Hands down, In The Dream House is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Carmen Maria Machado writes about her experience of an abusive lesbian relationship in a way that’s haunting, sexy and razor-sharp, with language you just want to gobble up. I loved talking to her for Huck magazine.
“I think one of the hardest parts about writing this book was actually writing the happy stuff. It was talking about sex being good, or talking about a kind of happiness that I experienced, because unlike writing about the bad stuff, it requires you to remember a past frame of mind. I don’t think of those past events are as sexy in this moment, but I had to conjure up what it felt like to be in that moment, the way it was before.”
I wake up with my arms wrapped around her. One arm is tucked under her head and the other is curled around her waist. I kiss the top of her shoulder. She makes the tiniest noise and shuffles closer. Her skin is soft and warm. An alarm goes off. She grumbles and pokes her arm out to turn it off. We don’t move.
The second alarm goes off. I pull myself away from her and get dressed, my swimming costume under jeans. I say I have to go. She reaches out for me to kiss her again, her eyes still shut. I climb on top of her and give her a long, slow kiss, so that she opens her eyes at the end and says oh. I kiss her forehead, extricate myself from the bed and whisper I love you before I go. She curls back into a ball and whispers I love you as I close the door.
I walk outside and the air is crisp. Or it’s that kind of sunny mist. Or it’s spitting. Or it’s torrential rain. Who cares, it’s outside. I walk round the corner, through the alley, under the bridge and wait at the bus stop. There’s one other person there and we nod hello because it’s early enough for that to be acceptable. The windows are misted up on the bus and I can see the rising sun filtering through, melting the day’s dew. I get on the tube. It’s packed and sweaty and I can only just turn the pages of my book. My costume is too hot under my clothes and it’s digging in at my side. The journey feels insanely long for the amount of time I’m going to be in the water. I finish my chapter just as my stop comes up and I slide the postcard in to mark my page. I jump off the tube and walk past the ducks and dog-walkers.
She’s waiting outside, reading on the bench. We hug – and it’s still new so I hug her longer than normal – and we say hey to the dogs we recognise. The changing room is still closed so we whip our clothes off and leave our bags on the side near the shower. We walk along the edge and moan for several minutes about how cold it’s going to be while people three times our age slip in like it’s heated. I dive and she climbs down the side. The shock is full-bodied. The cold stings. It’s delicious.
We swim and chat and laugh until our fingers go numb and hold the railing to haul ourselves out. The outside shower is freezing but our bodies barely register the temperature. We dry, dress awkwardly outside and go for a fry up.
We say goodbye – another hug, I’m collecting them – and I get on the tube, then the train. I rest my feet on the empty seats opposite and read more. It’s a good book. I nearly miss my stop. Up the hill, round the duckpond, a quick check in the bookshop, and then big smiles for all the old ladies in the care home. Yes, I am tall, thank you!
I get to grandma’s room and knock gently to check she’s not asleep. She’s not – she’s sitting on her bed putting her slippers on. I go and sit next to her and give her a huge hug. Frankie’s playing so we sing and dance to him a little, and then we go for a walk- just a short one- round the grounds. It’s sunny now but we still wrap her up warm. We go to the little cafe and get a cup of tea. She tells me some gossip and I show her some photos on my phone.
The rest of the afternoon passes gently and then it’s evening. I meet them all in one of the pubs we like – more hugs – and see who needs a drink. We talk across each other and share all our non-news. The quiz starts. We berate ourselves for still not learning any flags and argue over whether that’s the border of Mongolia or not. Someone displays ridiculous knowledge of some obscure topic and we all squint on the song round, saying we definitely know it but end up not quite pinning down a name. One of us wins a free drink question and we all cheer. We don’t win but we get close and the tension and togetherness is what matters.
We drink til it feels less cold outside. We sit on some grand steps somewhere in Soho eating sloppy slices of pizza and someone takes a photo. Someone laughs and spills tomato all down their jacket. We part ways and agree to do the same next week. I take her hand and we go back to mine, falling into each other and making up for lost time.