We all have a home; a shell that we live in. For some, it is a mansion with Georgian pillars and lakes in the grounds. For others, it is a merry townhouse, near the shops where friends call every day and invite us to visit their homes, too. For some, they are wandering in a vast desert, lost to the world and themselves. Others have ramshackle hovels where tattered sheets of hessian flap and snap in the wind, whilst others have a flat where they are comfortable to hear the every-day noises of their neighbours living.
I have a cottage. A little, snug, thatched Daisy Cottage. Nestled in a hollow in the mid-moorlands, Daisy Cottage is where you could find me, should I choose to be found.
At first glance, Daisy Cottage is a neat, cutesy-looking place, with a small flower garden at the front, and a vegetable patch at the side. The back of my cottage is built into the moorside. At my front and side windows, there are red and white polka-dot curtains, and emerald green wooden shutters fixed to the outside with stars cut out of the middle for decoration. The garden, on either side of the cobbled path, is full of bright, gaudy flowers that nod from the weight of their blooms in the moorland winds. And there is a rainbow rose climbing up the side and over the top of my little oak front door.
But if you look closely, you will see that all my flowers are past their best, with weeds binding them from below, and the rainbow roses have had their colours painted on. My windows are grimy, the muddy-brown damp plaster needs work, and my door needs re-treating. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice, but I couldn’t help but point it out. Because if I didn’t, you would notice. And it hurts if you mention that you noticed. If I have already told you, it won’t hurt so much if the subject was on your mind. I can’t help wondering what is on your mind, about my little garden.
I don’t often allow people into my space, but I have allowed you to enter my garden through the old, care-worn gate. There is a sign on it that once might have had “Welcome” written on it, but it’s so faded that I cannot remember. Generally, people are not welcome here, because often, they notice things I’d rather they didn’t notice. And people who notice those things, generally, cannot help but mention that they noticed. And the few people who don’t mention that they noticed are exactly the kind of people who I wish had not noticed anything at all, but are so perceptive that I just want to hide. And so, I hide.
Have I confused you yet? I'm sort of hoping that I have. Because then you would not come further into this dwelling of mine.
But you have come this far. Usually, people who come this far only want to use the facilities, to dump their cares and woes in my little bathroom, and piddle away their silly self-centred lives. Generally, those sorts of people never notice anything other than themselves, and I can deal with that sometimes. They sweep in, they dump the contents of their bowels, and they sweep away having washed their hands with my vanilla soap and leaving smutty finger prints on my one guest towel.
Some people just want to come for the cookies. I have gingerbread men. People don’t tend to notice the fact that you don’t smile much if you offer them a gingerbread man, because they have smiles plastered all over their little gingerbready faces.
Some friends come because… I’m not sure why. I have to trust them when they say that they visit because they want to, and they don’t mind what they find. I don’t look up any more when they are visiting. If I can’t see their faces, and I just carry on as I do with my other guests, and try my best, then it won’t matter so much if they are noticing things I don’t want to be noticed. They are too kind to mention them, and they have learned to make a point of not noticing. That way, we all feel a bit more comfy. But I still wonder why they visit. I truly think it is just because they are kind.
I suppose you’d like to see inside, would you? Inside my little Daisy Cottage? Then I hold the creaking door open for you, and bow you in.
First things first, this is the hallway. It isn’t much, but it’s mine. Yes, I realise it’s small and cramped, and smells like musty earth. But it’s only here to get you places, not for congregating. If you came at Christmas, you’d see twinkly fairylights all the way along, just like in the windows, too. But it’s September, and I only have the fairylights in the lounge and my bedroom at this time of year.
To the left… Yes, that’s right, in you go. This is my lounge. Isn’t it pretty? Shiny, twinkly, fairylights, mirrored disco balls, and drapes of shining, chiffon fabrics adorn this room. They hide the ancient, dingy paintwork of ugly, mouldy white. You can see glittery fripperies and toy gingerbread men, and presents that people have graced me with, scattered around… No, don’t look under there. It’s just messy piles of paperwork. It’s nothing special, and not your business. You’d be bored by that… I mean it, stop looking! Ooo, look at this armchair. It’s low and squat, a bit like me. But it’s comfy, I promise. If you sit there, and look up, you can see the nets of light I’ve strung up, twinkling, a bit like disco stars.
