Welcome to Week 3 of The Gray House.
I admit I am hooked on this book. I cannot wait to carve time in my week to abscond myself and listen to it.
I am currently at chapter 18 and it is getting to a crescendo. Pieces are starting to fall into place this week, and, at the same time, more mystery unravels.
Lisa commented the first week on how beautiful the language is in this book. I have to agree with her. I am declaring Mariam Petrosyan my Armenian Ray Bradbury. It’s magical, that simplicity yet that depth. There seem not to be details so small that aren’t worth her time. And that fabulous pace, that way of keeping us all at the verge. I’d say she paints vignettes in each chapter that have certain independence while being connected. She says a lot without saying much. There’s an invitation to the reader to think, to pick and choose, to advance her own theories, and to keep moving, not just forward, but backwards, in a fascinating quest for meaning.
This was this week’s section:
Week 3 (pp. 147-217)
13. Sphinx: Visiting the Sepulcher
17. Smoker: Pompey’s Last Stand
Ch 13: Sphinx says that the mirror is a mocker. He talks about Noble, Black, and he is describing them to himself when Smoker comes in. Smoker is back from that isolation room, and he doesn’t seem to remember or know what’s happened in his absence. Sphinx tells him what happened to Noble when he drank the moon river drink. He says he got rigid. Some talk, some forget how to talk. He stayed with him. Sphinx talks about the devastating openness of Smoker. He has to give Smoker a proper explanation. He tells him about how Black tried to get rid of Noble, and how they sent Noble to the sepulcher area (which is also a hospital area). Smoker thinks that’s not too bad. Sphinx doesn’t want to explain, but he does. He thinks many confusions come from things that are left unsaid.
Blue, red, and yellow marks. They have them in their folders. They represent the state of the person. Sphinx won’t talk about blue and yellow, but the red are marks of mental instability. Smoker has one, that’s just a warning, that was his rebellious act that granted him the expulsion from the Pheasants and the transfer to the 4th. But Noble has 3 of those red marks, because he’s tried to take off his life.
Now the narration changes from Smoker to Sphinx, who is going to the sepulcher to visit Noble. It’s a whole imagery full of spiders, queen spiders, spider webs. Sphinx is talking to a nurse or someone in charge, Janus, also called Jan. Sphinx talks about how being a patient, wearing those hospital clothes, makes you not human anymore. He goes to Noble room, and they think they see a figure in the distance, Black?
Noble is called a jumper, he says he took the drink called River and spent a few months in this place, and Sphinx thinks he looks older. Noble has some oatmeal for him to eat, but he is not eating it, and Sphinx is hungry, Noble offers him the food and he eats it. There is a strange comment about Sphinx not recalling how the handle of the spoon was in the bowl like he had eaten from it. This is a hint, I believe, at Sphinx identity. They both smoke all the cigarettes Sphinx had in his backpack. Noble asks Sphinx if he’d be able to go to the undersides from another place, the outsides. Sphinx is sleepy, he has a nightmare. A man is trying to feed him to his dogs. He is 13, alone, and because of his master he learned to drink beer when thirsty. Sphinx wakes up. They talk about his nightmare. He has to go but doesn’t want to.
After he spends the night there with Noble, he has to get back to the pack, to inform them about he being at the Sepulcher, and to get more food, cigarettes, and provisions.
He leaves unseen and on the other end, all the others are already waiting for him. He sees Alexander, Blind, his pack, but Black and Smoker are not there. There’s something here I have listened to several times, but I don’t know for sure… Sphinx is talking, describing who is there, and in the end of the chapter it says, this is my pack, Black isn’t here, but how few we are… I fall behind, after the corner of my eye I see Alexander, Sphinx, and an invisible one with white sneakers.
I don’t want the posts to get super long. I cannot help but writing and writing about this, and the more I do, the more I go back, listen again, and write some more. There’s a lot of clues I am sure I must be missing.
Ch 14: Grasshopper comes back to the house. Sportsman is reading a magazine, and tells the others not to call him blonde. Someone else has come, Grasshopper has to leave. The newbie they call The Magician. Grasshopper, Blind and Wolf move to a different room. They paint the room. Elk goes to see them and says they skipped dinner but he is admiring their mural. Grasshopper did a dinosaur in relief, so that Blind, when the paint is dry, can touch it. Grasshopper doesn’t see much expression in Blind. Grasshopper has missed him and want to communicate that to him somehow.
