I'd not wanted to get out of bed, but at 1:30 I couldn't take the wailing in the attic anymore, and I went up to see the cat. She is boarding with us temporarily in the bedroom up there, right over my head, because she fights with the two permanent cats, and to keep the peace, we have to keep her shut in there or all hell breaks loose. But she gets lonely, and she cries, and she was being particularly fractious tonight.
I went up, with a bad will, and I nudged the door open and squeezed in so she wouldn't escape. She'd eaten all her dry food, so I poured her a little more, and I brushed her while she ate. She likes being brushed, which is good, because she's a hairy one. I sat on a little table in the room and talked to her a bit, and I looked around the room. It was a servant's bedroom, in the old days, an L-shaped room under the roof with a low window in a gable and a large window facing east and a high window in a corner that lets natural light into the upstairs hall. The 1929 renovations didn't make it to the attic, so the doorway still has Victorian rosettes on the corner, and the windows have removable screens that hook onto the frame. The walls are blue and the trim is cream and the ceiling is white. White, with little hairline cracks, and up near the high inside window, wide cracks opening up where a patch of ceiling swells out and wide into a bulge.
I stared up at the bulge, and after a moment was able to place the feeling rising up in me as a wave of hysteria. I have seen a bulge in a ceiling, developing slowing in one of the downstairs rooms I'm in every day. Weeks go by without my setting foot in the attic. How long has the ceiling been bulging? Will it collapse this time? The attic ceiling did collapse before, not in this room but in the big ballroom. Before we lived here, the whole ceiling of the ballroom caved in, and had to be rebuilt, and the room was wallpapered. Had the bedroom ceiling been strengthened then? Are we going to have to have yet another ceiling rebuilt, after the library ceiling nearly collapsed two years ago? And that on top of this year's house quota of painting, and the slate roof, and the shoring up of the back porch, and resurfacing the crumbling driveway. And this added to the cracked, stained ceiling in the back bedroom, and the bubbling, crumbling plaster in the kids' bathroom, and the eroding front porch, and the one toilet that won't stop running, and the one toilet that won't fill up...
I stared at the bulge, and I rocked back and forth a bit on the little table. After a time I got up and inspected the rest of the room. The ceiling didn't seem like it was going to fall on me tonight, anyway. And nothing seemed wrong in the hall. In the ballroom, I stood in the doorway and observed the uneven texture of the papered ceiling before gravitating to a thin brown line I'd never noticed up there before. In an angle of the wall, the new blue paper had been torn away, revealing a floral paper so ancient as to lose its ugliness. The many muntins of the window across from me were a grid of desiccated paint over desiccated wood in strange contrast to the gleaming victorian woodwork around it, the whole structure held closed three stories above the driveway by a hook and eye. Underneath, the vintage linoleum rippled from old water damage. The yellow light of the bare bulb was harsh at 2 am, and I wondered if any of the the neighbors were up and wondering about the sudden light at the top of the house. I wondered if the girls underneath me were frightened by unusual steps above their heads.
I flipped off the light switch set in the bannister at the top of the curving stair, and stepped carefully in the dark. Everyone slept undisturbed. I went back to bed to say Hail Marys and ignore the renewed crying of the cat.
Fortnightly Book, April 30
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