"It’s at night that things get really cold – cold like space – and the dead heavens descend upon my corridors and the gloved hands of the astronaut seek me out"
A sunny day, that's what it was – and in late September, for crying out loud! Ever so sunny, in fact. A trickling breeze, a silvery sheen over everything and, in the air, a vague intuition of warmth like the light touch of a stranger – or a stranger thinking about touching you, perhaps. In short, the day looked great and it felt great too. Out of place and slightly out of season. But these are the times we live in; all disrupted, mangled, tilting gently down to destruction. But, in my mind, the day was pleased with me, happy for me and smiling down and all around. The day itself was like a great, approving, knowing wink in my direction.
Basically, the city of Glasgow had been killing me. A small city in many ways, certainly when you compare it with Phoenix in Arizona, where I spent a number of years. But small can be snug, enveloping and friendly. But that smallness can turn to claustrophobia when your breathing apparatus is as faulty as mine. I’d lived in Glasgow for a year and a half, yet eventually the city seemed to have a pillow over my face and was trying to choke me out of existence. Noxious fumes, double-glazing, bed bugs and carpet bugs, dogs and cats and all other four-legged vermin – the whole caboodle was lining up like murderers on the Orient Express, each set to strike a knife into my lungs. Yes, this US of A girl had great friends in this adopted city, but all around me great enemies too. Asthma has always been a problem for me, but short forays into the countryside – into the sizzling empty deserts of Arizona when I was back home – have always left me feeling that there is space in the world where I’m allowed to breathe; where not every draw in and draw out need be a struggle, or taken with inhaled gases in my system to aid me. Cities were killing me; the countryside would save me and allow me to flourish.
So I, Stephanie Fey – born in little old Flagstaff, raised in sprawling Phoenix, then adopted by the Scottish city of Glasgow – took on this great crumbling, down-at-heel, decrepit building called Mordan House that has only three small rooms that are habitable and that lies a 40-minute drive from the nearest town.
Aside from the three useful, frequentable rooms, the rest of the building consists of a wide, dilapidated stairwell covering two upper floors and a couple of locked rooms in the basement. All the upstairs rooms are wide and high, mostly empty and echoing, even to my breathing it seems. It’s all just endless corridors that I still haven’t quite explored. There's one enormous room that may have been a dining hall at some point or a small ballroom. It's entirely empty. It echoes splendidly. There’s a handful of narrow stairs up on the top floor that lead to an attic or something – but I haven’t investigated that far. That room I am reluctant to enter. Also, the house shows all the layers of its life, all its transitions, its whims, all its entrails: generations of wallpaper occupy all the rooms, from dim and distant past to more recent times; floorboards and old carpets and scraps of underlay of various antiquity are a bizarre patchwork across the floors; objects covering hundreds of years randomly litter the place like the house has avidly collected memorabilia of its own long life.
But I haven’t really made it clear what I’m doing here in this particular house. I haven’t bought this place, yet I’m not renting it either. It’s a deal with the owner, Mr McKay. He leased it to some lefty-leaning hippies who occupied it before me, and when they disintegrated as a group, he decided to level the place and build lavish country homes. Oh, but I've to keep those plans a secret – Mr McKay always looks over his shoulder when he talks about his plans for the house and land! The building is probably unsalvageable in its entirety, but knocked down, levelled and with a new construction on the site of the old, then the current 'ramshackle hell' could turn to 'regeneration heaven'! So while McKay gets the architects and builders in place, I’m looking after it. I don’t have to do anything, just be here for around 10 months, prevent squatters, and let him know if anything occurs that should concern him. Simple-wimple, easy-peasy!
Of course, at the news of my plans, city-slicking friends giggled behind their hands and metropolitan family members back home were aghast behind hands that rubbed their brows. Screw them! I thought. They’re not part of me anyway. This is just a country that I frequent, and they’re just people that I sidle up to from time to time. None of them really relate to me. My family back home are just loose connections too. Same for all the cronies I know in America. I feel alienated from that land as much as this one. It’s all just old dust on my shoes, and faces longer engrained in my memory, longer habituated, and therefore a bit harder to forget. Even Kidman. I'm isolated from her too now. But I don't want to think about that. Yes, I’m quite cold towards people now, but I wonder how much that is really new about me.
"Even Kidman. I'm isolated from her too now. But I don't want to think about that"
Look, I know it was a whacky decision to take on this house. I know it was a gamble. Especially for a lipstick-loving, shoe-embracing, shower-twice-a-day gal like me, well-known for her notable and much-admired collection of exotic and intricately-fashioned underwear! But when you feel you’re dying, you lash out in all sorts of ways. Isn’t that true of us all? And I’m only 30 – I should have years and years ahead of me. I think I want to have years and years ahead of me.
But before you think me to be living entirely in a frozen, unlit tomb that creaks and wanes at every movement of mine, and where I mope and frown and indulge in heartless thoughts, think again. These three rooms are, if I say so myself, quite lovely and cosy. Even Philip would approve of them if he were here – if he knew where I was. The rooms are warm, sumptuous, silent – except for the times when I blast out music to my well-oxygenated heart’s content! – and a haven away from the coal-black, visored face that floats through this old building at night. And something in me is happy here. For the most part. It’s the rest of the house that feels the cold and, I suspect, generates the cold too.
And, of course, the sun has been here most of the time. But that's changed recently and the dark days of winter are beginning to set in. No, the sun of that first day didn't last! Yet I've enjoyed the time that it's been here. Insanity would have drawn me into its dark hole long before now if it wasn’t for the sun. Yet it’s at night that things get really cold – cold like space – and the dead heavens descend upon my corridors and the gloved hands of the astronaut seek me out. Yes, the world got warmer as it tilted towards destruction. Consoling us and duping us. Now it reveals its true self.
So, what of my first encounter with the ghost of this house? I should, I guess, say something about that.