This group calls themselves the sissies, who are there to spread disease. I wonder what type of disease they are talking about. Stinker, a wheeler with a bad reputation, wants to move with the sissies. Wolf doesn’t want him there, but Grasshopper invites him. Once there, Stinker realizes they don’t want him, but, since he is there with a big trunk full of things he has squandered from the others, they leave him. Beauty is fascinated with a juicer Stinker brings, he even has a guitar, and Wolf snatches it. The Magician joins them two. There’s two other newbies. He can sing, he can do tricks. Stinker is proud of the creepy goblin he has drawn in the wall of their dorm.
Ch 15: Smoker is talking to Black. Smoker is getting some answers about the group from Black. He talks about the girls who are in a different area. Black once saw one of those girls playing ball from the wall with Beauty (who is a boy too). They also discuss why they did not join the others who at the end of chapter 13 went to meet Sphinx when he came back from seeing Noble. Sphinx mentioned that Black and Smoker weren’t there.
Now we also understand why Black and Noble don’t get along. In the chapter with the fight, Noble didn’t want to hear how it is he had those muscles. It was Sphinx, who tortured Noble many years ago, and Black was talking about it but Noble didn’t want to hear. Black doesn’t understand how Sphinx has all that charisma when he was like he was to Noble. Black also tells Smoker that Noble tried to take his life two times.
The dark comes, and Black is pushing Smoker in his wheelchair. Smoker carries a flashlight, they are looking at the corridors with all the paintings done by Lepard. They both were trying to sleep but the pack comes back and disrupts them. Noble comes with Shark and Homer, two adults, to collect his things. He is leaving. He is very upset about it. The others cannot say proper goodbyes, they just give him some of their personal treasures. Smoker ends up finding an amulet from that hazy night of fairy tales and wine, an amulet who had what it could be a basilisk’s egg, or who knows what.
Ch 16: this was just a 15 seconds announcement that the audio was moving to the second part of book 1.
Ch 17: It is the beginning of summer. They are having games in the backyard. Sphinx is presiding there. Everybody has a place, the wheelers are given spots, the rest has to fight for theirs. The Principal is locked in his office, Ancient, who is very pale, cannot be exposed to the sun. Life in the house drifts to the outdoors.
Now the house is in commotion, everybody is packing for the summer leave. They are only allowed one bag, and it’s hysterical all they do to try to maximize capacity in it by sewing extra pockets and what not, since they all want to take with them all their possessions. Beauty wants to pack his juicer. Chapter 14 described in detail Stinker’s encounter with his new dorm mates.
The buses are ready, loading, women, and girls on wheelchairs first, then the junior wheelers, etc. The juniors like Grasshopper, start making their way to the buses through the legs of the seniors. Grasshopper pretends to load different buses, to distract them, and escapes to the dog’s house. When everybody is gone, he goes back to the House.
He finds Blind, Wolf, and Elk there. They are not surprised to see him with them. They all will spend the summer at the House. Elk is a grown up, and he has a beaten up car. Their summer is magical. They sleep outdoors, fly kites, play pretend, when finally, some strange rain and a mysterious bird announces the end of the summer. All the others come back.
By this description of the empty House the way Grasshopper found it, and how it got populated once more, we can infer that Grasshopper went to the house in summer too, as he says, and when he saw the commotion in the yard and they gave him the nick of Grasshopper, he started his life of being bullied and living in the dorms with his peers.
I made a mistake, the audio was one chapter short from those following the book pages. This is the chapter included in week 3 for those reading the book. It is also included in week four.
Ch 18: The canteen is very quiet, as if they are mourning. Something is happening. Sphinx is the leader of the fourth, and Pompey, the leader of the sixth, is requesting the leaders of all the packs to meet him. Everybody is huddling around the fourth, expectant.
They meet at the 4th’s room, and Pompey talks to them about a law that was forgotten, that he is been reading about. Sphinx starts laughing, and Smoker thinks he is finally going to stop the charade and everybody else is going to start laughing too. But that doesn’t happen. For Smoker, they are playing roles, (as he has been saying before, it all looks like a game).
Pompey leaves, and Sphinx tells his pack that in the old times, the followers freely pledged to follow their leader and die for him if needed. There will have to be a fight. Tabaqui says that means they will have to make him die.
They are all summoned to the gym. There they all seem to make a circle, they perform a kind of dance. Smoker has no idea of what is going on. All of the sudden, Pompey is making noises, like the cooing of a dove, he reaches for the handle of a knife that is protruding from his neck. He falls dead. Blind killed him. Smoker was sick to the stomach. He is taken to the bathroom where he has to be cleaned by the others in a hazy and frantic episode.
The next day there’s officials at the House investigating what has happened.