See that table over there? The piles of pretty things on it are half-finished craft projects. I start them, and then I lose momentum, then concentration, and then I give up altogether. I get frustrated, but that’s how it is. I used to zoom through piles of presents and useful things, making things up at a great rate for people to use and enjoy. But I can’t do that now. And somehow, I just don’t want to any more. It’s too much for me. I’m just trying to keep my walls together. See the bits of duct tape here and there? That’s keeping the walls together. Underneath them, there are big cracks. If I didn’t do what I’m doing, all alone and taping up cracks, the walls would fall down and I wouldn’t be here any more. I would be wandering on the open moors, and might never find my way home.
I’ll just light my vanilla candle that lives on the hearth. You know, sometimes, I light the open fire, too, and it eats away dead wood. I don’t do it very often, as sometimes, things I didn’t want burned away catch light too, or I see things in the flames that make me dream bad things, and it gets messy. But the memories of times sitting here in winter, toasting marshmallows, and drinking Baileys with a friend or two is enough. To do that now seems like an imposition, to ask a friend or two in to share what little I have to offer them. But the memories are dear.
You see the back sides of the red and white polka dot curtains? I know they aren’t lined. But if the draughts and outside light and noises get too much, I pin up thick blankets like the stripy one on the back of your chair, and that shuts them out. I don’t like noise. Even the adverts on my old, hulking telly in the corner are too much for me. But I need my telly. It helps me forget where I am, or, more importantly, allows me to journey beyond my front door, but safely. Those dusty racks of DVDs and books are just for that purpose. I wander the Otherworlds and distant dimensions from that little chair you’re sitting in right now.
I sometimes stretch out on the sofa, but I get lonely if I do. I wish somebody would stretch out on it with me, and cuddle me. But if they did, and if they didn’t mind how my cottage looks from the outside, they would see the layers of grime and soot and dust that coat every surface in here. I add the shiny things and fabrics in an attempt to cover it all up. It’s not a bad job, is it? But you can’t spring clean a cottage like this without disturbing the goblins.
Because goblins live here, you know. Some people have ghosts, spectres, poltergeists, a “presence”, insects, mice, bats, rats, cooties, elves, piskies, fairies… I have goblins. But I need them. Oh, they may have heard us talking about them now. Best just draw your feet up… That’s right. It’s okay, they shouldn’t hurt you. It’s just that, well, they like to peer out when they hear their name. They can’t help it. They’re afraid they’ll get kicked out. I’d never, though; I’d never kick them out. I need them. I’ll tell you why later.
So this is the sitting room, where most people are allowed in. Come across the gloomy hallway, and I’ll show you the kitchen. It’s small and boring, isn’t it? I hate cooking, you see. I really, really hate it. I love eating. You can tell by my shape. Eating makes me feel safe, because it doesn’t care what I look like, or look at me accusingly unless I feel guilty about it, and then it makes me suffer. Food and I need each other and hate each other. I make it live in the cupboard and try to shut my eyes and ears when it sticks its head round the corner and starts to shout at me.
This is the kitchen, then. More dusty, once-sparkly things hang from little hooks, and dust-covered pans. A casserole dish is soaking in the sink, sorry. I didn’t realise I’d be doing the full tour. There’s just a few dirty dishes that I am too ashamed to even look at to simply wash, and all the peelings of now-mouldering vegetables, and some empty packets of chocolate that have somehow kept me safe all these years are lurking on the drying rack. Normal people have a kitchen with pots bubbling on the stove, and a freshly boiled kettle for their guests. But I would rather go to your house, if you don’t mind, for such things. I don’t want to look at what I can cook (sorry, burn) up in my little kitchen any more.
Look outside the kitchen window; see there? The vegetable patch is lying fallow with a low blanket of weeds. I used to grow a large amount of healthy things, but now… I can’t do it now. I look at it, and think, I once did. I do not think now that I should or could. It doesn’t feel right for me. It is dead ground.
