When I think of the brown house, I think of a book called Life Without Water which, while not an exact mirror, is a book that comes close to giving me the feeling of my childhood. We lived in the brown house when I was 6 and 7 - I know this because my mom cut off all my hair the night before I started second grade and I remember being in that living room, pretending that all my classmates were admiring my new 'do.
The brown house sits in the woods, a yard full of cactus. Around that house, my little brother was attacked by a swarm of bees and a man put tobacco "juice" on the welts, my father found the tail of a rattlesnake, my kitten got stuck in a tree and my mom parked the car under it, climbed on the roof, and got her down. In that house, I used to dance with a fairy wand to Tubular Bells (before it was used in the soundtrack to The Exorcist, ruining it for me forever), my brother broke the head off his Scooby-Doo-shaped soap and cried, and my parents decided to divorce. "Decided" being a really polite word for how it actually went down.
The brown house is there still, abandoned.
I pass it on the way to my mother's house. The water heater did not work. My mom would boil a couple of pots of water, and my brother and I would take a bath together in water three inches deep. Clawfoot tub. Tiles were coming loose in the bathroom and mushrooms grew in the squares left behind.
In this house I learned how to pop my knuckles. Around this house a boy first told me the things people do when they have sex. It was in this house that I listened to the rain as it hit the metal roof. In this house I wrapped up against the chill in a quilt handmade by my grandmother, and listened to the arguments as I fell asleep.
I played in the neighbor's yard a lot - no cactus there, and she was a kind, elderly woman who insisted I call her Mamaw. She had these really tall pine trees that looked to me like they were arranged to mark off the rooms of a house. So I played house there, without any actual walls, doors, windows. But they were there; I could see them.
The brown house had a double fireplace - one side in the kitchen, one side in the living room, where I would play the record player and dance around the room with my wand. I had a pretty brown velvet skirt that was too big. Someone had given it to me, a hand-me-down. It was too big and then summer came and I put it in the closet. When winter came again I thought about that skirt and couldn't wait to wear it. When I tried to put it on, it was too small.
The floors were wood. The ceilings were high. The walls were bumpy plaster. There was a window over my parents' bedroom door. I threw balls through it. One day, my brother hit his head on the corner of the china cabinet that came with the house. My mom was at work. My father worked at night. He cleaned my brother's wound and told me to clean up the blood that had dripped on the floor.
Things came with the house. The china cabinet, a kitchen table, a cat we called Goldie. We took Goldie with us when we left, but she ran away.
When it was warm/cool enough, my family would walk down the dirt road to watch the sunset. I remember being happy. We would walk past the old graves scattered through the woods and the big house that was slowly being consumed by kudzu. The bats would come out and my brother and I would run around screaming, confusing them terribly. I remember the river there at the end of the dirt road. I remember a fiery orange and raspberry sky.