs to the drawing room and sat before the hearth. She stayed there for a long time, knees drawn up against her chest, as if staring at the flames that had once been, and her lips moved slowly in whispered prayer.
In that moment there was something about her that reminded me of the old woman as she had sat before the fireplace in those last days before her departure, and I felt a great sorrow come into me; sorrow for myself and for the old woman, and for the young girl who now sat within me against her will. And I tightened the cracks in my walls and held the boards tight against my broken windows, holding inside of myself the last of the day's warmth.
By morning I had worked loose the nails that had held the door shut in the door frame, and when the girl went to try it again, I let it swing open smoothly at her touch. She stood there for a moment blinking into the daylight. Then she patted the door frame and said, “Thank you, House.” And then she left.
She came back many times after that. She would explore the different rooms one by one, or sit by the hearth in the drawing room, or at the strange coffee table, and read or do studies in workbooks. Sometimes she would sing softly to herself as she worked and explored. Once I tried to match her tune, but it seemed my voice unsettled her, and I fell quiet again.
And then one day the boys came back, taunting and calling to her from outside. She told them to leave, but they would not hear of it, and soon they were standing inside rather than on the porch. This did not please the girl. Neither did it please me. I let the doors swing on their hinges and the curtains catch even the slightest breeze. I pulled myself together to lessen the light, and gathered the winds inside me to rush back and forth along the stairs and down the halls.
The boys shouted at her to make these things stop, but of course she had no control over them. They were mine, my voice, my body. I sounded their names in the snapping cracks of my floorboards, and twisted the winds and creaks to match the tunes of the girl's songs. She stood there, open-mouthed, listening, and to their credit, the boys grabbed her by the arms and pulled her from me.
But she returned later that evening. She came cautiously up the patio and opened the door, and then she stood for a while in silence just inside. “You did that on purpose, didn't you, House?” she said softly.
I let out a small creak. It was unintentional, really. She had not directly addressed me since that first day. But it is polite to respond when someone asks you something.
The girl stood very still for a long moment. “Are you going to do it again?”
I stayed silent. I had not really thought about it, though I knew I had no intentions of doing so just then. The girl puffed out her cheeks, and then let out a long, slow breath. “Well, if you are, then I should let you know you are very out of tune, House,” she said, and she stomped her way into the den where she had left her pack and reading book, humming softly to herself. I tried to catch the tune and match its sound, and the girl stopped humming. I quickly fell silent. Was I upsetting her?
But then she began humming again, just a few notes this time, and then paused, and then repeated them. Tentatively, I repeated them. The girl's face broke into a grin, and then a laugh. “You're a singing house!” she said. “I'm going to be your teacher! I'll teach you to sing!”
And so she did. I could not manage the words except in bits here and there, for as I said, we have no mouths the way people do. But the girl seemed pleased with my progress, and so I was encouraged, and soon the tunes came easily through my body.
She came for many years, and we sang many songs. It took some time and some work, but eventually I convinced her to read me poetry, and once again someone sat before the fireplace in the den and read Byron, Yeats, and Tennyson. Sometimes she would try to turn the poems into songs so I could sing them (for words gave me far too much trouble to actually recite anything), and she and I would weave our voices together in harmony.
As she grew from girl into woman, she would occasionally bring over guests, but I seldom took well to them. I did not wish to be shown off as a prize or a trinket. And the girl would chastise me, and I would argue back, and often she would leave in a huff, or refuse to sing with me for a bit, but we always managed to resolve her differences in the end.
Then one day she came, and she brought with her no book nor music. Her greeting was soft and heavy, and she ran her hand gently along my walls as she made her way to the den. There she sat, knees drawn up against her chest, and stared into the empty hearth.
Eventually she lifted her chin from where it was tucked in her arms, and spoke. “They want to tear you down, House,” she said. “They say you are old beyond repair, that no one will buy you, and you are just taking up space.”
I did not understand. Who were 'they'? Could they not be reasoned with? I tried to ask her, but she just shook her head. “I can't do anything about it. The land alone costs far more than I could afford.” She gave a slight, sad laugh. “And no one believes in singing houses. They'll just tell me I'm crazy.”
She ran her fingers along my floorboards, tracing the grain of the wood. “I'm sorry, House. I don't know what to do, and you can't scare off bulldozers the way you can scare off vagrants and silly boys.”