There are plenty of people who pass by my gate, and call out to me, “Hi! You there! I know what you could do with that vegetable patch!” Or, “You used to have such a wonderful garden, do it just like you used to.” But sometimes, the ground needs to just sit and rest. If you used all the soil’s nutrients up, it takes time to replace them. I’ve had plenty of manure dumped on it, trust me. And just like if you pour too much fertiliser on a daisy plant, sometimes, too much of a good thing can render it infertile after all, and kill it. And so, my vegetable plot lies fallow. And my kitchen, empty of all but the plates of past meals and rotting remains, can no longer produce a meal fit for anybody, least of all my friends, to eat.
I admit, I am ashamed of my little cottage. I can’t help crying. No, it’s okay, thank you. I always keep the tissues close. I use them a lot, and quite a few of my visitors do, too. I don’t mind. Usually when they are crying, they can’t notice things. And when they are gone, I notice all the things that they didn’t notice, and I cry too.
But enough, what gloominess I am presenting to you! Come back through the hallway, and past my photographs. Aren’t they pretty? I had to photoshop them. That person, the one who looks nothing like me, in that beautiful dress, outside the fairytale castle? That’s who I wish I was, that is. And this one next to her, hiding in a corner in the dark? That’s a self-portrait. I photographed me in the dark so that I can’t see the things surrounding me, and the shape that I am. I don’t like to look at me at all, really. But necessity means we must, at times.
This third picture, that’s a painting of me in harsh daylight. This is how my family and friends see me. Look at me, and look at it. Don’t we have the same potato face? Aren’t we similar? But, you see, it’s all a lie. If you were to take the top layer of paint off, you would see the real picture they painted of me underneath. I really think my friends and family, who are lovely sorts of people, have tried to paint over the truth to make me feel better. But we all know that what is underneath is far uglier and disgusting than this picture. But I love them for trying to make me feel a little happier. It hasn’t worked, but I love them for trying.
Alright, that’s the bathroom on the right. You can go in, but there’s a nasty smell, I know. It’s not all my own crap, I must point out. Sure, I had beans for tea yesterday, but I had a visitor earlier, and I hadn’t had chance to unblock the u-bend after two other people visited last night. I’ll get it clear at some point, but right now, I’m showing you round, and if I wait for a better time, it’s not going to happen. There aren’t really any better times around here. This is as good as it gets, I’m sorry to say.
The shower and sink have sludge in the bottom. I keep trying to wash it down and keep it clean, but my zesty lemon bleach is fighting a losing battle. I do have plenty of soap and shampoo, and I’m trying my hardest to keep myself and the place clean, honest. It’s just… this dirt keeps sticking to me. I wash it all off, and find another layer is building. I know where it’s coming from. It’s the same place that the dirt in the whole house is coming from. I’m trying to keep it off me, but I think that perhaps some of us just have dirt. It’s like it’s a part of us. It seeps out from inside our pores.
Some people throw mud at the outside of our homes, and that’s so mean. The mud around here really does stick, it’s like glue. I try to paint it over sometimes, but… well, you saw the state of it. But for some of us, the dirt comes from within as well as outside. Old skin flakes snowing onto long-dead roses, the stinging ancient fragrance of their wizened petals making the one smelling them wrinkle their nose, but worse. Worse, because it isn’t just life lived that drifts upon these worn and tatty belongings, but this ugly slime oozes from inside, and coats surfaces in a tar-like substance, creeping its way through me, onto my possessions in my cottage, and then out through the walls. At one point, it was so bad that my poor little Daisy Cottage nearly collapsed, and I had to get some chemical cleaners to try and deal with it. It didn’t really work, but by that time, I was slowly getting a grip on it myself. I managed to scrape away the worst of it before you came, but if you look under objects and items, you can see it, still oozing, still reaching forth from the depths of who-knows-where.
Actually, I do know where. But I must show you my bedroom first. Mind your step! Sorry, a couple of goblins were about to trip you up. It’s because I was talking about… what’s beyond the Last Door. They wanted to distract you, to trip you up before you could go any further. It’s okay, they know you’re with me, so they shouldn’t bother you too much. Just watch where you walk, though.
