EPILOGUE

"Gilded"

I love my house. It is three stories tall.

The ground floor can be entered several different ways. There's the front door, which leads into a large atrium that opens up to the staircase, and a number of other rooms and hallways. The back door is set in a wall of windows that occupies one end of an expansive kitchen and lets in the morning sunlight quite well. There's also a secret door behind the shed that leads to a small windowless room, and then to the back of the linen closet. But don't tell anyone.

The rooms off the atrium are large and bright. One is the den, where several chaise lounges are set around the perimeter of an enormous white shag rug that begs to be sprawled on, and usually is. The large cabinet -honey-colored, matching the hardwood floors- is against the wall, and contains games. Twister, Outburst, Catch Phrase, Dominoes, and twenty-two decks of cards. There is also a TV.

The kitchen is illuminated by the many windows in the back, and also by a simple bronze chandelier hanging in the center. The cabinets are white; the counter top circles around half the kitchen and is the same color as the floor. There is no garbage or grime anywhere, the food is fresh, the refrigerator always well-stocked. I can come in here any time, with the lights dimmed or blazing brightly, and make myself marinated chicken at 3 PM, a Swanson's TV dinner around nine, and banana bread sometime after midnight. I do this all to the pleasant sound of nothing - or the radio if it so pleases me.

The staircase to the second floor has wide banisters that I could slide down if I ever had the sudden urge to try. The rooms upstairs are clean - which is easy to observe, as all the doors are open. One room contains nothing but shelves full of books, arranged according to my own particular whims, and one overstuffed chair. Another room is filled with canvasses in various sizes, with boxes full of art supplies sitting in strategic locations on and around the large table. Yet another room contains the computer. It does not need to be password protected, nor do I have to hide my writing and my files away in redundant folders. My instant messenger away message says whatever I want it to.

The third floor is nothing but an attic loft, half of which is a balcony, open to the air, accessible by ancient French doors... or a shiny aluminum fire escape. The loft is impeccably insulated, and as I lay up there in my four-poster bed on rainy nights, I can hear the sound of the elements but not feel one bit of the chill.

I love my house. My best friends drop by every now and then for a visit, usually just when I finish a project and start to feel bored again. There is no cook, because I decide when I want to eat. There is no maid, because my messes are clean messes, and there is no dog, sibling, or mother around to make the other kind of mess. There is a gardener, a golden-haired boy who mows the lawn and helps himself to lemonade in the kitchen, but leaves the brownies alone until I offer one to him. The mailbox is at the end of the road, and I walk there every morning - or afternoon, if I've chosen to sleep in that day - to find a handful of letters waiting for a reply -

At the call to dinner, she rises from her twin bed and rubs her nose where a dog hair tickled it. Crossing the bedroom in two strides, she yanks open the door (it tends to stick when shut tightly) and enters the dining room, where mounds of unidentifiable things cover the table. The paneling on the computer is broken. The chair railing is coming loose from the wall. The plants need to be watered.

She trips on the rug; her sister laughs hysterically, but soon stomps upstairs after being politely asked to shut the hell up. She serves herself over-cooked spaghetti and tomato sauce from a jar, then sits in her grandfather's worn-out chair in the living room with her plate in her lap. The air still smells awful from the mess the dog made. The burning candles give her a headache. Attempt at intelligent conversation with her roommates - her family, that is - go astray as her mother complains about being fat and her brother gets away with more comments than she herself ever could. After dinner she returns to her bedroom, kills a spider, and gets out her homework. She turns on the radio to tune out her life. At eleven o'clock, she's told lights-out, and goes to sleep dreaming about her house in Xanadu.