Sugar and Salt (Poem)
The street at the top of the park hill
was an endless row of The Identical;
as if mirrors were aligned along the tarmac
on the road, reflecting the same seemingly ordinary,
seeming tangible, towering brown house over and over
into the infinite vanishing point.
Before we could play, we had to call in to see
Lucinda in that beige house on that beige street.
She was like a grandmother we were obliged to
visit. But we weren’t related to her, not at all; nobody was.
The outside of the house was a Monet painting.
From far away, it was almost normal, almost pleasant to
look at if you squinted your eyes and tilted your head; but
as you stepped closer, it morphed into a toy house made of clay.
Like the houses you seem on film sets; those cardboard
cut-out constructions that you just know aren’t real.
Her garden was pristine; picture-perfect. The flowers in the hanging
baskets looked natural but somehow like plastic at the same time.
Impeccably arranged – they didn’t dare move even slightly
in the chilling wind. Her gnomes lined the path to the front
door in identical proportion. Each one of their porcelain faces
had smiles so wide, they threatened to crack and split
their painted rosy cheeks wide open at any moment.
Lucinda opened the door and ushered us in
straight away; she never crossed the threshold.
The inside of her two-dimensional house matched the
pathological perfection of the outside. Her varnished
Russian dolls lined the mantel piece in descending order;
equal gaps between them. The china display plates
mounting the cabinet were shiny and glazed; like her eyes.
Her mossy green leather couch of equal gloss, covered in plastic
that squeaked as you sat down. A strong chemical smell radiated from it;
a scent made your nose twitch, your eyes sting, and your head ache.
There was even something about the families of Wally dugs around
the fireplace; staring at me with inky black saucers for pupils.
She gave us orange juice in her finest pretty pink china tea cups.
My hand trembled as I lifted the cup from the saucer to my lips;
sipping the juice that was so sweet, so concentrated; it was acid on
the tip of the tongue. Thrusting peanut butter chocolate bars
into our hands, she gestured for us to eat. The crunchy sugar and salt
granules of the chocolate filling souring; and crumpling our little faces.
All the windows were locked tight; like she was afraid
of any fresh air seeping inside. The living room was stifling with heat;
humid, sticky warmth that would bead your forehead with a thin, slimy
layer of sweat. And the house stank: a pungent, overwhelming,
overbearing lemon that you could taste; that you could almost see
travelling in a gauze through the clammy, wavy air.
Lucinda, herself, looked slightly different ever time
you saw her. A large head and upper body but small,
pin legs with fluffy pink slippers stuck on the ends.
Her googly eyes, even her toothy smile, were magnified and puffy;
out of proportion, and she moved with the edge of a ventriloquist dummy.
The more I watched – studying her abstract expressions, observing
her peculiar motions – the more I thought of The Witches who used to
climb out the TV screen; frightening me as a small child.
As she towered over us, bestowing more chocolate and orange juice,
I was waiting for her to turn into one of them. With the prickly
sensation of ‘uncanny valley’ seeping to my bones, I waited
for her sickly skin to creep off; for her teeth and gums to
fall out in great chunks and smoulder on the perfect
pink carpet – and for her to turn into a monster.
As part of my creative writing class, we are assigned tasks each week to write a short story, poem or dramatic scene based on a prompt given in class. This week, our prompt was to write about the uncanny; essentially, to write an embellished creative non-fiction piece based on a place, a memory, that gave you the creeps. I wrote about a strange house and the old lady who lived in it who my friend and I visited as kids. This all stemmed from the strange smell in her house and as a child – and even now as an adult (am I an adult?) – I let my imagination run away with me. I’ve always been fasincated by the idea of the hypothesis ‘uncanny valley‘ so I tried to incorporate that creepy feeling of something synthetic looking almost, but not exactly, real into the poem as well.
If you have any thoughts on this piece, please let me know in the comment section below!
Featured image courtesy of Flickr. Edited by Sophie McNaughton with Canva.