Thick white cotton curtains cover the front window. It's the first thing I notice as I walk towards the turn-of-century Victorian cottage that is my house. Brushing my legs against the overgrown spearmint plants, I turn the handle of the double-glazed outer door and lift my compact blue suitcase into the tiny porch. As I unlock the oak door, I simultaneously and instinctively take off my shoes.
The house feels cool and clean. I pull open the curtains. It's the first sign that I have come to reclaim my home after four months' absence. I leave the oak door open and lock the outer glass door. That is how I always have it --- open, to let the light stream in, but locked for security.
My bare feet step and slide lovingly on the ancient mahogany parquet floor. I make a quick survey around the house. Except for the used linen in the washing machine, everything appears intact, as if I had never left. My friends from Amsterdam had stayed here the week before and left a message, "Sorry, we couldn't find the duvets and pillows, so we used your sheets instead."
The curtains and batik blankets that cover my grand piano look untouched in the corner. I run a long arpeggio on the ivories. I had been worried sick that the family of four might have roasted my mahogany piano in their high thermostat setting. Fortunately it appears still in tune, in fact, better than I had remembered it.
I trace my fingers along the white windowsills. No dust. My previous tenants had obviously cleaned it well, true to their word. I let out a sigh of relief. All my anxieties about returning to a foreign territory evaporated in that single moment.
In that same moment, I remember why I have rushed back to London. It's the last thing I want to look at, the last thing I want to know. I drag my bare feet into the dining room and look up. Various shades of brown stain the white ceiling which is bulging in places. They outline some unknown continent I've yet to explore. The window frames have also been ruined by the leak from the bathroom above.
4 July 2004 Sunday
Arvon Foundation - writing courses
This entry is taken from a longer piece entitled "The Brown Stains of Conscience."
In the "Writing from Life" course, our first assignment was to write a location piece. I chose London.