It was Opinder’s dream home, but it had sucked up her savings and 10 years of her life from conception to completion. She’d worked to come up with a design that had all the modern features she wanted and still fit with the ancient natural beauty of Lyme Bay. The Portland stone alone cost more than she’d budgeted. It was Ophinder’s dream home. And it seemed to be turning against her.
The house rose up from a sloping lawn, tucked in between other’s people dreams. Behind, the land continued to rise into stands of bushy trees. Below, sail boats and fishing boats accessed the harbour. The light was just right, enough to read by at dusk but not the kind that set off her migraines. It should have been perfect but tiny things rippled at the edges of her accomplishment.
It started with the roof. It doubled as a terrace, and the feel of sea breezes stroking her hair as she tended hardy, wind-swept pots of herbs and flowers was everything she’d imagined. She carefully watered and pruned, enjoying the contrast between the greenery and the high-tech solar panels, the mix she’d wanted between existing and sustainable. The wind rippled across clear navy-blue waters, seagulls hung in mid-air, invisible people chattered as they walked to the beach. Each time she went back down, she left the lavender, oregano, lemon balm, heliotrope and echinacea in a neat line. And every time she went back up, they shifted. They seemed to be in the same order each time, but she couldn’t be sure. The move from London had tired her out, and she wasn’t sleeping well, even with a king-sized bed all to herself. The wind became unfriendly, almost menacing, a waiting bird of prey.
While she was considering whether weather could impact on terracotta pots so accurately that it created a pattern, the floorboards joined in. The underfloor heating, the reclaimed oak floorboards were her pride and joy, another of her visions of old and new combined. Ophinder had made sure the floor was smooth and tightly fitted. Now, the boards creaked but only in the evening when she was about to climb the stairs to that big soft lonely bed. Creak, creak, creak, the same every time. Almost a rhythm or a code. It echoed in her ears when she tried to sleep, she started tapping it against her skin as if it were her own pulse.
She tried to avoid the floor after, and that didn’t leave many options in her large, bare house. She spent most of her time in the living room with her feet tucked up on her black-and-white checked wool-covered sofa, ignoring the TV. Flashes of her old life drifted through- stuck in traffic, arguments over who should cook dinner that turned into long silences, cancelling plans because her head throbbed like a bruise. She’d learnt how to make the green cotton cushions covers, hemmed the turquoise curtains. They were beautiful and soothing, the feel of them gentle when the world was not. Until the curtains moved on their own, just one, the same one, curling up into some twisted thing she didn’t recognise. Nowhere in her beautiful house felt safe.
She waited for an hour in the GP rehearsing what she was going to say about sleeplessness and adjustment, then blurted out, “my house is trying to kill me.” The compact woman with the short greying hair nodded through descriptions of unreliable plants and untamed curtains, then mentioned visual hallucinations from migraine or how the menopause caused chemical imbalance. Ophinder’s head was hot and heavy, she took the prescription for hormones quietly. The walk back took her out to the cliffs. The rocks had weathered thousands of years of change, and it revealed their layers. She’d made a choice. She couldn’t leave. She went straight to the fridge, thirsting for a cold drink. Across its metal surface her fridge magnets spelt “Are you ok?”. Her feet rooted to the ground, her jaw shook. The house was talking to her.
She rushed past the creaking floor boards, that now sounded like areyouok, areyouok, onto her precious terrace. Heliotrope, echinacea, lavender, lemon balm, oregano. HELLO. She flopped onto the cool stone, flushed with realisation. But if the house was talking to her, what was it trying to say?
She trailed her hand against smooth walls and descended to the lounge. The bare walls seemed to glow. She hadn’t unpacked her photos or paintings, the memories of before still kept hidden away. As she opened the boxes, the pulse in her temples receded.
Box after box, the walls of her dream home became adorned with the abstract painting her cousin gave her for Ophinder’s 45th birthday, the photo of her father smiling at her wedding, and pictures of the friends she’d made through the walking club. The floorboards stayed quiet, the plants were well-behaved. She still tap-tap-tapped the walls goodnight, just in case..