Just go across the hall again, then, into my bedroom. You can see, I do love my fairylights. I made that canopy over my bed myself. And I like to lie there at night, staring up at the twinkling. I painted the walls and ceiling midnight purple, and scattered the silver stars myself. This is my dreaming room. This is where I come when I need silence and solitude.
I have a double bed; do you like my rainbow star bedspread? I love things that look fun, and I love stars and rainbows. Stars are shiny and speak of happy dreams. Rainbows are joyful and speak of hope. I always dream, and I always hope, even though I know it is pointless for me. I wanted so desperately to share this space with somebody, but I know now that nobody wants me that I am able to let in. I am not able to let you know all the things that this bedroom holds, because it will physically hurt me to show you. And so I cannot. I can only hope that you understand. Don’t look too close. The slime is here too. You can’t see it so well with the glittery stars. I try to fool myself it isn’t there. Sometimes it works for a minute or two. And usually, it does not.
But we have one more door left, the Last Door. Please, sit on the bed for a minute. The goblins wish to try and distract you, but I won’t let them. We must just let them dance for a moment. Just sit.
Ah, see as they creep into the room. I never know how or when they will appear. At first glance, they look merry and happy, but if you look closer, you can see that they have nasty, sharp little teeth, and viscious, arrow-sharp eyes. They look a little like me, don’t they? Some of them are actually rather kind, and gentle, but they don’t appear much. They only appear when they want you to stop in your tracks and pry no further. They are some sort of extension of what is behind the Last Door.
Look at them as they dance, trying to distract us still. Each one has a different name. Let’s see, who is showing today? There is Tears. He shows all the time. I see him if I remember people who hurt me, or others I saw weeping. There is Manipulation. I see him when somebody well-meaning but weak wants to try and “rescue” me from this house, and thinks they can do it by bringing in a feather duster and some polish. I let them potter around for a couple of minutes, and then let him trick them into going home.
Ah, look, that little group there are all called Hilarious. They’ll tell you terrible jokes and have you laughing so much that you forget I’m trying to stop both of us noticing things. Oh, look, there’s Innuendo. She’ll make our thoughts turn to the more base side of jokes, to disguise the fact that Love cannot find a home here. One day, I hope to see Love dancing too, but such light-bearing sprites cannot bear the gloom.
Oh, there’s Helpful. He does nice things for people, and distracts us from seeing that I could do with some help too, sometimes. That fat one, there. He’s Fear. He makes me afraid, especially at night. You’d think it a bad thing, but Fear can stop me finding terrors that are worse. So in a way, he’s not all bad. I try not to let anybody see him. And there’s Anger. He distracts us both by giving us something else to focus on.
Why did I sigh? Because try as I may to put this off, you want to know what lies behind the Last Door, don’t you? Come, then, and we shall stand before it. That’s it, into the hallway again. What’s that? You didn’t notice it? No, of course not. Some people do, very perceptive people. Most people are distracted by the goblins at this point, if the shiny things didn’t work.
But there it is, this Last Door, at the very end of Daisy Cottage’s hallway, just outside the bedroom and bathroom, opening from the moorside. It is sealed, but I’m not sure how. I don’t know how far it goes back. As long as it ever could do, and farther, I think. I don’t know if it’s a cave, an underground system, a well, a black hole, something Different. I just don’t know.
Hold my hand, though, please. I am afeared, standing here before this Last Door. Don’t look at me, please, I cannot bear to be looked at.
I always knew about this door, right from before I could ever remember. I didn’t know it was a door, I just knew it was there. And I still don’t really know most of what is behind it, although in my dreams, sometimes the trolls and demons scream my name, echoing through the corridors of my head as it clings to the stars in desperation.
