Weekly Lines: “The kitchen house”

New lines from the rough first draft of my historical novel-in-progress, set in parallel time: in both 1804, and 2004. Told from the perspective of my 2004 protagonist, an art historian and restoration expert named Gamble. Enjoy!

IMG_5265* The kitchen house *

The girl, the girl. I have not forgotten the girl, though you’d think I had with the way I tend to run on. It’s just that for my story to make any sort of sense, you must know where I live. I live in the larger of two kitchen houses at 353 A Church Street. My kitchen house is deliciously old, and you can’t take a step without the house creaking, some whispered admittance of its 267-year-old story.

Kitchen houses were the law in Charleston, once upon a time. Because widespread fires had destroyed hundreds of homes on the peninsula, between the years 1740 and 1860 home owners were required to build separate structures, away from the main house, to serve as kitchens. That being the case, many of the oldest surviving homes in Charleston, including Catherine’s, have one or two kitchen houses which have served many roles over time: as servants’ quarters, stables, offices, and more.

But back to 353A Church Street. The ceilings are low, because people tended to be short. It suits me more than fine. Usually, I like a bit of air above my head, with plenty of room for my thoughts to circle and swirl. But since my divorce, I sought comfort and coziness. Often, the house felt like a hug. There’s a huge, working fireplace in the small living room, complete with an original hearth and nooks for bread baking. It appeases my personal need for an historic aesthetic to know a person’s been cooking there since 176_. The eighteenth-century brick in the courtyard between my small house and the other is sloping and lovely, just as Catherine promised. Kipling and I like to sit at the wrought iron table out back, admiring the [?] vines winding their way up the side of our house and watching the chimney sweeps and blue jays do battle above the [?] tiled roof.

The mail carrier, whose name is Joe, brings my mail all the way to the back, which makes me feel like a real local. In the warm months—of which there are plenty—Joe wears the white shorts and matching sun helmet of the United States Postal Service. He’s tall and stork-like, so he straddles the green Bermuda grass growing between the parallel brick pavers that follow the line of the drive. I admire his knees, most because I’m short. I think Joe’s knees reach about the same height as my hips.

I have loved my life at 353A Church Street, despite the dissolution of my marriage being my reason for moving there. I have loved it in spite of the sleepless nights, the agony of wondering what I could’ve done different, the worry of time wasted, the smudging of ghosts along the stairwell. I have adored, more than I ever imagined I could, the emptiness of my queen-sized bed. I no longer stay on “my side,” as I did when Harry and I were married, but at first opportunity made of myself a snow angel in the middle. I sleep in the bed spread wide, my limbs stretched and pointed as long as they can get. When we first moved in, I suctioned myself to that bed like a starfish, unwilling to move until Kipling put her paws up on the foot of the bed and insisted I take her outside.

More than anything else, 353A Church became my refuge, my rehabilitation station, when I needed it most. It never bothered the kitchen house that I was a non-native divorcee, childless and hoodwinked. That I was a low-born mountain girl in the land of palmetto trees, unwrinkled linen suits and monogrammed seersucker.

I always felt, not only did the kitchen house not care about these things, it held me closer because of them.

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