I turned 40 today. My glass is empty for the fourth time and the bottle rests precariously on the edge of the table. It’s been about a week since I came here. To this house. And I am afraid I am losing my mind already. But in a good way.
They have voices you know, certain houses. They whisper into your head. Sometimes they talk. And sometimes they stay quiet. Dead quiet. But in the end, insanity is inevitable.
I am not worried about insanity. In fact, as an artist, I feel insanity is of the essence. Especially when your pockets are empty and your head even more so. I find inspiration in the voices that I hear here. They are slick and in multitudes. Like a tortured echoes struck within a clay pot. It has a curious oily quality, piss yellow and insistent. But it is my muse, my voice. Turning them into strokes of paint on my canvas is my mission.. I have been painting endlessly since I came. One newfangled idea a day. It is almost like I am famous again. I can still feel the gallery lights warm on my skin as if it was yesterday and not 20 years ago. And I am willing to endure anything in the world to have it again. Even insanity. There is always another bottle of port to push you through.
This used to be my Grandmother’s house. The first of its kind two-story bungalow in the town. Wrought iron gates, a vast portico leading into a porch where a majestic swing of heavy rosewood rested. With more than a dozen rooms, a pristine kitchenette and a sprawling stairwell, it was the envy of the town. People hid inside wheat baskets carried into the pantry just to get a closer look. Grandma brought it all immaculately together with ornate chandeliers and warm porch lights, royal-blue cushions, and soft purple velvets. It was a palace for the happy couple within. Governor grandpa with his haughty half-smile and moon glasses and granny looking eternally glorious in her Persian cashmere and sea pearls. They had two children, 2 strong, kicking boys, just like in fairy tales. Hale, healthy and rich. Years rolled in splendor. The house hosted both their marriages. By then it had hit its 13th year. Except for looking a little pale in complexion, it looked just as serene. On the outside. Something was beginning to rot within. And it wasn’t long before the devil came knocking.
Someone is knocking at the door, I realize with a start. I ignore it. People are a nuisance. I came here to the country-side for some peace and quiet. Not to serve them cakes at the parlor. They should learn by now and stop barging in. It is 12 noon and I am not moving. I rarely open the doors. Or the windows. I remember locking then some 10 days ago. And it has remained so since then. No, I am not moving. Not when this painting is coming up beautifully. It is bizarre. And every moment of painting gives me new meanings. I could feel this house prodding me. I can feel its presence on my skin. And inside my head. Crawling and alive. There is a chill in my bones and yet I am sweating as I mix colors. It is so every day, Every single day-every passing moment. I lose myself and dissolve into the canvas. And into the house. Today, the palette is dark. Brown, grey, green and black. Classy. Maybe I should add a dash of red. It would pull the colors together. The knocking stops and it feels like slipping in and out. I think I heard the clock strike about four or five times, I am not sure. But I feel heady with the scent of paint. The air thrums with feverish energy. In fact, everything around feels alive. Can I tell you a secret? At this point, I am positive there is something in this house. A spirit maybe, if that is what you call it. A spirit in the house. But I am not worried so long it helps me paint.
The golden clock in the hallway dings loudly. 8 times. I realize it is night. The sound creeps around the house and seeps into my skin. It is a nice little English chime. When I was a child, it used to be a plain happy tune which I hummed unconsciously everywhere I went. Now it strikes me different. But hauntingly so. I climb upstairs, tracing the intricate carvings on the railing. The marble feels cold under my feet. It is my nightly routine to head up to the terrace. The bricks there feet deliciously warm. There is coconut and mango in the air, wafting in from my granny’s grove. It reminds me of the glazed mangoes she made over the stove. I was her personal taster and half the dish would not make it to the table. I smile at the memory and pop my beer open. I take a sip, lie down and look up. The sky is an expanse of deep blue. I wonder who chose the colors or sometimes what even are colors. I hate the fact that you cannot reach out and touch it or at least take a whiff of the paint used. Imagine how the sky would feel against your skin. As a child, I could feel it slipping through my fingers, a fabric of intense blue studded with blinding pearls, shimmering like water But lying here I feel it is incomplete. Someone somehow painted poorly and missed spots. A little tear here and there and now the canvas peeks through, glaringly white. We call them stars. I snicker. Maybe, I should make a painting out of this. “Flawed Nights”. I close my eyes. I feel good, my head is light with the alcohol I know I won’t have trouble sleeping tonight.
I jerk awake after what seems like five minutes of sleep. But I squint as daylight floods around me. A strangely chill morning. I rub my hands to warm them up and head downstairs. Is it noon already? I have no idea. Just as I wander around the upstairs kitchen looking for something to eat, I hear it. The distinct scrape of the main door. Someone (or something) was downstairs. No way! I check my pocket, the keys are with me. New alien voices float up to me.
“What do you think? A vintage bungalow from the 50s. Fancy enough for the client?”
People. Uncouth, interrupting bastards. How did they get the keys? And how dare they enter my house? I advance to the stairs.
“I wouldn’t be so sure Sam. It isn’t an easy place to sell”
I could feel my pulse throbbing at the temples. As if barging in wasn't cheeky enough, these idiots want to sell my house-my granny’s house right under my nose.
“The story of this house isn’t pretty. They believe it is built on a graveyard. ”
“Duh. Big deal Joseph. Almost half the houses are built on graveyards today!”
“No. It doesn’t end there. This place is cursed Sam. Not one man that owned this house lived to be old. The first owner with his two sons died mysteriously. The poor widow lived here and passed it on to her grandson.”
And that grandson is about to press charges for trespassing. I am chasing them out this minute. I race down the stairs, my hand trailing the smooth banister.
“A fine-looking man he was. Some sort of artist. The lad came down here to paint in peace.”
I stop at the stairs.
“Died up at the terrace. Looking at the stars. One day short of forty, they say.”
I told you there was a spirit in this house.