My small, red-brick house stands alone three miles from the town, set back from the road with a porch over the door but no garden in the front. It faces east. No one knows who built it. It is old, has no foundations and shakes when the lorries go by. It contains three rooms, one above the other with a bathroom on the top floor. On the ground floor the kitchen looks west over the garden. There is an open fire on one side and big stone slabs on the floor. The slabs are warm to walk on, barefoot in the summer and sometimes in the winter when the fire is lit. Beneath the stone floor is earth. The second floor is a living space with another fireplace where I sometimes work at a computer or read by the fire. My bedroom is on the top floor beneath the eaves. There is a square window in the roof which lightens the room at dawn. The bathroom is next to the bedroom, overlooking the garden. There is no bath, just a shower, a basin and a lavatory. A glass partition separates the shower from the rest of the space and a mirror covers most of the wall opposite the shower. As I like to see myself with no clothes on, it suits me. I should add that I do not wear clothes in the house, or the garden for that matter. Clothes are gratuitous; I live alone and dress, or undress, as I like. Being unclothed is liberating; it complements the solitude I have created.
If I am in the kitchen, I wear flip-flops because there is always stuff on the floor from outside. I leave the flip-flops on the kitchen floor when I go upstairs. The house is warm all year round because of a huge boiler in the kitchen which heats the water and radiators. In the winter the kitchen fire sensuously warms my naked skin. Slatted wooden shutters obscure the view from the road into the kitchen but no one ever passes on foot. The only visitors are the postman, most days, and the rubbish lorry once a week. At the back of the house, away from the road, is a small garden, surrounded on three sides by a red brick wall. It is secluded, protected from all points of the compass. Next to the kitchen door is an outside loo.
I have my own pavement which stops outside the house. If I turn left out of the front door there is a hedge bordering the road. To the right the narrow pavement goes northwards for three miles into town. No one uses it. Three days every week I run into town to work and home again in the evening. It makes me feel virtuous but my work colleagues think I am crazy, running to work and living alone in a remote house. Friends tell me I am vulnerable but they do not understand the bliss of solitude. Maybe there is a risk involved although I am not sure what; solitude comes at a price, and if risk is the price, I am happy to take it.
Solitude needs illumination; light enlarges the space I inhabit. In the morning dawn light floods the bedroom. The garden behind the house basks in the westerly sunsets, casting a soft light in the kitchen where I cook slowly in the evenings. Light and solitude, unencumbered by clothes, create contentment which is more fulfilling than company.
Once, during late afternoon in the winter, a man in a hoodie wandered about in front of the house. I don’t think I would have minded had it not been for the hoodie; it made his presence sinister in the dusk. The road was quiet and I watched him from the kitchen, unclothed as usual, wondering why he was there. My inevitable fantasy, that he had come to harm me, filled me with a cold fear. Had he been watching me? Did he have a knife? What would it be like, forced to do things by a stranger? How would I cope with pain? What would happen after? For a minute, maybe two, I was dehumanised, neutered. Instantly I became a victim, objectified. He banged on the door. Feeling vulnerable, my heart racing, I slid into the silky gown which hung on the back of the front door. Unable to help myself, I opened the door as far as it would go.
‘Signed-for delivery, miss’. He held out his electronic thing for my signature, handed me a dull looking package and left; I don’t think he even looked at me. I closed the door gently, lent against it and felt an urgent need to pee—I hurried to the outside loo and without closing the door sat down almost too late. Sitting with my elbows on my knees, my fingers in my hair, I wondered if I would have wet myself had he forced his way in. In my imagination he tells me to take off my gown. He sees I am leaking, he sneers at my incontinence, tells me I am disgusting, blames me for the pain he is going to cause, makes me kneel to clean up the wetness on the floor and…
The loo was freezing; my skin bristled. I returned to the glow of the kitchen, knelt down in front of the fire and let the warmth of the flames quieten my skin. The encounter frightened me—and half excited me. The alternative fantasy was sex with a stranger.
Perhaps I should share my solitude. Since the first time I slept with a boy in my teens, I have not shared my bed with a man. Sex for the first time was indifferent although I am uncertain what I was expecting. But the boy’s sweaty presence was so disagreeable I decided that even if sex was all right, it had to be in daylight and not in a bed. So, on the rare occasions I try to seduce a man, we have to do it in the garden; it only happens in the summer.
On Friday evening the office gathers in a pub on my side of the town. After three or four gins I feel pleasantly drunk and go home. In the summer I walk. Once the clocks change and darkness obscures the road by four o’clock, I bicycle to work and back again along my private pavement. Cycling drunk is fine as long as I keep going forward. If I fall off it is when I arrive home and have to dismount. This usually happens in the porch where at least it is dry. If it has rained, the bike has to stay outside to dry off before I take it to the back of the house—the only way is through the kitchen. In the warmth of the kitchen I shed my clothes, light the fire and start to cook something. After the pub, solitude is soothing and the silences between passing vehicles fill the night.
The pub is a convivial place on Friday evenings. It is used as a cruising ground for men and women, all regulars at the pub, who make secret assignations for the weekend. I am no exception, but only occasionally. Part of my seduction strategy is to confess to not wearing clothes at home. Men are intrigued but sometimes bashful. The adventurous ones accept my invitation to lunch on Sunday if the sun promises to shine. When the chosen man arrives, my naked welcome obliges him to leave his clothes in the kitchen. We go to the garden where I spread a soft rug on the small lawn in the sunshine and open a bottle of wine. Our intention is unspoken. I luxuriate on the rug and stretch my supple limbs in the sunshine, flagrantly, like a cat on heat. Afterwards we doze languidly beneath the cloudless sky before lunch and more wine. When lunch is over, we do it again. After he has gone I cram the rug into the washer and wander round the garden, unclothed in the soundless twilight, enfolded by solitude and tranquillity.
Later, I shower and put myself to bed. My fragrant bed smells faintly of me, undefiled by anything other than my own secretions. I shall wake alone in the morning, at first light before the traffic starts to dopple, lie on my back and watch the summer sky through the window in the roof.
Andrew Dicker has written short fiction for the past three years as a retirement project following a long career in medicine. Having enjoyed writing papers and articles professionally he decided to learn about creative writing with the Open University and Faber Academy. He has had two short stories accepted by online publishers. He lives in Buckinghamshire, UK.