The Green House
A poetic/fictitious mixed short about greeting your melancholy with kindness and making your mind into a nice place to call home.
The autumn flush bashfully comes in during this time of year. Traces of red and orange line the green just enough to give the sense that it might actually get colder than fifty, but it never does. Most of the homes in Tomales are farm-style. Less greek revival, more horse and buggy. Wrap around porches hug the treeline rooftops parallel to an unneeded chimney. Hummingbird feeders hang nectar on every doorstep like there might be a modern day Passover. I once even heard someone call their laundry closet an ‘alcove.’ The neighborhood is literally so pretentious and inviting that you can practically taste Grandma’s cookies underneath a family timeline of Stanford cap and gown photos.
Houses like that are meant to be shared. Mine is just for me.
There was a Victorian on the hill, half a mile south of the city limits. There were rumors about it. Ghost stories that were best left dismissed. With fresco painted ceilings and a view of the bay, I’d blindly bought in. The previous owner even left behind an old piano. I called it a steal.
Economically sound: the only type of echo I’d ever considered when buying the house. The first creaky floorboard fell through while I was carrying in the dishware. Termites. And if that wasn’t enough, the flip of the switch fried the chandelier’s circuit in one go. Ridiculous of me to expect the house to do more than look like the photos.
“Goddamnit.” I collapsed onto the piano bench for the first time. All of my boxes were just inside the hall. The air was stifled by thick humidity. I could feel myself getting sick in the first breath. Nobody had lived here in years. Perhaps no one was meant to.
I’d left the city to learn more about myself. My friends found it a bit extreme: “You’ll be all alone up there, away from the city.” Their voices carry through the thirty-two miles in between us. But, I’d never been alone before. Truly alone. There was always the buzz of life swarming me into a perpetual FOMO. And in some manic-state, I decided to discover the sensational melancholy that William Wordsworth wrote all of those poems about.
On the first night I’d been on the air mattress. That was when I decided that the air quality might be getting to me. Around one in the morning I woke up to the sound of my own floorboards giving in fours. The sounds of a horse. I thought myself to be crazy – exhausted from moving. But, when I peeked out the bedroom door into the hall – I saw it. A ghost-white Shire tiptoeing across the fragile wood.
The next morning, there were the slightest indentations in the floor. So faint, that suggesting a horse might be responsible was insane. Still, I called my mom to tell her the news. She suggested a hallucination remedy, a new brand of air filters, and sent over a list of psychologists – just in case.
Still, the horse visited me. New air filters and all. Nineteen hundred pounds creaking through the halls on four legs. Sometimes when we made late-night eye contact, the horse would spook and kick hind legs into the air. If it weren’t for all of the holes born in the walls – I’d pass it off as delirium. Too frightened to unpack and settle in, and more afraid to abandon the purchase: I’d tell myself one more day. I can do one more day here. And for days, the house remained as it was. Empty and unusable. Every night brought new holes in the hallway walls.
The ninth day, something changed. Call it boredom or insanity, but I went for a walk. The cookie cutter houses allured me in their simplicity. Transformation of a new perspective. With flower beds lining their white picket fences and patio furniture I felt a sense of inspiration to decorate my own lawn. Wandering down the street further, I found myself at the market.
“A single potted plant and a carrot?” The cashier chuckled briefly before a glance at the dark bags sunk under my eyes.
I set my plant up on the porch that day. The only unboxed item in two-thousand square feet. And while the house had a long way to go, it was something pleasant. Something small.
That night I set the single carrot outside my door, in hopes to soothe the fear of the Shire. And to my surprise, I slept through the night. Full of rest, my feet found the floor next to my air mattress and when I opened the bedroom door, the carrot was gone.
In a burst of unwearied energy, I unpacked the first box. Dishware. Some cups and plates chipped from the move, but the functionality remained in tact. I organized them neatly into the cupboard. At the bottom of the box was a glass vase, sized perfect for the window sill in the front hall. After placing it there, I left the house for another walk, this time hunting for the perfect flower.
There weren’t many wildflowers left, especially in such a domesticated area. But, I found one. Maybe nothing more than a weed. Yet, it looked like a daisy to me. It would do just fine.
That night I put the carrot further down from my room, closer to the front entrance and I went to bed, sleeping through another night peacefully. Many days went on like this – another box unpacked, a new plant adorning a canny corner, the horse reappearing at night to come and go. By what means – I do not know. Furniture was arriving. I was off the air mattress and into a real bed by the second week. The tent for the termites came and went – more affordable than I’d predicted. I wrote the check at my window, foliage draped over the glass in a perfect frame.
Yesterday on the phone with my mother, I accidentally called this place home.
It’s late October now. “Finally settling?” I read on the phone screen once more. I woke up early these days, in a routine to water my back porch plants. They’d become more like friends to me. And there the white Shire was, grazing through the green yard. My body paralyzed at first – remembering all of the fear caused. Besides, I’d almost finish patching the holes in the halls. Inching towards the creature, I held out my hand in a white flag.
I stroked the muzzle once. Then again.
You finally rested your head on my shoulder, and I named you Casper.
Our moments were never filled with fear again. We understood one another. You ruled acres of land and I had the Victorian. There were still the occasional spooks. Mangled hair and disagreements. But, I no longer lived alone.
Even if I never had to begin with.
A year has gone by now. It’s Halloween. And I’ve got Trick or Treaters. Football-sized ghosts and miniature princesses making the long haul up my driveway. The only monster in the house is inflatable, peering out the window next to the vase. The kids love it. So do I.
I baked for them this year, a recipe from Ms. Arnett. She lives in one of the homes off Kennedy – widowed at twenty-nine. We met through our gardens. Nicknamed ‘The Greenhouse’ my plant collection had grown into a jungle. Dutch bulbs lit up the yard in frenzied patterns. I coined myself Queen Wilhelmina, but the kids don’t quite get that one. Ms. Arnett stopped by to chat about an idea she’d had for her tulips. We forgot to finish that conversation, two pots of tea later. We’re always forgetting, it seems.
Casper’s dressed as a reindeer this year. The kids feed her carrots I picked up from the market and she takes them tamely. Gratefully even.
When the night grows late I find myself candle-lit at the piano. A new thing I’m learning. With my shadow dancing off-key to my chorus, I remind myself that I’m learning.
I really am.