07 January 2009

Empty Light

(A muffled voice, speaking in Spanish)
Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk.
(That voice again. What is it?)
Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk.

I raise my eyes from the keyboard. The paintings on the living room wall swim in and out of sight. My eyes hurt as I struggle to focus. The glasses are off to help with the near vision. The difference between the near and the far is increasing, I can’t see well with one and do the other. Time for a new prescription, I think.

Ka-chunk. More muffled Spanish, followed by scraping noises.

Where is that coming from? I wonder. The light streaming in through the kitchen windows spills over my shoulders, onto the ceiling above. I have my back to the window, but I can see the light dimly moving, changing, as if something briefly crossed in front of the window. I turn, squinting through the small gap in the kitchen curtains. There is motion, and I see the wood handle of a tool, up above the top of the curtain. It wobbles and then disappears from view.

Scrape, scrape, ka-chunk. Again, a voice calling out. I am surprised to recognize a word or two. My jobsite Spanish is rusty to the point of near non-existence, but I thought I heard the word for “shovel”. Or was he saying “cable”? I do not know.

Someone walked into the front yard and then out. I hear more voices, and my curiosity is now piqued. Walking to the kitchen window, I see a group of three men in the yard next door. One has a shovel and is digging a shallow trench from the sidewalk to the front of the neighboring house. The other two appear to be discussing something, low voices muffled through the glass. One gestures to the round cover of a cable access hole, the other starts to open it. Beyond them, out in the parking lot sits a truck, the logo of a local telecommunications company plastered to the door. A man is getting a small spool of cable off the truck.

Ah, that’s right. It won’t be long now, I guess. They must be installing the hookup for the house next door. I vaguely remember seeing our potential new neighbors weeks ago, inspecting the house, so the sale must have gone through. They wouldn’t be installing cable for ghosts.

Ghosts? Not exactly. But what could it be, in a house suddenly gone empty? Spirits? Perhaps just the dampening reverberations of the presences of the people who used to live there? I tell myself not to be dramatic. No one died there, no tragic events, no star crossed lovers killing themselves in a fit of misguided passion. I even know where my neighbors went, have visited the new house they are in not far away. I am a silly person, sometimes.

I stand at the window and watch the workmen. They are careful not to disturb too much, and they skillfully run a connection under the sidewalk. They are oblivious to my presence. I consider that I walk that sidewalk every morning, almost, usually on a schedule. Not so much since the layoff back in December. Each morning I pass the house I find myself looking through the front window. I cannot help it. The curtains are gone, there are no blinds, and I can see clear through the house and out the back sliding door. It seems so empty.

The emptiness radiates from the house, a thin coldness that reaches all the way to the sidewalk. I can feel its tendrils coiling slowly around me, like seaweed unseen around my ankles, my legs, and my torso. It isn’t unpleasant, exactly, but it fills me with a low-grade uneasiness. I know it’s only seaweed but I am not amenable to being touched by things I cannot see.

Each morning since the former neighbors moved out, I pass that house and it feels like a void there. A negative of the structure that I know is still there. What is it about a house with no human presence that seems so utterly lifeless? It isn’t as if I am living next door to one of those abandoned farmhouses I often see showing up in art magazines or National Geographic. The house on the other side is still occupied, and I am surrounded by houses with people still in them. Why then does it make me feel like I am looking at a mausoleum instead of a home?

Emptiness. Emptiness and the fact that I can look through those windows and doors, without running the risk or opportunity of seeing another human being. I will see no one watching television, or fixing dinner, no dog mashing his nose against the window in curiosity as I walk by. I miss having the chance for that kind of encounter.

Ah, I have it now. Beyond all that lies the light. The silvery yellow light as it streams through the back door of the kitchen. I see it most mornings, when there are no clouds or rain. It is a beautiful light, powerfully reflected by the whiteness of the bare walls. It always makes me pause. I find myself standing on the sidewalk, mute and wondering. It seems an empty light, powerful and luminous; its purity unbroken by a child running into the kitchen for a snack, or a husband and wife enjoying a drink at the table. Its austerity makes me a little sad. Where is the real beauty in this light, if the human heart isn’t there to enjoy it? I wonder, too, if the presences in the house feel the same way about this light.

