As I opened the back door to the house, a rushing blast of pent-up air hit me squarely in the face like the onslaught of a summertime northerly. It was as if years of accumulated stuffiness had been expecting this very moment, longing to set itself free from its black confines. In reality, the house had only been unoccupied for a few months or so since my Grandfather died.
I say house, but it was really like a Fort Knox; locks on every window as well as those roller shutter things that blocked out the apparent curse of natural light. Just to get to the back yard required a set of keys to unlock to the garage, and then there was another couple of extra keys required for the deadlocks. For this reason, it made no sense for me to feel that there was danger lurking inside. It would have been nigh on impossible for anyone to break in, yet in these early Saturday morning hours I was convinced that something sinister lie in wait.
I had been in Adelaide on tour. Instead of crashing with the band after the show, I had asked my Dad if I could stay and Grandpa’s house. It would be nice, I thought, to have a break from the endless drinking and fart jokes. I also wanted to visit the house one last time before it was sold. Grandpa was the last of my Dad’s parents to pass away, and with this loss came the end of an era in my family. I have fond memories of our family making the pilgrimage from rural Victoria across to Adelaide during the school holidays. During these visits, we would stay and Grandpa’s place. My brother and I would share the same bedroom that my Dad and his brother slept in when they were kids. I can still picture this room clearly in my mind: two single beds with brown quilts, and old organ and a row of books including various editions of the Guinness Book of Records. The cupboards in the room towered all the way to the ceiling, hiding whatever secrets they contained beyond the reach of a mere child.
My Grandpa and I did not particularly get along. I think he found me weird, as I indeed was (and am). For my part, I found him confusing. At times he could be sentimental and warm, on other occasions he appeared reserved and faintly mocking. I remember one time he observed my (admittedly terrible) heavy metal outfit and stated that I was “a real weird one.” I shrugged my shoulders and walked off, not knowing how to properly respond. Yet there were times he was capable of kindness. From the vantage point of his off-peach colour reclining chair, he would observe the family, slightly tear up, and comment that he loved having us all around him. I was a part of that feeling, I liked to think. Given my mixed feelings toward my Grandpa, I was surprised to find myself bursting into tears at his funeral. As he was lowered into the ground, I remember thinking that we hadn’t simply lost a family member, but that what had ended was a small piece of our collective memory. There would be no new stories about my Grandpa which we accumulate in the coming years. As a family, were now confined to conjuring up the past through wandering anecdotes and fragments of fading memories.
Perhaps this is why I felt so strange stepping foot into the empty house. I couldn’t associate this place with anything other than my Grandpa, and to enter his sacred enclave after his passing felt like some sort of criminal activity. I didn’t want to touch anything, because I wanted it to remain exactly as it was in my memory. Yet it was not all just projection, I am sure of that. Some energy that didn’t want me there either. I was intruding in a space that should have been left in peace. This energy made itself known to me via a cold shiver as I attempted to orient myself in this familiar yet new environment.
I walked into the living area felt around for the light switches, hoping that the light would instantly dismiss the eeriness. Yet when I turned them on it just made things more surreal. The lights were dim and served only to illuminate my sense of aloneness in the house. I had started to wish I stayed with the band. I decided to walk throughout each room and switch on every single light in the house. Grandpa would have hated that, but I wasn’t doing it to spite him. I needed to convince myself I was alone. As I stepped throughout the house, I saw ghosts of years past. On the far side of the otherwise empty kitchen stood my Grandma, mixing her horrible green sludge health drink. I had flashbacks of my brother playing the old organ and serenading the family with awful but hysterically funny original compositions. Then there was the time that my Mum had a run-in with Grandma in the hallway over whether Adelaide or Victoria were the rightful heirs of the Grand Prix. I looked in the pantry, too, so often the scene of my ravenous scavenging. To my surprise, there were still some items left in it- remnants of Grandpa’s time spent here alone before he passed away.
It was late and I was tired, so I soon went to bed in my Grandpa’s old room. I don’t know why I chose it. It was a bad idea. It would have been much better to choose the old room my brother and I shared. I reasoned that as the front door to the house was immediately next to my Grandpa’s room, I could escape quickly if anything happened to me. This false sense of security did not help me sleep. I tossed and turned for the remainder of the evening, alternating between periods of intense cold and clammy sweat. Sooner or later I must have succumbed to sleep because the fear subsided, and the next thing I knew I was witnessing the rising of the morning sun.
As I prepared to leave on that day it dawned on me that I would never see Grandpa’s house again. It was due to be sold soon, and I did not doubt that the new owners would spruik the place up. Even if I was to return one day, it would never again be as I remembered. As I walked through the various rooms one last time, I knew that this was my only direct line to my Grandpa. When I stepped out of the house and onto the street, I knew that my Grandpa would also become an abstraction, someone to be revealed to me only through the stories of others and my faint memories. This made me sad.