If These Walls Could Talk
“Come in,” you’re admonished, for the house will command you in no uncertain terms, regardless of redundancy. The entryway bench, where a human might think to sit before removing their shoes, is jealously blocked by a commandment to “Sit a spell.” Taking up the rest of the bench, a succulent regards you with mute unease.
“Happy Easter!” It’s a greeting you don’t return, instead inching toward the living room on wary feet. “U.S. Mail” taps you on your shoulder and you start in shame. Across the dining room table sit an antique spinning wheel and an old radio console. They represent beacons of domesticity, your each step toward which mars the pattern freshly vacuumed onto the carpet.
Nevertheless, you advance.
“Hello,” the house pounces at you from your right. Dangling at a spider’s height, above a family trapped in a canvas print, it says, “This Is Us.” You back away, in giant careful strides, off the carpeting. The kitchen vinyl flooring is the kind you feel bounce under you, but there is no joy in your bounding.
Almost as if this were a horror film, you almost say, They are behind me, aren’t they? But your spinning head finds only the label they left behind: “best family ever.” A payphone promises a lifeline if only you had change, but briskly, mendaciously, the house announces, “Public telephone,” pointing directly away from it.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TREATS!” it screams, and the screaming is inside your head. Recovering a mask of composure, it forwards a gentle entreaty from between the wineglasses: “Just a thimble-full?” You try to block it out. I can’t let it win! Damn this house! You are panting now, fleeing the kitchen. Damn this house!
“Home,” it corrects, pertly.
You have entered a strange new zone. Perhaps you have beaten the house. At the very least, it seems confused, its language broken. “ICE?” the water cooler ventures shakily. “Farm House, Farm House”—its identity is dissolving, even while it stabs out in wild faulty onomatology. A soft, record-shaped thing materializes on the floor in front of you. It is not a record, but compulsion grips the bewildered house.
“Record,” it can’t help but say.
“DOG stuff,” it tries. “B-.” It gets no further. As you depart, disgust washing over pity, it intones a grocery list that has never changed, and will never be shopped.
You go to the next room. The desire for escape resounds like a repeating klaxon within you, so why are you not retracing your steps? Logic is something far away, its dominion outside the house. You find a room tiled with the most nonthreatening beige, where resigned blankets slide off the furniture, and a guilty air resistance bike backs into the corner. As you search yourself for answers, tiny gibberish burbles above the couch ineffectually. Something, something—your best efforts to make it out reveal nothing. Suddenly, you realize what you have lost in trying to make sense of what the house is saying. It gathers its strength.
“LOVE!” The clarion threat menaces, proclaiming that you have lost the upper hand. An age passes between each of your scrambling footfalls.
You could not have made a worse move. The room is smaller, which only concentrates the anguish. Here the commands have swelled with lecherous energy.
“LAUNDRY Drop Your Drawers Here,” it leers.
“Please seat yourself!” beckons the hungry toilet. Instructions for washing ring-the-rosy ‘round the soap pump, as some devil’s prayer is chanted above the commode. You are going mad.
“RELAX We’re all crazy it’s not a competition,” chides the washing machine, utterly without a trace of reassurance.
You run for sunlight. Dimly, you recall what life used to be like. Now the mud room has you.
“MUD ROOM The Dirt Stops Here,” you understand, as helpless as dirt, even before it’s said. Near enough to drop a tear upon you, an amphibian phantasm sits with its guts emptied, frozen for eternity in reaction to its disembowelment. Watching you quail, the house reminds you in a voice like skates on a blackboard, “It’s good to be home!” The underline beneath the final word resembles nothing so much as the lid on hell itself.
You see the trapped ones before the announcement comes from a frame next to the TV.
“—Grandkids,” a snarl interrupts.
“GAME ROOM PLAY AT YOUR OWN RISK,” the house says, in the voice of a malfunctioning animatronic gorilla bandleader who eats children. An unfed bean-bag chair gapes next to a rug of dark rays, whereon terrified fingers have drug their last resistance, leaving a bleak afterimage of a grandkid’s last moments, pulled away from the Super Nintendo and sacrificed to the house.
There is forced-air heating and wall-to-wall carpeting throughout.
“IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER I WOULD FIND YOU SOONER SO THAT I COULD LOVE YOU LONGER,” promises the house. “Thankful,” reads the bed, plucking a thought from your mind. You are indeed thankful. Behind the bedroom’s message you detect the faint possibility that all of this might stop with the ending of your life.
Groping for a sufficiently high window, you find another room with exercise equipment. The house is repeating itself. But stronger now. A fairy ring of words encloses you. Your head is as heavy as a Minotaur's.
“Fairy Tales Do Come True,” it taunts above your doom. Can it refuse you the sweet escape of death?
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is your future. Today is your life. Live it.”
The house will not be bargained with. The house bids you enter the bathroom, where you claw off your vomit-flecked North Face jacket. Your words are the words of the house:
“Wash your hands ya filthy animal.”
But you are not washing. You are soaked with house. You are house. You are home.
“i fall in love with you every single day.”
“Be our guest,” the towel advises. Out your body tumbles, drying along the way.
The lamp is a zootrope bound in a scarlet band. Inside runs a wildebeest perpetually, always unable to escape.
“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart,” the room says quietly.
Secure in victory, home wishes you, “Sweet Dreams.” The unctuous words pour into whatever you are.