Rapid fire Spanish outside the window. The bubble of my daydream pops, and I come to with a start. I am still standing at the kitchen window. The workers are finishing up, strewing straw over the freshly dug path of the cable. In a few minutes, they are gone.

The next morning I step outside and take a few steps to the front walk. The parking lot is nearly void of cars, almost every having left for work already. I am home alone, and the neighborhood is amazingly quiet. In the cool morning air I stand in front of my neighbor’s house, looking through the front window. The light is there again, strong and silvery. I step to the window, treading carefully through the planting bed. No one is home, of course.

The light seemed warmer that morning. I didn’t feel the chill of days past. I thought for a moment that maybe it was the house itself reaching out to me, warming up a little and whispering “I won’t be alone for much longer. Did you hear? Someone is coming to live here.” Yes, house, I know.

The light warmed my face as I peered through the window. Soon, if all goes according to plan, those presences will be filled in with human beings. This reassures me, takes the edge off the uneasiness. Soon, people will be here, and the light will be empty no longer.


  1. You have GOT to get your eyeglass Rx double checked dude, that was trippy.


    You are such a good neighbor to an empty house! I've been wondering how my house will be if we move out. Empty? Standing still, waiting for people to move into our abandoned neighborhood and start new lives? It definitely give one chills...

  3. Hon? You realize you can write...right?

    Sent shivers up and down my chubby little spine, you did.

  4. wow!! now that was what i call writing!! i wish I could do that!

  5. Be careful what you wish for! You might end up next door to a house full of college students with a garage band that plays from 1-5am. Or a gang of bikers. Or a really fat lady who wears a leapord print string bikini and sits outside in an above-ground swimming pool. Or a 60 year old man who lives with his mother and hangs her giant skivvies on a clothesline in the backyard. Shall I go on?

    Oh, wait.. sorry. I think I was channeling my Irish Mother-in-law for a moment...

    Awesome writing Irish! Love it, as always!

  6. nice visuals. Enjoyed the post.

    Scout's Honor

  7. Irish,

    Beautifully written. Lots of great images.


  8. Even house filled with people can be empty...don't give off a light. Here's hoping that new family can bring a positive presence into that home. : )

  9. Nice work, Gumbo. For a minute I thought you were going on a Hogwart's style painting trip. Maybe it's just time for my meds.

  10. Nicely done, Gumby.
    I think when this is read 20 years from now, it might remind us of the times when people had to leave their fancy 3 toilet-houses and downsize...

  11. I've come to the realization that you will be one of the people we will be lining up to see at Barnes and Nobles. And when we come and tell you who we are, you DAMN well better not ignore us.

    That was incredibly well written, captivating and just a smooth, smooth read.

    Not that i'm a picky reader (being a book whore and all) but I know good shit when i read it. It's a talent.

  12. Please tell me you're looking into getting yourself an agent. Seriously.

  13. that was just beautiful writing, Irish :) I've always thought houses must feel kinda lost without their humans .. without the curtains stuff, they just look so .. lonely.

  14. As a builder of homes, nothing is sadder to me than a house where people used to be. Nice imagery.

  15. Wait everybody, come back! I finally got Blogger to accept the photo that went with it!

    Cat: True dat. My eyes have been getting pretty ‘effed up lately.
    But that had nothing to do with being trippy…

    MD: Glad to hear! I am tryin’, climbin’ that mountain called hope…

    GF: Dude, you suck at counting :) I do wonder, but I am optimistic for the new folks coming in.

    Jan: *blush* You are very kind to say so. Wow.

    Krystal: You and Jan, making me all flushed…Thank you.

    Adlibby: What I wished for was Laetitia Casta with a crush on geeky writer wanna-bes. Fingers crossed! And thank you!

    Scout’s Honor: Thank you, and thank you for stopping by!

    IB: Thanks, bro. Maybe all that visualization practice as an architect is paying off!

