The House

Catherine Hamilton

The House

An empty burnt out shell, half hidden in tall grass and nettles, tucked behind a hedge. It is easily possible to walk past it without noticing, focusing on an appointment or getting to work, avoiding the traffic, mind elsewhere. But now the road is nearly empty, there are very few people out and about and the quiet and stillness encourages an awareness of detail. Day after day, the house sits, abandoned, dejected, open to the elements with blackened rafters and the undamaged chimney stretching up to the sky.

It's on a busy road, but for now there is little traffic at any time of day. Birdsong can be heard, the wind gently moving through the trees, maybe some footsteps of a jogger approaching, a cyclist ringing their bell wanting to get past. But it’s largely quiet, a time to be lost in thought on a daily walk, noting the house as a landmark, a halfway point on the route.

As the weeks go on, different walks take in different parts of the local area, the house temporarily forgotten about in the quest for some variety, new longer routes explored when exercise is permitted for more than one hour a day. The roads are getting slightly busier, there are a few more people about to say ‘good morning’ to, or at least exchange a smile with, and it takes extra effort to notice the little things.

However, one day the original route is returned to, and the house makes sure it is noticed. In the peace and quiet of the morning, there is the sound of workmen talking to each other, sawing long timbers, filling a skip with rubbish. Over the next few days, a new roof frame takes shape over the blackened walls and doorway. Large work vans block the grass verge and obliterate the view up the driveway, so it is another week or so before the tiled roof is revealed, followed by the brand-new front door.

Depending on the time of day, there are different groups of people walking or cycling. There are more dog walkers and joggers early in the morning and more families in the afternoons. Slightly unsteady cyclists riding on pavements provide more of an obstacle and it becomes harder to cross onto the opposite pavement to avoid people due to the increase in traffic. The work on the house continues, with old wooden window frames knocked through and replaced. The front door is repaired, and it now requires imagination to guess how the inside is coming back to life, just as the outside did.

Soon there will be no sign of the blackened site that existed just a few months ago, the house blending back into its surroundings. Even if the quiet emptiness that existed in the community at the end of March returns, no attention would be paid to the house, just one of many along the main road on the outskirts of town.