Where it starts in the long run is a place that Editor and I agree is a good starting place, but where it starts in OurTime is like this, something that may not ever be in the final version. The house is brick, weathered brick, with vines on it, though not all over. The front door opened to a broad step, several steps down to a brick walk that has been sealed level, so toes and heels don’t catch on it. At the street, there are gate posts and a metal gate with a lock. The front yard’s fence is painted black. The landscaping of the front yard is formal: shrubs trimmed into neat rounded forms.
There is a driveway in from the street (also protected by a lockable gate) and a side entrance to the house, under a little overhang–an old wooden door that looks, and is not, weak. The side entrance is to the kitchen, and the kitchen/laundry/pantry are set back from the rest of the house in back. A brick wall runs from there down to the garage. On the other side of the brick wall is the back garden of the house, also fairly formal although a children’s playset is now on one side, with the usual worn bare areas under the swings. A few toys–a striped ball, something stuffed under one of the swings–are near the playset.
The far end of the garden is shrubbery.
And there’s someone lurking in it. Three someones, in fact. They have escaped, and they’re hiding, watching. Rain has started, and is now making it through the shrub canopy and dripping on them. They are miserable. And scared. And very slightly hopeful because they recognize both women who open the back door and come out, one from media images and one they have actually met. The taller one says “There it is!” and walks briskly across the terrace and the grass to the playset. The other stands just outside the doorway, protected slightly by a projection of roof.
The three glance back and forth, questioning without words. Now? But then both women alert, the one at the door looking back inside, the one who is now holding a sodden stuffed creature–impossible to tell what it is–and a striped ball hurrying back, rain spotting her clothes. Not now. If pursuit has come to that house–surely it won’t come back here.
The house appeared to me without any characters at first–this is unusual. Outdoor places appear, but houses usually don’t until someone, an actual character, walks up to them and enters. The house was a stage set earlier: a brick front with white trim, rather a Colonial Williamsburg look. A breakfast conversation that was originally in it was cut from COLD WELCOME, but it had no depth, no real insides, and certainly no back garden with shrubbery as rain started falling. Now it does. It has offered details of its doors (front, side, and back), the texture of its brick (much softer than the brick veneer of our house), enough of its insides to get from the front door up the stairs and into two of several bedrooms. It’s furnished in a style I wouldn’t want to live with (which is fine, as long as I maintain continuity and the satin bedcovering doesn’t suddenly become a plaid wool blanket.)
The first characters to appear with the house in my head were known characters, those who were coming to the house with a right to be there. Not particularly happy to be there, but OK with it. They came, they went in, they went upstairs…and that was all. That was some months ago. In the past weeks, though, shadowy figures have started coming into that back garden (making it easier to see…the shrubs at the back remind me of photinia, largeish, dense, dark green, with large thick shiny leaves–hard to see through the shrub to the space between it and the wall. In one corner children had made a “cave” with an old cheap tablecloth, now crumpled on the ground and filthy.)
It took me most of a week to figure out who the three are, since they didn’t come with handy labels. I shuffled the possibilities: thieves, vandals, curious teenagers, assassins, arsonists, scandal reporters, escaped criminals of a half-dozen types, runaways from an asylum, from a boarding school, from parents interfering with their love life…listening to them, prodding them to do something and show me who they were, and finally they did. No, I’m not telling you now; they may not even be in the book later. But they’re there now, increasingly damp and miserable, and they’ve finished the last of the food.
Rain brings out smells. Apparently, the children not only had a “cave” back here but possibly others used the space from time to time. Why, the three wonder, didn’t the householders trim up the shrubs, make it easier to see (they’re glad it wasn’t done, but wonder why not.) Behind them, a tall brick wall rises to divide this back garden from the one behind. They’ve seen that one–no shrubbery at the wall, but fruit trees espaliered against it, flower beds with graveled paths. A small dog, far more interested in digging into one of the beds than noticing anything at the top of the wall.
The back door before them opens again; a man in uniform steps out. The rain is falling harder now, loud on the leaves overhead; they cannot hear what, if anything, he says before stepping back inside.