Previously: Shirley Jackson’s What To Expect When You’re Expecting.
Jim and Imelda know that no live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Having already seen two city-center apartments, they’re ready to take a chance and look at Hill House, not sane, which has stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it’s stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.
There’s a lot to like here, Denise points out. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet neatly, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut; silence lays steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walks there, walks alone. And she loves the floor plan, or would if the doors stopped slamming shut behind her long enough to let her see all the way down the hallway.
Brianna isn’t sure yet about the kitchen in House #3. “I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster,” she thinks, “and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside. Also, there’s wall-to-wall carpeting in the bathroom, which we would definitely have to change.”
Meghan knows exactly what she’s looking for in a house: somewhere she could live all alone all, with a winding garden path to a small blue front door with, perfectly, a white cat on the step. No one would ever find her there, either, behind all those roses, and just to make sure she would plant oleanders by the road. She’d like to light a fire in the cool evenings and toast apples at her own hearth, raise white cats and sew white curtains for the windows and sometimes come out of her door to go to the store to buy cinnamon and tea and thread. People will come to her to have their fortunes told, and she will brew love potions for sad maidens; she will have a robin. But can she find all this and come in under budget?”
Doug and Elisa take a few minutes to talk about their options.
“What did you think of the first house?”
“It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house ; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed. And the wallpaper was really dated.”
“It watches,” he added suddenly. “The house. It watches every move you make.”
“Right,” their realtor agreed. “Of course, you’re going to have trouble finding a house in this part of town that doesn’t do that, so it might not be realistic to ask for a house that both doesn’t watch every move you make and is less than thirty minutes from work.”
[NARRATOR] The pounding had stopped, as though it had proved ineffectual, and there was now a swift movement up and down the hall, as of an animal pacing back and forth with unbelievable impatience, watching first one door and then another, alert for a movement inside, and there was again the little babbling murmur. And tiny laughter beyond the door, mocking them.
“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turn the house into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of the house seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. But there are Jack-and-Jill bathrooms in the master wing, so that’s something to consider.”
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.