Just a tiny note before we get into it, this is a piece of creative non-fiction inspired by and based on my late neighbour, an eccentric professor.
While everything mentioned is true, some of it has been dramatised or expanded on from a more pensive perspective.
Also, it has been written in the form of a book with a prologue, epilogue and chapter divisions as a subtle nod to the professor who used to teach drama, theatre and performing arts and as such, it is not entirely accurate in terms of changes in the narrative. It is merely for representational or aesthetic purposes.
That’s it! Hope you enjoy!
A house that lacks, seemingly, mistress and master,
With doors that none but the wind ever closes,
Its floor all littered with glass and with plaster;
It stands in a garden of old-fashioned roses.
– Robert Frost
It stares down at us. No one roams its long and narrow halls. With every sunrise, window panes caked with dust seem to grow more and more desperate to let some sunlight in, but no one heeds them anymore. Plants that were sowed with tender love have gone berserk in the absence of their caretaker and have taken over their fragile neighbours, creating a chaotic co-existence of weeds and flowers.
The house opposite ours? It’s a skeleton that longs to breathe again.
He lived alone. But his house was often frequented by stray cats and domestic cats with homes that stayed at his, for a change of scenery. Eventually, there came to be those unusual creatures, that seem to appear out of nowhere, when places are left uninhabited for too long.
No one truly knew much about him. He was a character built on information derived from enhanced gossip, thriving on his own dramatised accounts of his life; which was strangely fitting in a way since he was a drama professor. As a teacher of the performance arts, theatre, drama and whatnot, you’d often hear him on the phone with his former students debating about what made a movie great or why a certain actor was hailed as one of the greats albeit excruciatingly loudly as though he was proclaiming the greatness of his craft.
Every artist has a masterpiece. His house was his.
He built it directly opposite ours. It was a curious structure with what we’d assume to be the front being part of his home’s backyard and one of the conventional sides being his home’s actual front.
As a result, we’d often be treated to comical scenes of unsuspecting guests ringing the bell at the back of the house and waiting with this perplexed look wondering why the professor never answered. Of course, after he and we had our fill of laughs at their expense, he’d call them and tell them to come to the actual front.
It became so frequent that he had to stick a notice on his mailbox which was also at the back, directing people to the front of the house. But who reads tiny text on a mailbox? This was a rather common occurrence until there was no professor to visit.
Some tend to believe you are the sum of the personalities of those whom you surround yourself with. In a way, to me, it feels like it stood true for the professor.
He was known for being a lot of things. He was considered to be a miser, for example. He built his house – he did. But he never went through with the whole process. The house was left halfway with its red bricks and concrete exposed.
It was supposedly a ruse to enhance the aesthetic of ‘the house on the bank of a river‘. (Oh yes, our houses are both close to a river bank). It’s gorgeous to wake up in the morning and watch the river flow as if it never had a break in its life – so controlled but so full of kind rage but I digress.
He appeared out of nowhere with a past we hardly knew about. He was exceptionally talkative and had opinions on everything ranging from politics to religious scandals to movies to local gossip, and had an even brilliant understanding of the drama that appeared to rule human lives at the core of quotidian monotony.
He had such an ideal picture of life, that he tried so hard to mould the world around him into, often ignoring how he should’ve maybe begun with himself.
He was often rude to pedlars and politicians who campaigned for votes. He’d drive them away with his harsh words and perfectly logical critiques. He frequently criticised politicians, and people without means and debated long and hard on random events that flitted through the ordinary man’s life.
He was a miser through and through. But he was also kind to people he knew needed help. Did he make sure they knew his name when they received help? Yes. But he was kind nonetheless, in a way many people didn’t really know him to be.
The professor had sisters who were nuns, people of religion who had dedicated themselves to their faith and yet, the professor didn’t appear to follow any religion, at least not while we knew him – a meagre 7 years of his life. We once saw a crucifix right at the entrance of his infamous back door but we never saw him in pursuit of religion.
He was too entrenched in the arts to live his life along his whims. For the short while I knew him, I often considered his life to be a play in its own right.
He was an interesting character – an apt protagonist. A paradoxical human who preached much and lived trapped in a cage of his own making. He had numerous siblings, yet he didn’t have that kind nature of a person who was brought up with so many other humans – siblings whose stories overlapped with his own. He was conscious about his health but his diet resembled that of a caveman.
He built this house to live closer to nature, to find peace and discover where art’s soul dwelled. And his short period here was tragically riddled with legal disputes, health concerns and environmental disasters with his last breath being exhaled in a manner most ill-fitting that of a protagonist of such a dramatic play.
And when the time to bid farewell came, he was rushed to a nearby hospital and while we all watched the curtain closing on his life, none of us got the chance to give him a standing ovation. We never said goodbye.
And he was gone. The next morning, news of his passing dotted our social media and he was no more. Just like that.
The professor next door would never return to his beloved house again. The last mask he wore still fluttered on the handle of his infamous back door.
The professor wasn’t just curious or eccentric. He was a proper character; someone who simultaneously appeared to be from Greek tragedies and dull plays revolving around daily life.
What with his obscured past, his life as a teacher and his intermittent life as a solitary critic of life; it’s ironically a fitting end that this skeletal house looks straight into our souls with its abandoned books and half-written plays – testimony to a life that was never inked down.
If you listen closely, sometimes you can hear his door shut in the evening or the middle of the night just as he used to. One might even say, he was the kind of person or dare I say – artist, who would haunt his masterpiece, a place he once called home, if only to preserve its youthful beauty visible only to him.
A skeleton of what was loved, a half-built house that was perfect the way it was, but only so to its maker who would never return.
I always find it curious to discover a home left as if in a state of interrupted daily life, with clothes still hanging like flaccid skins in a closet. Despite the rubble of personal effects, I can imagine someone sitting in their favorite chair, smoking an evening cigarette, or tinkering on their best friend’s truck in the garage.
― Mike Correll, Abandoned Sulphur, Louisiana
I hope you had a good read! I’ve been meaning to write tiny character sketches like this on certain people I’ve met or come across. There’s something so innately perfect about people and their stories, once you sit down to write – it just feels like no other story no matter how wonderfully penned would fit that person unless it was their own. And that’s what I felt writing this.
The perfect play for the imperfect drama professor.
It also made me rethink all the times I’ve spent time thinking about ‘What If?’ scenarios. Maybe they didn’t happen because they wouldn’t have fit my story whatever it is turning out to be, haha! As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and interpretations!