Saturday 30 August
The day dawned as though it would rain and Jessy and I were disappointed. Mother made pancakes which we ate in the kitchen, both of us sitting on our personal towels and with linen napkins in our laps. Little J.J. sat up on his booster chair and devoured a whole pancake himself. Lisa usually gets up in a perfectly happy mood and will take on half a day's activities before breakfast. She put on her lavender ballet leotard and tights and played happily in her room for an hour before either Jessy or I even opened our eyes. Then Mother took J.J. with her to take Lisa to her lessons and we two were left alone.
Daddy had gone up to the house in Delaware where he has a certain band recording in the studio. Jessy and I did our laps in the pool together and then, because we had no one to stop us, decided to stroll down the lane. For the hike we each put on shoes, sunglasses and hats. I put on my wide straw hat, just because it would seem outlandish, and the low-heeled sandals, and Jessy had on her Converse mules and a plain cotton fishing hat.
Our house is at the end of a private lane of nine houses, none of them occupied yet, that my dad had built here over the last two years. Recently two of them have got sold, both on the northern side of the lane, but no one is scheduled to move in till their houses are done. Jessy and I walked out the gate to the lane and darted over to the south side, ducking under the shrubbery and emerging in the back yard of the fifth house on that side. From there we had the whole side of the tract to ourselves.
The first three on this side are not large, the smallest sections in the tract. The three houses are all similar, all block and stucco with the same mullioned windows as in our house, raised up on a so-called English basement with a two-car garage on the side. Daddy drew up the preliminary plans for all of them and they are very conventional, with no gimmicks (whirlpool tubs, angled walls) and stupid planning errors (they have doors on the kitchens and separate formal and family areas). He and Mother are big believers in propriety, especially in architecture, and so all nine of these houses are based on old-fashioned lifestyles and sensible, traditional design.
The first three on this side are not large, the smallest sections in the tract. The three houses are all similar, all block and stucco with the same mullioned windows as in our house, raised up on a so-called English basement with a two-car garage on the side. They are very conventional (Daddy drew up the preliminary plans for all of them) with no gimmicks (whirlpool tubs, angled walls) and stupid planning errors (they have doors on the kitchens and separate formal and family areas). After those three we forded the creek and came up on the second one from the road, the one that is like the three smaller ones but turned 90 degrees so that the garage is in front and the section of land is wider at the front. Jessy stepped up to the unlocked back kitchen door and we went inside. It's still dusty from the wallboard work and the floors are covered in cardboard. We through the whole thing from basement to second floor, partly checking on things and mostly dreaming about having one of these places ourselves. This one is my favourite and I like imagining what I would do with it, how I would decorate, what colours I would paint, and so on. It's only three bedrooms but the master bedroom has a cosy dressing area with a door to the back stairs and leading to the big room over the garage.
Out on the street a carpet truck had arrived at the one Daddy has just sold. Both of us wrinkled our noses. As an authentic 18th-century English-style development these houses are all built, like ours, with raw-oak floors. It's actually cheaper and easier to maintain than any other flooring. Apparently the new people are going to carpet the whole thing.
'They'll probably put sheet vinyl stuff over the bathroom tile too,' Jessy said.
We went down stairs and out the kitchen door, dashing round behind the fourth one and into the shrubbery-shrouded yard of the last one. Here the yard is separated from the main road by a stucco wall, but being here naked we are reminded that there is traffic on a public right-of-way barely ten yards away from the inside of the wall. Jessy and I have got used to feeling safe behind these houses, though, and we sat on the folding chairs on the terrace and soaked up the sun till it had passed overhead and abruptly ducked into the clouds again.
'You know it will rain while we're out here,' I said as we got up.
Jessy shrugged and reseated her hat. 'Well? Do we care?'
I giggled. It's not like any clothes will get wet in the drizzle anyway.
We went in through the back door of the fifth house. This one has four bedrooms but two are small because they're in a tower, like Lisa's room in our house and the one above it. There's a roof deck up there too. Jessy and I ascended to the third-storey room of the tower, where we drew up chairs and sat just inside the window, looking way up the road towards the highway. No one ever looks up, or at least we hope not. If this house is not my favourite of the houses, this bedroom might well be my favourite room. It's been painted and the cardboard removed off the floors, and the electricity in the house is all done. It will probably be the next one to be sold, and then I will never have this view again. Someone else will, but I will only have the memory of having seen this road and the surrounding country on this angle from this height.
I often wonder what happens to a view, like that, especially when the house is torn down. I feel sorry for a house that is condemned, because I think about how people once lived in it and where they sat and where they slept. When the house is gone, what happens to the view from the upstairs window? No one will ever again see things from that perspective. The next building will not be as tall, or as wide, or it will be situated differently. If you were to take the GPS coordinates of some spot in that house, it will be true that eleven feet off the ground, at this spot, people once tucked in their sheets and went to bed. But the sensation of having been in that place on the planet, in fact the whole sensation of having lived in the house that was there before, will be gone forever.
I'm not sure it's an important thing to lose, when a house is torn down, but it is true that something is lost. I just wonder if anyone has ever noticed that before.
Jessy and I went down stairs and dashed past the gap between the fourth and third houses, hoping the carpet men didn't happen to look up a the very moment we were ducking past the bushes. The next challenge lay in getting into our own yard, but when we peered out past the corner of the first house we saw that the carpet van was obscured by trees and bushes, so we would be obscured from then. So we only casually walked out and in through our gate. I pressed the button and closed it after ourselves, and then we strolled round the long way, over the little creek and back to the side gate of the garden wall. The sky had got really gloomy, but I dropped the floppy straw hat and sunglasses in the chaise, stepped out of the sandals, and dove into the pool to cool off.
It started raining about five minutes later and didn't let up till well past dark.