In this house the carpet is green, like the sea. Chloe thinks this is because both her parents love the sea. Her father is a sailor. He works on a ship. He spends half his life at sea, on the sea. He catches fish, grey and wet, in a heavy, dripping, rounded net. Her mother was born on an Island. She lived half her life surrounded by the sea, in the sea. She used to swim with fish in splashing waves, light and bright, fast and free.
Her mother left her heart on the Island. Chloe has heard her say so. Chloe thinks it must be buried in wet sand, because hearts can’t breathe in open air. The Island has her mum’s heart, but her mum has pieces of the Island. It’s like trading marbles. Chloe has heard her say that the Island is in her soul forever. She imagines the warmth of the sun and the shadow of waving palm fronds inside her mum’s soul.
Souls are like the pink satin bag her uncle gave her when he arrived from Over the Seas. They’re used for collecting special things, and you take them with you wherever you go. Inside her soul, Chloe has a polished purple stone that she got from the fair, an old round coin with a square hole in the middle of it, and a tiny statue of a pointy little tower. At the park Chloe looks for more things to put in her soul, like a feather or a blue glass bead scraped out of the dirt. Souls are also for things you can’t touch, like memories, and things you can’t see, like secrets.
Chloe knows that once they are in your soul, sometimes you can touch memories and sometimes secrets can be seen like the black-red shadows that swim on your eyelids when you shut your eyes. She can feel the hardened patch of her soul where she dropped ice cream on it; a memory of mint chocolate chip on a hot summer’s day. Sometimes when she’s all alone she whispers into her soul, then pulls the twisted gold drawstring quickly-tightly closed, shadows melting together into red darkness.
Chloe sits on the couch. The couch floats on the sea. The sea floods the lounge and drowns the bedrooms. She runs her fingers over the rippled brown fabric; the wave-battered bark and wood of a boat. The boat runs across the rippling sea. Wind in the sails, Chloe steers the boat across the lounge, in and out of the dining room, through the kitchen and down the hall. She sees dolphins and mermaids and, far off in the distance, danger! Pirates! She drops anchor, jumps off the boat, and clambers down the dried-up wooden waterfall into the caves below.
In this house the thunderstorms are loud, clapping and banging even when you hide under the table, and sometimes if you speak into the disconnected red telephone, someone will speak back. There are monsters when you shine the torch against the swirly glass of the window that sits high in the rumpus room but low in the garden. The window is a Feature, which means that you have to stare at the coloured glass whenever you go into the room. But when you’re in the garden you forget that it’s there, hidden in the space between your feet and your knees by spiky-wavy plants. The window monsters are scary, but you can control them. They get bigger and bigger as you move the torch further and further away from the window, and smaller and smaller when you move the torch right in close. You can make them disappear by turning the torch off. They’re not so scary really.
There are pixies in the pine trees behind the house. Chloe likes to find them, but first you have to get past the goat at the door between the Sewing Room and the Outside. The goat stares at her, talking with his eyes. Let me in, little girl, or I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll chew through all the lace in the room. Chloe stares blue eye to yellow eye at the goat. She doesn’t mind goats. She’s been around goats since she was a baby. Her first word was Dada. Her second word was Chip, the name of the neighbours’ goat. But Chloe is Very Shy and doesn’t know how to deny a hungry goat lace; doesn’t know how to say no. So she doesn’t say anything at all. She slumps with relief when her mum stops sewing, turns around and shoos the goat away.
It’s black swans that she’s afraid of. They’re bigger than her, and mean. They chase you and make you drop your ice cream. She’s also afraid of the chihuahua up the road, which is allowed to roam free on its driveway, yapping and gnashing its teeth at chewable ankles. She’s not afraid of her uncle. She’s not.
In this house, the hallway is dark if you shut all the doors. You can look through a View-Master and pretend it’s a movie. Castles and gardens, planets and spaceships. You can click yourself through into different worlds.
Presents from England are the best. They always come with hand-knitted cardigans and a three-pack of Mars bars, all wrapped in brown paper by Grandmas who love her.
The whole of the downstairs once didn’t exist. Her dad chopped it out from the earth for a man who died before he could live there. He did it for Love. Now it is a monster rumpus room, and the Sewing Room, and a bedroom, and a world filled with caves and pirate treasure, and sometimes goats. Her mum and dad call it a Granny Flat, but it is only Chloe’s uncle who has ever lived there.
Uncles from England don’t come with cardigans and Mars bars. They come with empty souls and money for ice creams and shadows like secrets.
Chloe isn’t allowed to go to the playground next to the dairy. She doesn’t want to anyway. There are only two swings and a seesaw, glued to rough concrete. There aren’t ever kids there, just teenagers and empty bottles. Her mum says it’s not safe. She holds Chloe’s hand when they walk past.
In this house the thunderstorms are loud and the carpet is green; small girls cower beneath the dining room table and white goats butt their heads at the door. A boat will take you wherever you want to go. Far, far away into distant lands. You just have to stay safe within the walls of the house.