Once, I was sat in my bedroom, and I suddenly saw a black, skinny demon standing there, laughing at me. He had found a slit between the rock and the doorframe, and inched himself, bone by bone through the Last Door, to stand there and frighten me. His shoulders were hunched forwards and the leathery skin hung off his bony frame, as he stood there, grinning and drooling down his leering fangs at me. His hands were held out towards me, long, sharp talons with poisonous ends. And somehow, I knew that those claws had raked huge rips into my very heart. They had torn parts of my mind into festering shreds of dying tissue, so that I forgot how it happened. But I knew it had happened.
I screamed and ran at him with a heavy book and a determination that only those with a faith can have. And then I agonisingly grabbed him by his neck and turned him round so that he couldn’t look at me as I looked up in all the books I could find that might tell me what he was and how to deal with him. As I read, his head spun round of its own accord, and I was face to face with his hideous, stinking, putrid breath; his yellow eyes bore into the back of my head and his tongue flickered just millimetres from my face. And I suddenly knew what he was.
I slammed the hateful creature against the wall to stun him, and I called in an expert. I felt horribly uncomfortable, asking this professional to come in and help me with it. But I did. I didn’t want it lurking there behind my Last Door. I knew there were other terrors, too, but this was one that had presented itself, and I wanted to deal with it.
The expert came and looked at it, and tried a few things. I did everything I was asked to do, and more. I called in a whole team of professionals, and they could not get rid of it either. And so I kept hold of it, trying not to see it leering at me, trying to close my ears to the dreadful things it whispered at me in the night and in the day. It told me things I knew were true, and things I knew were not, until I could not hear them any more.
Finally, I went to a different professional, and I opened up every part of Daisy Cottage that I could. I prised open the Last Door and let out a different demon that I knew was of the same family as the cruel demon I had by the scruff of the neck. Smaller, with wings of poison-soaked hide, lines of thorny spikes along its little arms, it clawed its way up and down the hallway, as the creature I held onto squirmed and wriggled, trying to get free too.
And the professional looked at the one I had just let out, and she laughed.
She actually laughed.
And so I threw her out, and I threw the little demon and the big demon into the gaping, heaving, roiling black Nothingness, and I slammed shut the Last Door, and I cried. I sobbed and wept and I hated myself more. I hated the demons and their laughter that I heard from beyond the old panels. I hated the terrors and the ugly black slime oozing through the cracks and pooling round the threshold. I hated myself as I realised the slime was oozing from inside me too.
The demon that had appeared had slashed open the dam inside me, and I could do nothing to stop the heavy, heaving Nothingness from oozing and leaking out of me, just as it did from the Last Door.
I went to many doctors to get some medicine to make it stop, or at least let me forget. But all the medicine did for me was give me other pains and fears and worries and discomforts to deal with on top of the ugliness that now soaked through me.
And I knew that should I release another demon, or let it finger its way out, I could not, for all the world and universes, be able to deal with it.
I prayed to God to make me well, to help me rid my cottage of the evil that lurked somewhere there inside. I grew to understand that I had inherent brokenness inside me, that I was somehow made wrongly. And I believed for a time that I could be well, whether the Nothingness behind the Last Door was of my own making, or other peoples’.
But He did not answer me through all my years of begging, pleading, living His way, seeking Healing in every way I could, and submitting to Him and to others. He answered other people for other things and their own Nothingnesses. But He did not answer me. And I try not to believe that if He does exist, that He made me this way on purpose, or that He has abandoned me.
And now, I am left with Daisy Cottage. I long to be Un-made, to be never here. Even as a child of four years old, when I was aware of Self, I wished I had no home here, that I had never Been. But here I am, trying to duct tape my walls together as best as I can, hoping people will either leave me alone, or overlook the things I don’t want noticed. I wish with all my heart that somebody would come in and love Daisy Cottage like I was never able, and even if they cannot make me see it the way that they do, that they would choose to dwell alongside me, and love me in spite of the slime that oozes from the Last Door. For in being loved, and doing my best to love, I may find some grain of me that is happy Daisy Cottage stands, grimy and even with her Last Door and what lies shut away behind it.
But Daisy Cottage is standing still, and I am alone and broken inside still, alone.
Please let us not speak of this again, for Darkness, Pain and Sorrow are even now at the gate, and you should leave before they enter.