Seen every day, through finger-print smeared windows. Smeared itself, sometimes, depending on the bus driver; the speed with which they take the corner of Sunderland Row. The suicidal ones, the kamikaze idiots...fast enough to almost tip the bus, to melt the world; make it a smeared painting viewed through LSD eyes.
Strange as a gold tooth in a row of rotting brown:
A yellow house, raised from the street on its garden-mound, an altar atop its cairn. Always Summer there, no matter the season: sunlight playing over its walls, reflected in its windows. Rain clouds parting around it, as though fearful of darkening it.
Older, far older than most of the 1980s tenements and semi-detatched affairs surrounding it, yellow paint charmingly chipped in places, exposing patches of dark, dark brick.
A flaking mask obscuring rotting flesh; inspiration for movie-monster nightmares.
Garden always so green, sparkling with dew; flowers jewel-petalled, ruby azure and violet. In bloom, regardless of season or weather, in the midst of frosts, snows or tempests.
Raised so high above the surrounding houses, lording it over them; a prince amongst dwellings, an architectural saint.
Seeing...again and again and again. For over sixteen years, the same bus route, almost always the same seat...the same destination for the same job. Seeing, but not noticing. Until a few days ago, when the girl in the upstairs window caught my eye:
A spectre in an unlit room, scalp aflame, a mane of fire making her moon-dusted skin shine, her glacial eyes glow.
Seeing me, I'm sure of it; as the bus idled, driver leaning out of his window, smoking a cigarette, hacking phlegm into the road. Muttered curses, none rising high enough for him to hear.
Seeing me, beckoning.
Come visit, come inside; come and spend what little time's left in the sunshine.
What little time's left.
Thinking of it...of her, at work, making mistakes that earn me sneers and rolled eyes, that hold up the line too much for my manager's patience.
“What's wrong with you, Frank? You almost cost us that entire load!”
“I know...I'm sorry. I'll do better, I promise.”
“I don't want promises, man; just...get yourself sorted.”
Jumped up little shit, momentarily feeling his pretty blonde head shatter against the conveyor edge, hearing him gurgle apologies as he breaks and bleeds, as his book-softened brain seeps between my fingers.
At home, Miranda and I barely sharing a word, though there's little unusual about that. The way she looks at me...knowing what she thinks, not caring enough to disabuse her of the mistake:
He's having an affair. Shacked up with some local tart; why he's been going out earlier, why he comes home so late.
Not caring enough to check my phone, my e-mails; to level accusations. Both of us long since past that.
Thinking...at break and meal times, while walking the dog, when my head hits the pillow:
The Yellow House and its perpetual Summer.
The burning girl and her strange invitation.
“I don't know what's going on, Frank, but I'm done.”
Sipping bitter coffee, picking over a cold breakfast. Staring out of the kitchen window, watching the rain stream down.
Hardly hearing her, words reaching me through fog, through dirty bathtub water.
Expecting it, waiting for it for God only knows how long.
“Is that all you've got to say?”
Clearly expecting nothing more. Turning to her, a rain-smeared thing herself, hardly real.
“What do you want me to say?”
Seeing it leave, dispersing like cigarette smoke: whatever affection she holds onto, whatever hope she has for us.
“I'm going to my Dad's. Oliver and the dog are coming with me.”
As though it matters. Not saying it. Not needing to.
Why I'm here, watching the bus speed away in the rain, streams of it carrying filth through the gutters, churned to froth where it pours into the sewers. Soaking me, chilling me to the marrow.
Fraying. Fraying for too long. Since childhood; never able to be part of anything real, knowing that I or it might come apart in the next heartbeat.
What time's left...
So little. Not just me coming apart; feeling it, seeing it; more and more, every day: the world gaping; an autistic abuse victim tearing its own stitches open, shrieking wordless protest at its would-be healers. Already sceptic, past any point of recovery.
Shuddering as I cross the road, though not with cold. Staring up at The Yellow House, its windows dark and empty, no sign of the girl who beckoned.
Breathless...a heretic on temple grounds, defiling them by my very being.
Something...different: no sun, clouds clustered densely overhead, swollen purple and necrotic black. Its yellow faded, without Summer light to lend it lustre; pale to the point of white, the mask in deeper decay, entirely fallen away in areas to expose dark and mouldering brick.
A gate of rusted iron, paint colourlesss, flaking away beneath my fingers. No thrill of trespass, only sick confusion, voices in the rain, whispering from the leaves, the gurgling gutters:
What are you doing? Who do you think you are? What will you even say, when the door opens, and she doesn't know you?
I don't know. I don't know.
Climbing. Broken, weed-festooned steps, steeper than they seem, from the street below. Steeper, worn lethally smooth, as though by water's passage.
Places where the black, weed-choked garden encroaches, blocking the way with thorns and thistles, stinging me numb, tearing me open, lodging in my flesh.
Hardly feeling them.
The stink of rotting vegetation rising the higher I climb, sharp and pungent; compost heaps in which the corpses of rats and vermin moulder; nurseries for maggots, swarming with immense, black flies.
Barely seeing, my eyes drawn up and ahead, to The Yellow House, its dead, dark windows. Even the flickers of motion in the stinking piles not distracting me, the choked moans and murmurs, the children's whimpers.
Too lost to turn back, even if I want to.
Swarms of things other than flies in the air; high-pitched, dentist's drill whines making me grind my teeth to splinters, gnaw my lips and tongue to tatters: red, stinging creatures, their jaws and probosci lodging in my flesh, though causing little pain as they tear themselves in half for want of murdering me. Great worms and beetles amongst the flowerbeds; some vast enough to coil around my wrists or ankles, red and pink and flower-headed themselves, bursting from the faces staring up at me from the roots and soil.
Not knowing how long...hunger gnawing my insides hollow, the maggots my children, now; the swarms in my hair, my skin, their venom pulsing on place of my blood.
Fever. Fever and delirium. Pausing to pull worms from my arms and ankles, to ease beetles from their sceptic, parasite hollows in my flesh. Laughing, as they laugh at me with the voice of a child I once knew, a woman I once loved; people I once had the wit to hate.
Never looking back. Not a glance; fearful of what it will mean, that I'll wake there, staring out through the smeared glass again, watching the rain stream down, the sunshine of before murdered and forgotten.
On my hands and knees by the time I reach the porch; name forgotten, face forgotten, nothing left but mist and cold.
So weak...slick with fever, flies on my face, on my fingers, supping tainted sweat. Smearing the concrete; blood and filth, black and yellow matter sloughing away. Smeared finger prints on the bright yellow door as I laugh and laugh and laugh...
Sounds from within; giggling children, retreating into darkness. A sighing girl, sick from her lover's absence. Echoes of old arguments, voices I knew, once...
Aching to meet them all, to know what I've suffered for.
Knuckles bursting, black, gelatinous matter spattering the wood as I knock. Grinning, my lips a suppurating mess, flies rising from within.
An ache deeper than any; a knife twisting in my heart and belly. Abandoned, left out here in the endless cold, waiting for the worms and beetles to infest me, eat me hollow from the inside...
A soft click, a gentle creak, a whisper of feet on carpet.
Looking up into burning blue, eyes so cold they scour me clean; to the bone and beyond. A cascade of scarlet flames down her back, over her shoulders, kindling in the air, on my breath, reducing everything inside to ash.
All shame at my condition passing, as it too passes, as her fire leaps from tainted weed to twisted root, from swarm to swarm, engulfing the entire garden, spreading down to the street, miles and miles below.
Reaching down, she plucks me up; a mote of ash, an ember, and carries me inside, the yellow door easing closed behind us, sealing out the blazing day.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.