But wait! we have more. Lovely Katie, -another Gray House fan, has written some thoughts on this week’s chapters. I leave you with them:
The Gray House Week Three
Sphinx, Visiting The Sepulcher
I really like Sphinx’s chapter. I wonder why the author chose to let another character narrate a chapter. We’ve only heard from Smoker at this point. Maybe it’s simply practical. I guess Smoker can’t move this aspect of the story forward. Anyway, I loved seeing Smoker through someone else’s eyes. Not to exaggerate, but I found Sphinx’s description of Smoker almost devastatingly beautiful:
“Smoker is impossible to get rid of. He opens his palm and all of himself is right there on it, and he just hands that to you. You can’t throw away this naked soul, pretending like you don’t understand what it is you’ve been offered and why. That’s where his power comes from, out of this devastating openness. I’ve never met anyone like that before.” ❤
At this point, do we all agree that Sphinx is Grasshopper? His statement about Smoker is interesting because I see Grasshopper largely the same way as he describes Smoker. Maybe he feels that Smoker is much like he used to be, though of course he says he’s never met anyone like him.
What do you all make of the dragon on the bed? It kinda creeped me out. “I shot a quick look to the wrinkled covers in the corner of the bed. The place where the dragon was sitting. Frozen. Lifeless.” Noble’s family supposedly has a coat of arms with a two headed dragon. On FTN (fairy tale not from here on out), Noble tells the story of the dragonslayer who is supposedly his father. Noble is now in the Sepulcher. What does this dragon mean? It seems like Sphinx can see it but Smoker cannot.
We get a couple dream like sequences with Sphinx in this chapter – glimpses of the Underside. He sees Wolf there! This is as he is walking through the halls on his way to the Sepulcher. It doesn’t seem like he has control over it, although he is listed as a Strider in part two. Maybe in part one he is only a jumper? He mentions being “thrown out” when he sees Wolf and someone named Skank with her “piggy eyes.” Has Wolf ever been described as having a white scar over his lip before? I don’t remember that. If not, I wonder when and how he acquired it. Sphinx then he sees Wolf again as the pack leaves the Sepulcher at the end of the chapter. He is following them, in step with them. Sphinx sees his reflection in the glass, but then when he turns to look, he has vanished.
When Sphinx gets to the Sepulcher he says, “my tail is sweeping the floor, my lips are stretched in an obsequious grin.” Tail? Like a physical tail? Do they literally become animals in the Underside? I know he’s not currently there, but could he have not fully transformed back after his little trip? There was a weird description of Blind in the Forest chapter. It talked about his limbs folding in unnatural ways. Just found it: “His legs folded the wrong way again. It also seemed that there were more than two of them now. He was probably turning into something, but the transformation wasn’t complete yet…Blind shot up and tottered away on all six of his legs, long and articulated.” They do physically transform! Apparently, Blind is an insect.
Remember early on how Smoker described his fingers as long and spider like – or something to that effect? Does that mean Wolf is a literal wolf in the Underside? Do you believe that Wolf is still alive? Did he physically die in the “real” world, but he is alive in the Underside, or is he more of a ghost now?
According to Wikipedia (sorry, too lazy to go dig out Age of Fable, LOL), Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. SUPER SIGNIFICANT, don’t you all think?? Woah, we’ve just started talking about the aspect of time in the house, the possibility of time travel, shape shifting (duality). I’m unclear, but it seems that there is a passage/doorway to the Underside. Janus represents all these things. Death is also an important, yet mysterious element to this book, and while Janus isn’t the god of death, he is the god of transitions, a term many people use to describe death.
Janus is a ginger. His demeanor, the way he speaks, reminds me of Elk. Elk was a ginger. They killed Elk, but is it possible that Janus and Elk are the same? I don’t know how that would work. It doesn’t really make sense to me. Elk was a counselor and Janus is a spider, but they seem so similar. And Sphinx loves Janus like Grasshopper loved Elk.
Sphinx seems to have another jumper experience in Janus’ office. It is a very negative and frightening experience. Doctors are spiders, and Sphinx only ever describes spider-like activity as dangerous. When he was walking in to the Sepucher, he said, “A person like me is only to their liking when he’s bound, suspended from the ceiling, and stuck all over with wires and tubes. To better suck out his blood.” When he has the experience in Janus’ office he talks about the “whispers of those who got tangled in the web and perished here. Leopard (whom we’ve only heard about as the resident who painted a bunch of pictures on the walls) Shadow. This is a terrifying place. The worst in the whole House. It stinks of death, regardless of how wee scrubbed and polished they keep it.” So eerie and ominous. What happens in this place? Are the doctors experimenting on residents? Is there abuse? The residents view the spiders as a threat, right? Yet, Janus is a spider. We expect hospitals to be a place of death to an extent, but they should also be a place of healing. The Sepulcher is a purely bad place according to the residents. There is honest fear. When Janus asks what’s happening. Sphinx says “the Sepulcher is happening to me, which is peanuts compared to what lies in store for Noble.”
