Guest Post, Heather Jovanelli: Shrinking House

I came across an elderly man at the local sandwich store. He had swollen ankles and thin gray hair. His skin was white like paper, with the occasional splotch on his face. I made eye contact with him and smiled somewhat kindly, motioning for him to come sit at my table. He didn’t smile but nodded and came over. I asked him if he lived around here, and he said he lived off of MacArthur Boulevard, near the cross section of High Street. I knew this area well. I took casual carpool every day at that corner, and had been to a dinner recently at a house just down the street. Anyways, I asked the elderly man what his name was. He said “Harold” and I introduced myself. He asked me what I did, and I told him I worked with mentally disabled children at a school in the hills. He could tell I hated it. I explained to him it wasn’t the children who bothered me, but the administration and the way the teachers were treated. Regardless, Harold listened. He told me he enjoyed taking photographs and had taken up his own venture into landscape and garden photography after he retired. Being a painter myself, I was interested in seeing his photographs. He invited me to visit and have coffee at his house in a neighborhood known as Maxwell Park the following weekend. I agreed haphazardly, but was pretty sure about being there.

I arrived at Harold’s house on Saturday, and his house was a large white New England-style colonial appearing out of place within a row of Spanish-style, one-story houses lining the street. Because it was late rain season when I first saw the house, the small front yard was muddy with puddles and soaked grass. The house met tall fir trees on its left, and to its right was a small patch of grass sloping down to a ravine. Harold knew what time I was arriving and walked out a door near the back. Jade plants were scattered to the left and right of the dirt driveway. The back porch was where Harold usually entered the house, it seemed, so he gestured with his hand to follow him in. We went inside and, while in the kitchen, he showed me some photographs he had taken on the walls. They were portrait-sized photographs of dried flowers, in sepia and dark violet. One particularly stuck out to me. It was of a dried jasmine and wild rose bouquet. They had been framed by wood panels which were starting to lose its varnish. The light in the room was too dull to make the photograph have any bright character, which I liked. While I was roaming around the corridor of photographs, I opened up a door that led to the closet in the kitchen. The door was dressed in an old coat of paint.  On the side of the door, markings had been scrawled. Upon closer examination, I noticed they were markings that denoted the height of Harold. The first marking said “6’2 / 3-15-1971” and the one right below it said “6’0  / 8-14-1976”; upon further looking, I noticed how the scrawl continued to descend down in date until there were no more markings. It stopped somewhere around 5’6”.

I glanced over at him and noticed he was looking out his living room window towards his garden. Something about the appearance of his self cast against the glass struck me peculiarly. The longer he stood there the more apparent something became. His body was vacant from the living room. His reflection, which had been faint before began to color in more deeply. His skin became pink in the face, his hair a darker, but still grey, grey. Around his shoulder glowed a green line, which seemed to trace the rows of hedges outside in the driveway. His ear began taking on the contour of the lilies hanging outside, which appeared just ready to drop. It was then that I realized he was no longer measurable in terms of feet and inches, but to where his body ended and other forms began.

 

Heather Jovanelli

Heather Jovanelli is a visual artist and writer living in Oakland, California. Originally from Maine, she is interested in sustainable architecture and energy, string theory (on the guitar), and painterly optics. Her major influences are Merle Haggard's music and Will Alexander's poetry.

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