    Sarah: Here’s to it! We have some good vibes, so I’m thinking Good!

    Captain: Come with me, son, we have a nice comfy chair here for you, by the window…

    OAM: It may, but hopefully downsizing for good reasons rather than bad.

    VM: *double blush* Should I be so blessed, I wouldn’t dare forget! Besides, you could probably beat me up if I did, and no one wants that ;)

    Robin: Yes, yes, I am. Or rather, I want to, but I am woefully short on how to proceed. If you can, please toss some enlightenment my way, brother could use a bone!

    DC: Thank you! I feel the same way, that no curtain look gets me even if I am just hanging new ones. Houses need hearts to be homes, yeah?

    Mister: You build houses? I design houses? I sense synergy…I grok what you mean. It always makes me wonder about what was, and what used to be. Thank you.

    Braja: Thank you, my dear. Namaste.

  16. you are a great writer! even tho you are blind.

    i hope you get good neighbors!

  17. Two comments on one post Wha???
    I am having troubling emailing you via your blogger profile. Would like to chat publishing with you. Shoot me an E sometime... cinnamonandhoney [at] gmail dot com

  18. Well Gumby...you totally missed what the house was saying...It was desperately trying to get your attention....because it is a cranky house and prefers quiet. Cable for God's sake...It just got rid of the last rowdy bunch. It was moaning...."Did you hear...Someone is coming to live here...No!...Not Spongebob watchers....No!...."
    That house is out to get you now...

  19. I agree, there is something cold and eerie about a house filled with nothing but light..

    Glad to hear it will be occupied by the warmth of humans again. ;)

  20. That was a great piece. The imagery in the story had me seeing what you were seeing..

    Love this stuff....

  21. Wow, I will be right behind Vodka Mom at barnes and Noble when your book comes out! I direct plays and I can't tell you what visuals you painted for me in that! Thank you for sharing this amazing gift with us!!

  22. That was lovely, Irish. Even a little dog can appreciate art from time to time:)

  23. Adding life to something supposedly inanimate is a gift Gumbo. Special post.
    June in Oz

  24. Getting a new neighbor is so exciting since there's the possibility of new friends. The flip side is that there's also the possibility of a new jerkface moving in too. I hope your neighbors turn out to be lovely.

    The beginning of this post reminded me of the Verizon worker who dug up the yard on either side of the driveway last week while installing our neighbor's service. Not cool. It was fun to watch though and kept my kid entertained for at least 30 minutes! Good luck with the neighbors.

  25. Diane: It is Diane, isn’t it? Thank you. I think. I am having trouble seeing the reader ;)

    Robin: ! I will do that as soon as I can clear out some more weeds here. Thanks!

    SweetCheeks: Oh, lord… “you left the bodies and only moved the headstones!” I hope that house isn’t pissed off, PLEASE, OH PLEASE….

    CPM: I can’t decide how much it bothers me, I think it depends on the time of day. The new folks should be here soon, we’ll see.

    BEW: Excellent! Thank you!

    SSP: *blush* I’m glad it worked, and you are most welcome!

    Henry: Thank you. And dogs can be very perceptive, just like you…

    Lee: Thank you!

    June: Wow. Isn’t that something that shamans do? :) Thank you!

    Casey: Doh! Oh, crap, the welcome mat says “The Jerkfaces”! ;) We do too. My former neighbors met the potential new ones, said they were a nice couple. Fingers crossed…

  26. Beautfully written! I wish I could write like that.

  27. I wish my neighbors would move away and leave only light where there once had been catty, chatty, nosey people.

  28. The whole time I'm reading this, I'm hearing the Tom Waits song..."What's he Building in There?"

    So, thanks for that.

    Good work!

  29. Joanie: Thank you, dear!

    MoMo: Ida know, a few dead animals on the lawn, mysterious bangs late at night, and they just may take the hint!

    cIII: Liking the Tom Waits! Thank you, and good to hear from you!

  30. That really is a lovely piece of writing. Keep up the great work :)


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...