It starts in 1792, on an empty plot of land near New Orleans, bordered by a stretch of marshes and guarded by swarms of mosquitoes. The building blocks of her body are timber logs chopped down from the surrounding swamp, pushed deep into the earth, packed with a limestone mortar mixed with mud and animal hair. A raised basement is the first story, expensive glass windows installed around her ivory stucco walls. She sees for the first time through expensive and cloudy glass windows, a flat, foggy plain of reeds and squishy ground. She inhales the salty stench through her chimneys, feels the humidity hug her walls. She sees her family for the first time, the Tomlinson couple standing quietly to the side as they watch her front steps being installed, builders hoisting grand marble pillars on either side of her newly built porch.
She feels beautiful, the way they look at her with such admiration and pride. She feels strong, and is proud herself to hear not even one creaky floorboard as people move expensive furniture through the threshold of her intricate entrance and into the many rooms. The Tomlinson family begin their life with her by welcoming a baby into the nursery, mere months after they first move in. The baby disrupts the calm and peace she valued, but she learns to accept the child as he grows and matures before her eyes.
The first baby. She’s excited to see a new face, and excited to think of his future children, who will be the next people to live in the house. The slap happy thrill of just being built has worn off, the oriental carpets are dusty, and she needs something to add life back to her body.
His name is Edmund, and he is the first of the five following children to be wed. As her original occupants grow old and grey, he inherits the house. Edmund spends much time away from the house, returning finally with a fair young woman named Annabelle. She is already pregnant when they return, and their child is the best of all.
A baby girl with her blonde ringlets and his thick eyelashes and eyebrows. She is beautiful, and so far she is the house’s favorite. None of the rest of the Tomlinson family ever visit again, but the house is just fine with that. She doesn’t even know what happened to the other children who were the first generation to live in her, but she couldn’t imagine any of their children being more lovely than this child is.
They name her Rosalind, and she has the laugh and smile of an angel. She dies of scarlet fever four years later. The house mourns her, as do Edmund and Annabelle. They dress in black and close the curtains, and she is grateful to be in darkness. She doesn’t want to have to see her dear child be carried out to the horse-and-buggy that wait to deliver her to the cemetery. The house takes one last look at Rosalind’s blonde curls peeking out from under the white sheet, and then stays away from the nursery’s wing of the mansion for many years.
The remaining humans birth a pair of twins a few years later, but she pays little attention to them. Neither of them have blonde ringlets, which she is thankful for. The girl is rather slow and awkward, and is sent away soon after early childhood to attend a boarding school. The boy remains, Owen, and she is sad to see the house being passed on to yet another man. He seems to take forever to grow up, and she grows bored of watching him roam the empty halls and throw stones into the marsh. She hopes he will have more children than his father, more children to occupy her and banish her loneliness.
She has grown rather insecure about herself. Chipping paint, sagging floorboards, and rusty pipes all flaw her once perfect body. Owen has some of the slaves replace her outdated appliances and even more slaves repaint her now greyish exterior with glossier white paint. Owen is angered very easily by their mistakes, and soon the walls have been stained with enough blood spatter for him to just end up hiring painters. The slaves are punished brutally.
By the time Owen is grown and married, all the slaves have vanished from the plantation, as has the strong scent of sugarcane. Owen seems rather upset by this, but does not stop them from leaving. She wonders why they left her. The ones who were house slaves, they were provided with such lovely shelter. Why would they leave her?
She doesn’t have too much time to dwell on it before a shrieking baby enters the household. And another. And another. And another. She doesn’t spend too long paying attention to the three younger ones, because she knows that they won’t be the ones inheriting the house. It is the eldest, Imogen, whom she focuses on. While delighted to have a girl to occupy the house in the future, she annoyed and fearful in the girl’s reluctance to find a mate. Will she have no children? Will the house be abandoned with Imogen as its final resident?
Thankfully, her sensible parents arrange a practical marriage with the son of one of Owen’s wealthy business partners. The other children are each separately married off, until Imogen’s parents pass away and her husband can claim the house. The marriage doesn’t seem to be a harmonious one, and it is years before Imogen has any children. Once baby Henry enters the world, Imogen divorces her husband and quickly invites a nanny, Geraldine, into her home. The house doesn’t know why Imogen seems to be so secretive about the whole affair, but the house ignores them to watch Henry emerge from childhood as a tall, handsome youth. Geraldine still does not leave, but now becomes a cook for the household.
Henry doesn’t approve of Geraldine’s intrusion, and makes this clear through a series of shouting matches and threats. Imogen spends many a night in tears, and soon she and Geraldine vanish together. Henry is not distressed by her absence, and the house is confused by this. She distracts herself from the grief of losing two family members by gazing out of her windows.
The marsh has gradually disappeared, replaced now by more houses and buildings. She misses the calm, picturesque image of reeds swaying in the wind, but at least now there are more people to look at. And at least it doesn’t smell as bad. She hopes that more people will soon join the contents of her household.
Henry is pursued by many women, but at last he settles upon a war hero’s daughter named Carolyn as his bride. After many years with no children and a many bouts of unexplained tears from Carolyn, the couple adopts an eight-year-old boy named Kian from the town orphanage. Kian looks nothing like his new parents, with vibrant orange hair and freckles, and speaks with a strange accent. But he is accepted into the family with surprising enthusiasm, spoiled and pampered with gifts. Carolyn finally produces a baby of her own, another boy whom she christens Phillip.
