THE GOLDEN FLOOR
Sarah and William were renovating an old house. They had left one room till last, as it seemed intractable. They used it as a box-room for years, and then got round to it after doing all the rest. The previous owners had laid a dusky pink carpet on the floor, which William never bothered to remove. It had a curious smell: rosy, musky, changeable. Sarah used to fancy that the scent adapted to the weather and to the light.
Anyhow, its hour had come and the carpet had to go. Painstakingly, they pulled it away from the grippers and the glue, and it made a ripping sound. There was a felt underlay beneath it, and large sheets of plastic under that. Finally something dark was revealed. After all, concealed beneath the rose carpet, the room had black floorboards, old and gnarled, and the knots in its wood looked like whorls in a shell.
They sat back on their heels with joy. Once the detritus was hauled off to the dump, they set about cleaning and polishing the floorboards. They smelled of the forest: resinous and unseasoned, though Sarah and William knew that this could not be so. They polished until they thought they could see their reflections in the wood. The floor almost seemed to have a sound of its own, and it was deep and echoing. “Ah” said William: “it is the forest singing.”
The afternoon sun could be fierce, and one day a beam shot aslant through the window. It hit the wood, and Sarah thought she saw a flash of gold. This must be nonsense: but nonetheless she fetched a little square of sandpaper and rubbed away at a corner of the beam. It looked like gold indeed, but they had never seen yellow like this.
For days and days, they used quires of sandpaper on the wood. It seemed as though the floorboards were a thin veneer after all, and beneath them lay a shining, shimmering square, which stretched from wall to wall and which they could hardly look at without blinking. It bore no signs of manufacture - no lines, no bricks, no edges. It was solid and impassive. And then it began to sing.
The gold floor’s song was keening and almost shrill. There were no words that they could recognise, but the song seemed both mournful and angry. It expressed a loss which it could not understand. And there seemed to be a perfume too - sharp, citrus, foreign. It was a scent from an open landscape, with nowhere to hide. The gold floor knew something, wanted something, came from somewhere. But they were afraid to find out.
Sarah and William knew they could not live with this, nor could they restore the floorboards. They could not bear to touch the golden floor, or even look at it. So they had to cover it up. On went a new underlay, and on top of that an expensive linoleum. They worked extra hard at the edges, though occasionally it seemed that a glimmer escaped. Sometimes Sarah thought she could hear a high-pitched wail, and sometimes smelled a whiff of lemons. So they made sure never to sleep in the room, for fear of the dreams it might engender. Or the tales it might tell.