There is a stage between defeat and capitulation where the clutter of life continues despite the death of all hope. The shop has been in arrears for a long time and the bank is coming soon to take it, but the owner still cleans the bar with the same care he always has, mops the backroom, and stocks the shelves for the customers who will be there the next day – the next week. He knows the men who take things back are already coming, but the minutia life have a recalcitrance that are hard to oppose. And even then, when he has moved away and the building is torn down to splinters, he will still find himself at home, wiping the counter and stocking the cookware, wondering what customers will come by tomorrow.
So he polishes glasses until he is too tired. He eats his dinner and all the while finds himself unsettled, missing a thousand nameless things which he never even noticed. Were you to tell him that it was the chime over the door or the sound of new voices and footsteps, he would instantly realize you are correct — but you are not there to tell him this. There is no one to tell him this. And so he sits up and puzzles at night about when exactly the world got so quiet, about when exactly he started hearing the refrigerator, the vents in the walls, and his own breathing. In the dark he tries to find the edges of a thing by tracing the impression of its absence and he fails, and he feels a tightness in his chest and, breathing shallowly, he falls asleep.
I think it might be the same with places too. Perhaps when we consider a house haunted, it isn’t so much specters and ghosts, but a desperate attempt of the mind to fill in the gaps which are so dreadfully vacant. Perhaps it is we who must fill in the empty walls with pictures, the mirrors with faces, and the ballrooms with footsteps and laughter. Perhaps it is we who need the house to have something other than ourselves, and so we invent the things in the hall at night. We invent the things in the dark because fear of the unknown is a guest more easily slept with than loneliness.
The Bird House was like this.
1221 Arcadia Drive was a place so very empty that the vacuum was a presence of its own. Walking through the door one was transformed into a spectator wandering through a film set moving in slow motion, watching the actors take their place and dance to the music, to the fading strains and then to silence – to see them all laugh and cheer and leave by the back door and never return. It was you who haunted this place, not them. It was you who lingered in the hall, in the parlor in the dark, staring out the window and wondering, longing, asking who went there by day.
And so the man stands behind the counter of the Bird House perpetually, and he folds the linens as the new girl wanders inside – as I wander inside. The man stocks the cabinets and thinks of what news his customers would like to hear and I reset the fuses behind the back panel. He pauses and wonders at what will come next – yet nothing is coming next. The future has been put away like swept leaves. I open creaking doors and cough at the dust that comes down inside. He puts on music in the afternoon and I huddle in the dark by the hearth and ponder the task of disappearing. He paints in the evening – vast murals of birds in flight. He paints them all over the walls – blue jays, swans, doves, eagles, egrets, herons, geese, ducks, finches – every winged thing that has a name. He gives the Bird House its name.
Sometimes, late at night, when the silence becomes unbearable, I play my violin. I play and the birds come to life around me. They move in slow motion, under the lights of a well-dressed set. They turn and flutter and ascend into the sky, out of sight and never to return and consider the business of becoming a ghost.