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The House of Many Colours

  • 09 February 2024
I lived in Manhattan at the time, in a tiny room on the fourth floor, a few steps in from the front door. In a shared apartment near the corner of Riverside Drive and 112th. A barred window looked out onto an airshaft enclosed by brick walls; the daylight obscured by the upper floors. 

One Sunday morning I rode the subway downtown, boarded the Staten Island ferry, and walked from the terminus through streets lined with modest bungalows and stately timber homes. An hour or so into the walk, I glimpsed a yellow passage through the front door of a house. The porch was covered by a tarp strewn with tins of paint, paint rollers, paint pans, and brushes soaking in water and turps. Beside the tarp, cigarette in hand, stood a middle-aged man, dressed in paint-specked black jeans, black t-shirt, red headscarf and black boots. 

‘Come on up,’ he said. ‘Take a look around. What harm can it do?’ The yellow passage was a work-in-progress, part of it still exposed in undercoat, while each of the five rooms was painted a different colour: blue, purple, orange, green and red.

‘It’s what I do for a living’, the renovator said when I stepped back out. ‘Buy a house, do it up, sell it, and move on to the next. Been doing it for years. This one’s a bungalow, Sears and Roebuck, the parts ordered from a catalogue. Kit home, affordable, easy to construct, but made to last. It will certainly outlast me.’ He reached into his pocket, retrieved a pill box, extracted a couple of tablets, and popped them in his mouth.

‘These pills are keeping me alive. Stomach cancer. Doctors say I’ve got nine months, give or take. It was a sunny afternoon when I  heard the news, the sort of day that makes you feel good to be alive. When I left the surgery I headed to a nearby park, flopped to the ground, and lay spreadeagled on the grass. I looked up at the sky and vanished into the blue; could have lain there for hours. I decided then and there to do my final renovation this way. Aiming to go out in a blaze of colour you could say. 

‘Each day I take time out to sit in each room. I’m gazing at death, but gaze long enough and you forget about death and disappear into the colour of the