Villa Sainte Marie

by Philip Dodd

I feel guilty just for being here. I feel like I’ve intruded into another world, into another life. The air is stale, and I’m walking as quietly as possible, for no reason. There’s no one else here, there hasn’t been for almost forty years. That’s how long the house has stood empty. I hesitate to even breathe. I can feel a lump in my throat, but my eyes are dry, there are no tears.

There is a plastic flower in a vase on the dining table. A red rose, it is the only real colour in the whole house. Colour has bled out of this house. There are only mildewed shades of faded tones, the original colours hard to guess at. There are family photographs on the walls. Formal, posed shots of well dressed men and women, stern and unsmiling. A family record more than a fond possession at first, they become precious after the sitter has passed on. But these pictures look down upon no one. They should have passed through a generation or two by now, but they remain here, trapped in time. The doors between this room and the sitting room have stained glass panels at the top, which should be beautiful. But the shutters are closed at the front of the house, and there’s also a layer of dust that leaves me peering through cataracts.

The hallway is devastating. The curtains appear to have rotted and fallen from the window at the bottom of the stairs. But that’s not the thing that has stopped me in my tracks. It’s the coats on the rack, as if she had just come in, she might be upstairs, or in the kitchen downstairs. All the hooks are full. When they took her away there wasn’t even enough time to grab a coat. As if she hadn’t suffered enough, she had to be taken to the police station without a coat. Cold, in the back of a car. It must have been winter, because these are all winter coats. I touch the hem of one, and I feel like I’m touching her. I feel no pulse. I feel only despair at the tragedy of this house.

The rising damp has taken hold of the wallpaper, and it hangs loose on the walls, like a snake shedding skin. The paint is blistering and peeling from the woodwork and ceilings. As if the house needs soothing, comforting, softening and smoothing. I head up the stairs.

The bedroom. I feel dizzy. There’s an enormous wooden bed of dark stained oak. This must have been her marital bed. She’d been a widow for some time, I’m not really familiar with that part of her life. Then there’d been a scandal. A child. Many years after her husband had died, a child. Tongues wagged. They turned away from her in the street, they looked at her with contempt. There were rumours that the child’s father was the parish priest. The scandal wouldn’t die down. Other than the bed, the room is sparsely furnished. Sleepless, tearful, nights. A moment of human frailty, a yearning for love, followed by cruel rejection and isolation. It drove her mad. She killed the baby and dumped it in the cesspit.

The air is full, it buzzes and hums. This house is stained, corrupted. But not by her actions, the actions of an abandoned soul. It is stained with the spite and bile of her so-called friends and neighbours. Stained by the pain and tragedy of lives wasted.

I’ve had enough. I go back down the stairs and leave by the front door. I take one last look back into the house, as she must have done, before I pull the door shut.

Philip Dodd tells stories, both fiction and non fiction, often about memory.

  1. #1 by S de Assaf on March 3, 2011 - 8:13 am

    Amazing writing, I felt as if I walked through the house and partook of the tragedy.

  2. #2 by Tom Sykes on March 3, 2011 - 8:48 am

    What a heartbreaking story and a magnificent telling of it. That felt as vivid and real as if I was there, beautfully written.

  3. #3 by Cath Barton on March 3, 2011 - 9:06 am

    I like the pace of this – as if holding your breath. Thank you.

  4. #4 by Philip Dodd on March 3, 2011 - 9:40 am

    S de Assaf – Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.
    Tom, so pleased you liked it.
    Cath, I sort of was holding my breath while writing it.
    Thanks for your comments – I really appreciate them and am interested in what people have to say.

  5. #5 by Jennifer walmsley on March 3, 2011 - 9:42 am

    Wonderful. I could feel and smell the house. Loved the way her story is slowly revealed through the rooms. Her bedroom felt so forlorn. Excellent writing.

  6. #6 by Bag Lady on March 3, 2011 - 1:41 pm

    I loved this piece. The imagery is so clear I can visualise the whole house and the scenes that have been played out there in my head. Wonderful.

  7. #7 by Nicole (Ninja Mom) on March 3, 2011 - 3:41 pm

    No matter how many times I read it it’s chilling. And the last line is the most chilling of all.

  8. #8 by Happy Frog and I on March 3, 2011 - 8:36 pm

    Excellent writing and story. I felt claustrophobic reading it and could picture everything you were describing. The emotions you imagined her feeling intermingled with your own as you walked round were so well described. The description of the coats hanging there after all that time was really moving too. Beautiful, haunting post.

  9. #9 by Philip Dodd on March 3, 2011 - 8:54 pm

    Jennifer – thanks, Empty rooms speak volumes, even decades later.
    Baglady – playing out in your head is good, Cheers.
    Nicole – By the end I felt a personal sense of distaste at the whole thing. I felt how she felt. And I didn’t like it at all. Not at all.
    Happy Frog – I’m glad you got my and her emotions. I was trying to sort of “represent” her.

  10. #10 by Sal on March 3, 2011 - 9:54 pm

    Philip, this was incredible. You write so well, that the despair in this is something you can taste.

    I can’t wait to see what your next venture is. Because there will be a next.

  11. #11 by Philip Dodd on March 3, 2011 - 10:53 pm

    Sal – Thanks. I’m so pleased you liked it. Yes, there will be a next. I’m thinking of writing something about a woman with an aversion to the colour blue.

  12. #12 by Sandra Davies on March 5, 2011 - 9:09 am

    This was so rich in its evocation of time past, well-observed in the material damage and the tale itself was strong and heart-breaking. Thoroughly enjoyable, thank you.

  13. #13 by Philip Dodd on March 5, 2011 - 9:59 am

    Sandra – Thanks for that, so pleased that you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.

  14. #14 by Paul D Brazill on March 6, 2011 - 1:34 pm

    Wonderful writing.

  15. #15 by Philip Dodd on March 6, 2011 - 4:37 pm

    thanks Paul. It seems our paths have oddly parallel. glad you liked it. I look forward to getting to know your writing better over the next few months.

  16. #16 by Sharon Longworth on March 6, 2011 - 6:08 pm

    Beautifully written. Sadness and longing intertwined with some really deft touches of irony.
    There are so many things to admire here, it’s difficult to pick out just a few, but I love that the only real colour in the house comes from the thing that’s plastic, so not real; I love the way the formal posed pictures are the only family she has and that all they do is look down judgementally, rather than jump to life and hug her.
    Keep writing Philip.

  17. #17 by Philip Dodd on March 6, 2011 - 6:49 pm

    Thank you Sharon, that’s really lovely of you. The plastic thing being colour was not on purpose but it just worked.

  18. #18 by Harmony on March 6, 2011 - 7:08 pm

    You drew me in, such sadness and despair, I almost feared falling through a weak spot in the floor…never to recover. I’m glad to have found my breath (again) at the shutting of the door. Totally encapsulating and beautifully written. Thanks for sharing. :)

  19. #19 by Philip Dodd on March 6, 2011 - 7:17 pm

    Thanks Harmony – that’s really kind of you. The place I wrote about is a real place (that i have never been too). I had the feeling you describe too. Got my breath back when i put the pen down.

  20. #20 by Siddhartha Joshi on March 9, 2011 - 2:02 am

    Wow…this was really good! I was afraid to read further right from the beginning, such was the build-up. I could feel the space around me, closing in…

  21. #21 by Philip Dodd on March 9, 2011 - 7:39 am

    Siddartha – thanks for that, I think that feeling of claustrophobia can be really strong in places like that where you’re on your own and it feels like the building is full of the memory of someone else.

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