I am getting to know the moods of the damp. The kitchen walls, still bare, sometimes seem to glower with anger: they become darker, browner. And then, at other times, they seem to lighten: the damp is in a good mood, or it has been dreamily distracted from the work of dampening. Is it a god that needs to be appeased? - and if so, by what kind of sacrifice? But if it is a god, or part of a god, it is an inscrutable one; I follow its moods without being able to understand them, and it is as though I face the changing surface of the planet Solaris.
Sometimes it darkens, it becomes browner, as though gathering itself up. Particularly high up the wall, like a dark cloud spread all along - the damp becomes more intense. But it is not quite wet, not anymore. The surface is smooth, but not really moist; and it is not running with water as it used to be. For a dehumidifier works night and day in the kitchen. Night and day, and though pin pricks of damp appear where there was once white plaster, dried out by the heater, the wall never grows wetter. Has the damp been conquered, or only managed?
The damp and I are companions in the quiet flat. Little happens here; the damp does its work, the wetness of its surface drawn through the filters of the dehumidifier into its transparent collection box, and I try to do mine. I am away a lot, and when I am, I think the damp plunges forward like a dark wave; I can smell it, very thick in the air, when I open the door after the taxi drops me off. Damp, in a wave, welcoming me. Obscure welcome. Thick and brown and wet in the air.
Sometimes I sponge down the walls with a mixture of water and bleach. It needs to be done in the bathroom, too, where black spores of mould are forming. And the wallpaper in the bedroom, too. But these are only symptoms. I touch a cool sponge to the wall as to a fevered brow. Be calm, be still, do not toss and turn. And now I imagine the damp is a dream of the wall, that it is lost in itself somehow, that if the wall were only to open its eyes and see me, then all would be well. But the wall seems to fall into itself. Lost in damp, or damp is what rises up when the wall disappears into coma.
I like to imagine that I could pick the walls up like a Chinese screen and turn them to the sun to dry. To lift up the ceiling and the flat above and let the sun find the wall, and dry it. That would let it live. That would awaken it. As it is, the wall is hunched upon itself and from the sun. It weeps in a corner. Did I take my Visitor, who has damp experts in her family, to the back of the kitchen, to show her the bricks whose surface can be scraped away like paste? It needs rebuilding, she thinks, the whole wall. The mushrooms, which grew last year from the corner of the kitchen ceiling as from a sweating armpit were the giveaway: dry rot, she says, a sure sign.
Her relatives rebuilt wall after wall in London houses. I tell her I want to cover it over instead. A new wall of dark grey rendering, to extend the work I've already had done: perfect. A mesh, and then a layer of concrete above the bricks that are turning to paste ... And now I imagine the wall is like a wounded horse that needs silence and care. The wall and I, and the damp a disease we will have to wait out.
But how long for? Warmer days are approaching, I think, though it was freezing today, and there were a few snowflakes in the air. Warmer days, and the simple honesty of the sun, which will break everything dry. And if I cannot pick up the wall to turn it around, inner to outer, so there are no secrets anymore, nothing hidden, there is still the slow penetration of the sun, slow, and over the whole outer wall, rendered and unrendered. And one day it will be summer, too, in my kitchen.