One end of the room had two crunched-up, comfortable-looking sofas and two big saggy chairs crammed around a low table invisible under its load of papers, magazines, remote controls and a surprising number of sets of headphones, an impressively huge flat-screen TV, a fireplace with a woodstove with a glass front, so you could watch the fire if there wasn’t anything on TV, and an enormous basket of firewood. The other side. . . .
There were paintings and pencil sketches taped or pinned to the walls and curtains, and canvases, notebooks and portfolios leaning against baseboards and chair and table legs. There was a lot of color. There was what looked like an orange and rust and gold and green knitted boa constrictor hanging from the ceiling in loops. It was surrounded by a shining pegasus (whose wings I would swear moved), several species of dragons and ditto of bats made of wood and wire and paper and fabric (that I recognised. There might be other, genie-sourced materials I didn’t know) and I thought one or two of the bats might be furry sprites. On the nearest wall, as I stood dumbstruck just inside the door, there was a cluster of flower drawings, pinned up haphazardly and overlapping, only some of which I could put names to: roses of all colors; daffodils both standard and nonstandard; big shaggy yellow and white daisies mixed up with tall black-eyed susans; blue pansies; maroon and mauve petunias; a huge lavender clematis with purple bars down its petals . . . and a pen-and-ink drawing of a girl sitting beside a stream, with her long hair trailing in the water. It was all black and white except for a wash of pale streaky blue that made the stream really run.
There was a big bay window with a window seat (decorated with pencils, pens, a tray containing bottles of ink, an open sketchbook, a mug of pipe cleaners and what I took to be one of the flying critters in an early stage of existence) at right angles to a long wall with French doors. I remembered Serena telling me that the reason she bought this house was for the way the sun came in the living room. It would be a different magic in daylight, but magic it certainly was. As I walked a couple of steps farther in, things twinkled: eyes flashed, there was a glittery heap of something half hidden behind the farther windowseat curtain that looked like it was made of netting and sequins—and the pegasus’ wings did move. I was relieved that the boa constrictor did not.
The long table in front of the French doors looked like it probably could be cleared off enough to put plates on, but it also looked like this hadn’t happened in a while. There were six chairs, and three of them had stuff on them: more books, more notebooks; strips of fabric, what looked like bunches of Chinese take-out chopsticks held together with rubber bands, a spool of green wire, what might be silver chenille yarn, a jar of buttons, another of pebbles, a vase of paper flowers, an iPod and another pair of headphones. There were three dented candelabra sitting on paint-spotted newspaper on one end of the table. One of them had already begun turning into something else.
My mouth was dangling open. I shut it.
Gus had collapsed on one of the sofas. He said, “This is her small, neat, well-organised space. You should see the barn.”
“It’s not a barn,” said Serena. “It’s a shed. And it gets cold in the winter. I haven’t moved out there yet this year, is all.”
“It’s a barn,” said Gus. “You can still see where the old stalls were. And you can’t watch TV from the shed.”
Serena grinned. “True. I am less motivated to move since Gus’ sixteenth birthday present was installed. The headphones, by the way, are so that Gus and friends can watch Ultimate Zombie Gross Out Body Part Bingo and I don’t have to know about it if I don’t turn around. The headphones were part of the deal.”
“Body Part Bingo is awesome. And I had to help pay. I had to help pay for my own sixteenth birthday present.”
“You are tragically exploited. It is very sad.”
I had wandered over to the table and was peering at various intriguing enigmas. “Feel free to fondle,” said Serena. “If I were a museum I’d have ‘please touch’ signs up. If you break anything it won’t matter. I’ll find something else to do with it.”
The metamorphosing candelabrum looked like it was going to become something tree-ish, with tiny dangling yellow fruits and delicate clusters of leaves. I touched one gently.
“FIMO,” said Serena. “I couldn’t do without FIMO any more than I could do without my sketchbooks. And yarn. And glue. And string. And toothpicks. And junk store junk. And the complete works of Steeleye Span.”
“And pieces of old cars,” said Gus from the sofa. “And logs that were supposed to go in the woodstove. And boulders.”
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