I still did not fully understand. This was obviously a matter between people, and something I would normally have no part in if not for the girl and my own apparent destruction.
At length, the girl stood again. Then she made her way up the stairs, intent on exploring everything once more. She went through all the bedrooms first, and then pulled down the stairs to the attic and made her way up. She spent little time up there, on account of the rats and the dust. But this time she poked about in its nooks and crannies. It was one of the more cluttered parts of my insides. Some cases and old trunks had been left there and forgotten when the old woman departed, and the younger couple had never seen fit to do anything with them.
The girl began to open them one by one and go through their contents.
There were pictures and old books and clothes, some damaged by the rats, and some in very good condition, and the girl went through them all, exclaiming joy and excitement at each find. She came across many notes written by the old man, mostly lectures, she said, but also a few love letters he had written to the old lady. She read some of them aloud to me before setting them aside and continuing her exploration of the attic. Then she looked over all of it as if they were her treasures, and stood there quietly.
“House, if you do not mind, I should like to take some of these things,” she said.
I groaned in protest. These things had lain in the attic longer than the dust and the generations of rats. They were old and as familiar as my wooden bones.
“I know they are yours,” said the girl, “and they were obviously important to someone at some time, but I don't think your current owners even know they are here. But if I take them, I may be able to sell them, and if I am lucky, perhaps I can save you after all.”
I let off a sharp crack, and the girl jumped slightly.
“Please, House,” she said. “I will not take it all. The letters and the notes, at least, will stay here. But some of these other things... first edition copies of Byron, the clothes, the jewelry and the stamps. I just need enough to get the loan, and the rest we'll work out somehow.”
She lifted a hand and gently tapped the rafters that hung low above her head.
“Please, House,” she repeated. “You're my oldest friend. I can't just stand by while they destroy you.”
I still cannot say I fully understood what she said, but I felt how important this was to her, and I knew if these things she spoke of came to pass, with the bulldozers and people who could not be reasoned with, then no more would anyone read poetry on my hearth, or sing songs in my hallways, or draw pictures in the dust of the upstairs windows. And so I sighed and relented, and the girl thanked me and repackaged the boxes and trunks, and carried a few that she had chosen downstairs.
She snuck them out later that night, and then many days passed before she came again. This time, she did not come in, but she stood on the porch and whispered to my walls, “A man is supposed to meet me here soon. He will decide whether or not I can buy you, but one way or the other, he will insist on many changes. Please, House, look your best, and stay silent and well-behaved. Such men startle easily, and are not nice people, but we need him to like you.”
And so the man came, and he let her in through the door with a key that no one had bothered with in decades, and they walked about, trodding up and down the stairs, talking of plumbing and prices and electricity. And I held my walls as straight as I could and tried to make my water stains unnoticeable. I even let their every step fall with no more than a quiet tap, as if on new wood and fresh carpet. When they were done, the man nodded, and the girl smiled. Then he left, but she lingered “to look around the place once more,” she told him.
And she tapped her fingers along my siding and kicked at the weeds growing near my foundations. “It is going to be a long process, House,” she said, “and I imagine it will be painful for us both, but if you don't mind very much, I would like to live in you. I will have to repair your roof and your windows and such, but please bear with it, and I will still sing you songs and read you Tennyson.”
I clicked in a general, non-committed fashion, but at the same time, I felt relieved. It would be good, once again, to have someone sitting before real flames in the drawing room, reading and being comfortable once again.
The girl was true to her word. It was a long process, and painful. I had to endure the coming and going of many strange folk, and angry words from the girl and from the foreman, but in the end I found I welcomed the new wood and shingles, the fresh paint, and the repaired windows. These new parts of me were stiff and hard to move at first, making it difficult to sing and to keep in key, but they loosened with time. The girl stayed with me through it all, even when the foreman insisted she find another place to sleep for the night, and she lit a fire in the fireplace in the den, and I held my walls tight to keep her warm.
The years past, and people came and went, and once again an old man and an old woman sit at the hearth in the den and read Byron and Yeats and Tennyson. And occasionally they are joined by a young girl, and when the girl finally crawls off to bed, she and I sing each other lullabies until she falls asleep.