Feed the Window and Water the Kitchen
I agreed to watch her house at her request, via her brother. He and I had been work friends for many years but I never knew he had a sister, perhaps because she was always away on trips like this one. He showed me into the house one evening after work.
“She’d prefer if you took your shoes off,” he said as he removed his own in the doorway. The approach to the house from the curb looked akin to all the other homes on the suburban street but as soon as we stepped inside I could see that her world was an entirely different story.
Her foyer welcomed me with patterns in the intricate inlaid wooden floor. The carved chair rails along the walls and the glowing rows of lights on the ceiling radiated out from this front entrance. The open layout of the house made it seem much bigger on the inside- perhaps it was the bright blue 10-foot high ceilings. Giant fish tanks covered her front picture windows. Sunlight still shined in but it danced on the floor and walls from the water’s refraction.
Todd caught me staring. “So you’ll need to feed the fish for sure.”
“I’ll say,” I smiled, broke my gaze to look at him.
“Uh-huh.” He seemed nonchalantly underwhelmed and even a bit past noticing his sister’s uniqueness. “I’ll show you the rest of what she needs.” He headed toward what looked like the outdoors inside.
I realized it was the kitchen. I’d seen wooden butcher-block counter tops before but these were truly slabs of gigantic trees with the bark still around the edges. Shelves spanned between branches of what appeared to be live, potted, and shaped trees. They were alive! There was greenery everywhere. Herbs were almost indistinguishable from these shrub shelves and the ripe tomato plants. It was like you could just pluck and cook without taking a step.
“Obviously you’ll have to water the kitchen.”
“Uh-huh.” I was starting to catch on that this was going to be unlike any housesitting gig I’d ever done before.
“And upstairs,” he said as he started climbing a tree and disappearing behind it.
Following him I discovered that the tree trunk had steps carved into it and it was quite a comfortable structure by which to ascend to the second story. The upstairs was one big room surrounded on all sides by circular windows and skylights above. Except not all of the circles were windows. Upon closer look every other one was filled with an amazingly lit picture from different gorgeous locations around the natural world: sun streaming through Bryce Canyon, glistening seas between fjords in Norway or New Zealand, ice caving off into the Antarctic ocean, orange and pink alpenglow in the mountains of I don’t know where. She must be taking one of these pictures now, wherever she is.
“Tibet and India is where she is now- is probably what’s gonna go in that empty frame behind you.” Todd broke my trance again as if he knew what I was thinking.
“Oh.” I replied, trying to play off my stunned state as simply being blasé.
The bedroom was built with many levels; the area I assume was the bed only distinguishable by the comforter and a couple of standard sized pillows. That’s when I noticed the tortoise ever so slowly emerging from behind a leveled-up section of the floor. It seemed completely unfazed by our presence. Then the cat rolled over in the sunspot under the far skylight.
“The dog’s with her, but you’ll need to check on Gemini and Oscar’s food and water supplies every few days.”
I looked at Todd, met his eyes. My dropped jaw changed to a wide smile. “Thank you,” I managed.
He finally smiled, but briefly. “It’s all written down on a list by the door to her studio downstairs. Feel free to use it, by the way. The studio, I mean. And take a look around the property at your leisure. She always says she’s got nothing to hide and once you’ve taken care of her home you deserve to know everything anyway. Here’s the key. She never uses it but for your own sake, if you wanna lock up. Sorry I have to run off but I’ll see you at work tomorrow if any questions come up. It’s pretty simple really. Thanks again.” He was practically out of the room by the time he said thanks. I have no idea if he said anything else- I had plenty to take in still, right where I was.
I tried out the bed. It was surprisingly comfortable and the other side dropped off to a level like a typical bed to floor difference so getting in and out didn’t need to be as awkward as I had just made this first attempt from above. I watched Gemini not move across the room. Why a turtle? Why in the house? Why would a woman who travels the world more than she is home have a pet that has a life expectancy of 100 years? Was this her way of staying rooted? Okay, it was time to stop trying to create metaphoric meaning in the life of this woman I hardly knew and go find out where this turtle’s, and cat’s, food and water were. Oscar sniffed in my general direction as I got up. I smiled to myself and went down the tree stairs.
I found the list Todd referred to by the oval door that I hadn’t seen on my way in. It was more of a packet of illustrated and typed instructions, worn and curled from use, than a list. How many house sitters had there been? I was too distracted by the beautifully carved and painted oval door to wonder at my own question. Swoops of dyed wood swirled around its shape beckoning me to open it. Or my curiosity got the better of me. I expected to see paint and canvases and more natural light behind this door but instead I found a sound booth, multiple musical instruments, microphones in the room beyond the glass and a not a window to be seen. She’s a musician! Or a recording artist producer. I wanted to believe she was the musician. I imagined a tall athletic woman dressed like a hippy, jamming out on one of the guitars in the room. She was lost in her singing to anything happening in the room around her. Her whole body rocked to the beat. I was enamored. Uh-oh, I was falling for the imaginary projection of this woman that I was creating in my head. I needed to find a picture of this real person somewhere in the house. I needed to pull myself back from my fantasy. Little did I realize the infatuation had just begun.
Todd had said I was welcome to use the studio. Did he know about my closeted singer-songwriter self? Had I mentioned my open mic days of a few years back? I ran my fingertips along the neck of two of the guitars and mustered the courage to pick one up. Slinging the strap over my head and onto my shoulder I settled in to that guitarist’s posture. Strum. What a beautiful sound. She had not compromised on quality in choosing her instruments. I didn’t think she compromised on quality anywhere in her life.
I timidly started playing one of my own songs, my voice barely above a whisper. I laughed at myself. I was alone in a sound proof room designed for playing music- what was holding me back? I strummed one loud chord, gave a big nod and played my favorite original song the loudest I had ever played it. As I sang my lungs out I think I also sang my inhibitions out. I was dancing around the room, nearly crying I was expressing so hard through these words and notes I had written so long ago. Over my journey with music this song had evolved from an experiment, to a joy, to an expression of cooped up feelings, to a vehicle to bring me out of my shell, to an overplayed routine, to a forgotten phase, to an embarrassing stage of my development. Now it became a portal to a part of myself I did not realize was still inside me. I had buried that deeply feeling part of me in the name of the responsible expertise that adulthood and professionalism seem to require. It had become so important to be perceived as the authority in my field that I had avoided any activity that required vulnerability, revealed amateurism. By the time I finished the song I was exhausted but a small part of me pined for more. I had only cracked open, there was so much deeper to go. Even though it felt like everything had exploded out of that crack it was really just the beginning. I slumped onto the leather futon between the guitars and started to cry, then laughed, then started to shake and lost definition between the tears and laughter.
(To be continued...)
(To be continued...)