New-fangled machines have invaded her privacy. Loud, honking machines called automobiles crowd the magnificent front driveway once reserved for elegant carriages, wires jammed through the insulation in her walls to power electric lights. A fat object called a radio replaces the antique rocking chair in the parlor, and distracts from the family gatherings that were once so intimate.
All this talk about a second World War is getting old, and she doesn’t appreciate the children playing noisy war games around the house.
The large age difference between Kian and Phillip does not hinder their friendship, but their beliefs do. At the age of sixteen, Phillip runs off to join the army, despite Kian’s urgent, frightened pleas not to. The house knew from the start that this war was nothing but trouble. Phillip never returns, and Kian never recovers from the loss of his younger brother. Neither does the house.
Kian spends years alone, moping around the house, with only the housemaid Tabitha as his company. She is the one who dotes on him, making sure he eats and gets enough fresh air. Eventually, he reintegrates himself into society, emerging into the now bustling town of Jefferson, Louisiana. He becomes a bit of a miscreant, courting countless women and spending most nights out on the town. It is once again Tabitha who shakes him to his senses, waking him up from a drunken stupor with a pitcher of ice water and taking away all the alcohol.
It is no surprise to anyone when they announce their engagement, and Tabitha bears their first child into a family filled with love and happiness. Her name is Kayla, and she is the most active and hyper child the house has ever seen. As soon as she can toddle, she is running around the maze of hallways and through the many rooms, jumping and shouting and dancing and doing somersaults across the soft grass of the backyard. Of the several children that follow, a boy named Philip after his uncle and a girl named Carly after her grandmother, she is the only one who doesn’t spend hours in front of the fancy new color television.
In fact, she is quite an odd child. In adolescence, she wears only colorful, tie-dyed tunics made out of hemp, takes only sponge baths, and scolds the rest of her family for being wasteful. The house is surprised at the lack of discipline in this unruly girl, and while the parents do seem embarrassed by her behavior, they never once raise a hand to strike her. Not even when she sneaks out of the house late at night and comes back with messy hair and alcohol on her breath.
Kayla transitions from being a hippy to wearing legwarmers and sporting big hair with teased bangs. Jazzercise tapes are constantly on the TV. She ends up going away for four years, to college, an all girls college, if you can believe it. But no one seems shocked. By the time she returns, the house can’t even keep up with all the new technology in the house. Confusing, buzzing machines that the humans spend hours on- awful screeching noises caused by something called the computer connecting to something called the Internet. Kayla ends up marrying someone who works with computers, an engineer named Jacob whom she apparently met at work.
Another girl joins the household about five years later. Jacob and Kayla decided to name her after an ancestor of the Tomlinson family, a homage to the antiquity of the house. They finally decide on Rosalind, and the house can barely look at the child once she arrives. She will grow older than the original Rosalind ever did, and that breaks the house’s heart.
Rosalind sprouts wavy blonde hair as a toddler, too similar to the first Rosalind. Too close for comfort. Even worse, she is their only child. The house has only her to focus on. The day comes when Rosalind asks where her name comes from, and her mother answers her honestly. Rosalind states then and there that she wants nothing to do with the house when she grows up—there is mold and it’s old and gross.
The house takes offense. She is not gross, she is remarkably well-kempt for a house of her age. The slight, miniscule smattering of mold in the basement is their own fault for not protecting against mildew and moisture. She is a piece of history, and should be treated as such. Preserved and protected. Based on what the calendars say, it is 2004. She is old.
Looking around herself, she sees how fragile she appears. Everything is creaking, all the rooms filled with classic but old and dusty furniture. But they should feel lucky to inhabit such an impressive house. So beautiful, filled with history. What other house still have slave quarters in the backyard, old trees growing 100 feet tall, and fireplaces that were once used to roast meat over 200 years ago?
And look at how ungrateful they are. As if she is a burden. Not a single visitor to the house has been unimpressed by her grandeur and by her history, and she has even been featured in local newspapers. Rosalind is bored by her. She is a spoiled brat, and the house wants her gone.
Her wish comes true a few months later.
It is then that a powerful gust of wind threatens to push her off her foundation. This wind is joined by another, until the roaring of the sky overwhelms the shouts and screams of her residents, as they flee to her basement. A swirling, grey mass approaches from the east, devouring structures and vehicles and people and anything in its path. It is headed straight towards her.
Her long, long life now seems all too short. She needs more time. Her family needs more time. She wants more babies, grandchildren and further generations. The Tomlinson legacy is not over. She realizes that her raised basement will do little to protect her current residents.
She is clinging to the ground, but she can’t help the siding from flying off her exterior walls and the doors being ripped out of their frames. The windows are shattered violently, but she hears nothing. The bricks of her chimneys are all gone now, the roof is pulling away.
She sees the mass growing larger and larger as it approaches her, and then everything is lost in a rotating body of destruction. She is ripped apart, and everything is dark. Whatever part of her that was her brain is gone, but she is still conscious. Without any senses, somehow she still feels her heart being broken and her family being stolen from her structural embrace.
It all happened too fast. She thought her eventual death would be slow, giving her time to accept her demise. This was unexpected and cruel and she wasn’t ready. All her beautiful columns and and mantles and rugs torn into minute scraps of worthlessness. She slowly loses her grip on awareness, feeling herself rot into the Earth and dissolve as organisms digest her body.
Eventually, she is nothing.