Flash Fiction July, 28

The walls have ghosts, it’s the first thing she notices when she moves in. The manor is square, all clean sharp lines and matching geometry. Symmetry, to the point that if a light in the west wing flickers a light in the east.

The walls talk, she’s sure of it, and the wood panels in the library whisper to each other when she walks by. Sometimes there’s a soft rustling when she flips on the light, and it persists until she brushes a match over the flint and starts a candle burning instead.

One day she pulls all the records she can find, in between buying furniture and refurbishing the worst of the time-damage. Built three centuries ago, the building was worked on for decades until the family fell into difficult financial times, sold up and left. They left the building to ruin, she reads, and she cries into her notebook for longer than she’d care to admit.

Some days she feels very small, knowing the date the building was originally completed, and gets it engraved on a discreet plaque that she tucks into the front wall, right by the door. People will see it when they arrive, waiting outside – she wants them to work harder to see it though, so she scuffs up the plaque with a bit of sandpaper that tarnishes the edges and then smudges something over it, trying to make it look aged.

Some days she abandons everything she’s doing and hurries down the stairs, heels clicking over marble tiles (it never feels right to wear jeans and sneakers, but jeans are far more practical for mucking out years’ worth of neglect) and stands in the sweeping driveway. The facade is dark, the sort of house that doesn’t show up well against the night sky, and she runs her fingers over the bricking. It’s surprisingly smooth, no doubt from several hundred years of weathering storms and probably tens of people doing the occasional maintenance on it.

In place of buying a modern music system she stocks up on a carton of records that fit with the gramophone she wins in a bidding war online, and she recreates the library with books no older than the house. At least, that is her intent but then she finds that there are still three walls worth of shelving and so she gives in to the other centuries, stacks hundreds more books and lines the kitchen with all the old amenities she can find.

In the end it’s just her and more of a manor than she could ever maintain, so she moves back to the city, keeps the manor to the side as a place to escape.

In the city she lives in an apartment, a tiny studio where her dining table is the kitchen bench with two skinny bar stools propped up underneath and the dining space spills into the so-called living area. It’s the kind of place where she doesn’t like to have guests because there’s so little space; she can sit in the lounge and hear music from her bedroom, if she leaves the radio on just loud enough.

It’s cramped and cluttered and after three weeks of it she snaps in frustration, hires a technician to come in and install the manor with internet access. There’s something charming about having to move from one room to another just to satisfy her intent to do something and she converts the sun room into an art room, set up with easel and paints and a stack of canvases.

When she has guests over they fit comfortably at one of two dining tables, either the intimate five-seater or the one she bought on a whim for dinner parties, and people stay the night because there’s just that much space and they don’t feel like having to drive back.

It becomes a sanctuary, a safe haven. On occasion she checks in at the apartment, mainly when she really wants to deal with modern life or if she has to clear her mail.

Finally, she moves full-time into the manor and sublets the apartment, clears it of all her personal effects and finds a couple of students who are hunting for a cheap place to stay. The wooden panelling still whispers as she walks past and sometimes she thinks she can hear accented voices speaking, as clearly as if she heard them just the other day. The voices are never familiar to her, but she considers it just another integral part of the house’s story.

She makes up a wine cellar and cycles out books as they fall apart, decorates the walls with her own pieces of artwork that are discordantly modern with the overall old style of the manor and threads tiny pieces of modernity throughout.

People visit once, and make it a rule that they only wear suits or dresses – women come wearing gowns and hiring out the earliest model of car they can find to drive, men come with them reluctantly sporting cufflinks and gleaming shoes. It becomes an idiosyncrasy to dress and behave as they imagine people did in times gone by, and she gets a reputation for hosting historical-themes dinners and soirees.

Somewhere along the way she works out how to blend old and new together, gets lost in guides of how to rebuild something or absorbed in garden manuals, until the backyard is sprawling garden to mirror the long swooping driveway out front.

She gets lost in the manor overall; never physically, though she does spend a bit longer than she admits to looking for a secret pathway. It’s always mental, emotional, psychologically lost – the house is so old now, she hopes she’s treating it right.

The apartment sells eventually, and she puts away the money to gain interest, leaves it to fund the manor.

(She doesn’t know when, but manor-living became a way of life; she couldn’t leave it if she tried)

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