When Noble tells Sphinx he went to the Underside, Sphinx says, “The House is a weird place. Here people have identical hallucinations. Or at least they start identically. And it’s not necessary to swallow or chew anything to get them. You know, I think that if any of the concoctions that the so-called experts are conjuring up here were to be brought into the Outsides and given to someone there, nothing would happen. Maybe a stomachache, but that’s all. Hard to be sure, of course, but that’s what I think. I could be wrong.” It seems doctors are creating drugs to use on the residents. It sounds very mad-scientist-esque. I assume Moon River is one of these substances. How do they have access to Moon River in the coffeehouse?? Why does Sphinx think the concoctions won’t work on the Outside? Because the house has power? Because the residents are somehow different than people outside of the House? He calls them hallucinations, yet they seem to go somewhere, right? Is it purely hallucination? A trip in the mind? It seems like they have interactions with others when they are there. Noble said he was in this place for four months.
Another TV show connection (we really don’t watch more than a few shows a year, but I guess we tend for the supernatural to an extent. Anyway…) Anyone see 11.22.63? The time travel show with James Franco where he’s trying to stop the Kennedy assassination? Sphinx’s description of what it looks like at the beginning of the road to the Underside sounds so similar to the spot where Franco’s character enters the past, and it’s the same each time.
What is going to happen to Noble? Sphinx was angry at Black for taking Noble here, yet Black seemed to think he was doing the right thing. Right? I mean, Sphinx thought Black had bad motives, but I’m not sure he did. Other people go to the Sepulcher and return, right? Why does this spell doom for Noble? What kind of treatment is he receiving there?
Sphinx explains, “This is a bad place. For every one of us. There are good places and bad places here. This one is bad. How it became this way is a long story.” So, Sphinx knows the story. Did he witness it? When he was young, was it as bad as it is now? He did not seem to feel its affects when he originally stayed there as a child. Did he? Maybe he just didn’t understand when he was little. What other bad places are there? The Cage is referred to as a bad place, yet they like going there.
It seems like Janus senses the strangeness and wants to understand, but he’s also skeptical. Sphinx tells us he was looking around “trying to see something that he wouldn’t be able to, no matter what.” No matter what. So…grown ups are incapable, or spiders are incapable, or……what? Did Elk know?
This chapter has so many key passages. I’m going to end up writing 3,000 words before I can even start talking about the rest of this week’s reading. I am not good at editing myself!!
Long ago Sphinx deduced that a patient is no longer a human being. “When a person turns into a patient he relinquishes his identity. The individuality sloughs off, and the only thing that’s left is an animal shell over a compound of fear, hope, pain, and sleep. There is no trace of humanity in there. The human floats somewhere outside of the boundaries of the patient, waiting patiently for the possibility of a resurrection. And there is nothing worse for a spirit than to be reduced to a mere body. That’s why it is Sepulcher. A place where the spirit goes to be buried. (I was going to stop there, but I think this whole paragraph is of the utmost importance and should be closely examined). The dread permeating these walls cannot be extinguished. When I was little I couldn’t understand how this name came to be. We inherited it from the seniors, along with the horror this place instilled in them. We needed time to grow into it. A lot of time and many bitter losses. It’s as if we were filling a void, a space carved out by those who came before us that somehow turned out to fit us perfectly when we filled it completely. When we understood the meaning of all the names given long before our time and went through almost all the motions that had been already played out. Even our innocent little Blume was a great-great-grandchild of an earlier incarnation; our very own baby and at the same time a reappearance of an old ghost. I’m willing to bet that if someone were to discover the archives of its predecessors, he’d find plenty of screams of rage against the Sepulcher, identical to mine.” (p 158)
I mean, woah, I could write a ten page essay on that one paragraph….once my head stops spinning. It twists and turns and just when I feel like I am starting to grasp it, I lose it.
The residents view the Underside and the ability to go there as a positive thing. Sphinx says, “It’s the House taking you in. Letting you inside. Now wherever you might be, you’re a part of it. And let me tell you, it doesn’t like its parts to be scattered. It pulls them back. So all is not lost.” How and why does the House choose certain people? It seems like there are a lot of disconcerting and dangerous aspects to the Underside. Sphinx had that nightmare about Steel Toothed, who apparently is a real guy in another place, so my assumption is he exists in the Underside. Noble is to be sent away. Will the House somehow keep him? Capture him in the Underside? Is this to be desired? It sounds scary.
Now, let the discussion for week 3 start!