You have to understand the structure of a house. Each one is different, has its idiosyncrasies. When you find a builder willing to take on such a house you sit through long discussions with him. He takes you to the front first and points out the trouble caused by the closed in verandah. He explains intricate details of the building trade, mentions things about load bearing walls and restumping, and you understand less and less the more he talks. He mentions asbestos and you listen again. He explains the eighties renovations and identifies each sheet of asbestos. You’re forced to nod and frown, to let him know you understand the difficulties. There are other things too. There’s inefficient guttering, dry rot, rising damp, white ant damage. You frown and follow him to the back of the house. He points out the stone steps that dip in the middle, what he’ll need to do to make them straight again. You nod. You already begin to plan a way of keeping the steps exactly the way they are. You look up at the roofline shielding your eyes from the sun, add something to the conversation to convince him you understand. You try not to ask a question and display your ignorance. You notice the way the house leans slightly to the left and hope he doesn’t. You want to tell him you like it, that he should leave it, but decided it’s better left till later in the relationship. You can’t let him know that none of it matters. When you look at the house you see something different to what he sees. You see the shape of the house as it was. You see the wide verandahs shielding the house from the hot sun. You see the high ceilings and French doors opening outward and beckon you inward. You feel the presence of lives lived before you, stretching out into the past. You smell the wood and the earth. You catch the scent of wisteria winding across the back of the house, mimicking the colour of spring. You let him talk. He needs to talk. You know he’ll accept the job. He’s wasted too much time on the place already. He’ll talk for longer, let you know how hard he’ll have to work, that it’ll cost you more money than the old place is worth. That’s what he needs to do before he begins. You’ll be following him around for a long time. You’ll listen to him over many months, and you’ll learn to coax him gently towards the way you want it to be. That’s all you can do. Because you’ve fallen in love with the house. You’ve fallen for it so deeply that his words are just words and the only thing you see is the house and the lives once lived there. That’s how you discover the structure of a house. That’s how you begin to understand a house.

CategoryFlash Fiction

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