I was standing in front of our old house: 168 Atomic Drive, Uranium City. The street numbers just visible next to what remained of the front door. Up close, our house didn’t seem so ominous, not like the day before when I’d stood on top of the hill across the street and had the sense of being actively warned away. It had been like peering down into a cold dark pool, our house and all the other houses on our street down at the bottom. Now there was just an aura of strangeness – a lingering hint of menace – like a membrane I had to push through.
I noticed things I hadn’t when I’d come back a few days before and seen our old house for the first time in nearly twenty years: the spruce tree with four branches growing out of what used to be the crown; the sidewalk, running up to the side door and then around to the backyard, where it had been devoured by a hedge that once separated garden from lawn and now covered both; the stillness contrasting sharply with the bright fall yellows of the saplings and small trees dominating every yard, their limbs tossing about in the breeze like sea plants writhing on the ocean floor.
Even after five days of entering empty houses, I still hadn’t gotten used to how easy it was, like I still expected someone to appear in the doorway demanding to know what I was doing. I pushed inside, breathing sharply inward as I always seemed to do when I entered one of the houses. Someone had scrawled cunt is good in foot-high letters by the steps to the basement. Rubble covered the floor of what had been our dining room, glittering with glass from the shattered windows. Holes had been punched and kicked into the walls; cupboards, a dishwasher and even a toilet tank had been ripped from their moorings and strewn about the hallway. Here and there touches of familiarity: yellow and black patterned runner carpet covering the steps to the basement where my bedroom had been, wallpaper with yellow and lime stripes on the dining room walls. Normality broke through in unexpected places, patches in a photograph that had mostly discoloured and faded.
Water dripped steadily from the ceiling in the living room, trickling down from that morning’s rain. A mound of grey material on the floor, moulded by the water into a miniature volcano. Possibly asbestos – our house, like most houses built here in the late 60s and early 70s, would have likely been lined with asbestos panelling. Or maybe just some unknown substance, the detritus of modern life as it starts to decay. Wind, rain, snow enters abandoned house so easily, erasing the boundaries between interior and exterior, man and nature. These spaces had a kind of final emptiness, stale air and a cloying, oppressive silence.