We pull up outside the house and look over at this pale sandstone building in the corner. A For Sale sign leans to the right and trees bend in from the left. It’s an odd looking house. Small church-like windows dot the stone as the structure seems to taper off as it gets higher.
The man who lives here has opened the front door already and we get out of the car and walk towards him. The two steps it takes to cross the front garden to the front step is boggy and my feet fall in mud. Once inside, the house is a dump, I mean a dump, and the man standing in front of us is equally messy, unkempt, and in need of some attention.
He asks us to take our shoes off and we exchange a quick glance of disbelief. Then he says, “I built this house.” He’s clearly proud of the fact and as we follow him into the kitchen he begins to point out everything he did, and all the things he failed to do.
“See where there’s tape on the window,” he says. “That’s just because I never got round to fitting a handle and it keeps opening.” I glance at the small window and I can see one of the trees from the left of the house nodding its branch outside the glass. He follows my gaze. “That wooded area at the side there.” he says. “That can’t be built on, so you’ve no worry of any other houses going up next to you. The guy who owns that land lives at the back and I asked him once about buying it to build another house, but he said no, he said it can’t be sold, it can’t be built on.”
“Why not?” I ask.
But he’s already moved on and he takes us into the dining room where we can see the small scoop of back garden that seems to be resisting the upward tilt of land behind it. I feel as if it might engulf us at any moment, this oppressive gathering of wood and the bulk of the higher ground behind the house.
“When I built this I kept moving the land away to get this plot just how I wanted it, but…” he appears lost for a moment and I pull him back.
“We’ve just sold ours” I say, “To first time buyers.”
“Perfect.” he says. “We’ll be renting when we leave here so we’ll have no chain.”
He fixes me with a solid look. “Yes, we’ll buy something else eventually, but we’ll rent just as soon as we’re out of here.”
I feel the urgency in his words as he takes us down into the part of the house that’s really pulled us here. The basement.
“I haven’t done anything with these rooms.” he says. “But you can see the potential.”
It’s cold down here. There are gaps in the walls at the tops and there’s damp blooming on the back wall where the land pushes against it. He follows my eyes again. “That’s easy to fix.” he says. But it’s too late for him. I’ve already caught the desperation in his voice and I can see the way the damp is spreading into the building.
“I tried to move the land away, you see.” he says at last. “But it keeps coming back.”
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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