The Gray House, Week 9



Drawing of watch and snake by this artist


Week 9 (pp. 605-670)

WEEK 9 AUDIO: cuts 46 – 50

Tabaqui: I’m going to quote the opening paragraph:

The days are wound tightly, like strings. Each tighter and higher than the one before it. I feel like I’m sitting on a string waiting for it to snap. When it finally happens I’ll be thrown far, far away, farther than can be imagined, while at the same time staying exactly where I am.

They are waiting. Tabaqui is sending letters to famous people in the hope they take over maintaining the House, but it doesn’t look like happening. He is depressed, the clear days depress him. He rather has clouds in the sky, matching his mood.

He says nothing interesting happens at the Crossroads or the Coffeepot. A few are around Tabaqui when he starts telling Mermaid that something like what they expect to happen has happened. They don’t believe him yet they do, when he tells a story of a disfigured man, with a collection of antique instruments, who decided to restore an old orphanage, and admit those with disadvantages first, and smart ones, not mentally unfit. And he also put the condition that the building had to be repaired every three years.

There’s another admission by Tabaqui that time doesn’t flow the same way in the House as in the Outsides. He explains those jumps as jumps in time, they mean you live through ripe old age twice in what for others would feel like one measly month. He says he is a greedy one who has jumped several times a month, and he’s lived through more loops than anyone.

Tabaqui talks about his backpack, the act of packing and unpacking as the important thing. They call this “One Bag Syndrome.” He is talking to Sphinx, Noble is at the dorm too, sleeping. Alexander comes in, wearing white. He looks different. They have a discussion, Smoke and Sphinx, about Alexander maybe making a statement that he doesn’t want to serve them all anymore. Alexander admits he doesn’t like white. His true color, Tabaqui says, it’s red, and it wants to come out somehow.

Tabaqui asks Alexander to help him with his backpack. He’s driving to the Crossroads. There he finds a mirror that the girls use for divination, he clears a bit of it and sees a scared or a mocking Tabaqui. He draws a smile with a marker, and rolls back quickly so “I don’t see the double jumping out of it. And he doesn’t. He’s too late”.

Tabaqui goes to the Coffeepot. Ginger asks if he fought with somebody. Mermaid tells him about Needle who is sewing her wedding dress. Tabaqui asks Ginger for her flask, to drink something, and he starts one of his speeches, saying he never grows up. Others are upset and have different opinions about him saying the truth or lying. Tabaqui starts to sniff, and when Ginger goes to console him, he takes advantage of her proximity, but Ginger forgives him. Gnome says that “Time affects different people differently,” and Owl says that “Time is not a solid substance and can’t therefore act on some and not others.”

Tabaqui notices both Smoker and Alexander loosing it. Smoker getting angry, and Alexander looking as if he’s going to jump through the window. Tabaqui has no time to get to Alexander, Smoker attacks him, and next thing he knows, he is under a table with an irritated Owl, and with Blind carrying him to the room. He asks about Alexander, and he’s told that he is sleeping.

Tabaqui is describing to us the photographs of the Crossroads, and the things he’s put there, the articles he remembers from his youth, and the legends around them. He remembers the day the girls went to cut the communication cables, and he found a plate on top of the wardrobe that belonged to nobody.

Tabaqui wakes up in a dark and stuffy place. (Is he at the Sepulcher?) Lary is making tea, Tabaqui asks about Alexander, and they tell him he went out. Lary tells Tabaqui “They say you threw a homemade bomb that blew away half the Coffeepot,” he denies that, but they don’t believe him.

He tells them of a strange dream with ten snakes and a common conscience for not ten, but even twenty. “The sect members also like to use forbidden stimulants in order to expand the boundaries of their universe, and have been mostly hunted down and eradicated by now, one way or another.”

Sphinx is at the funeral. Yes. A funeral for his prosthetic arms which got burned. He says it was very painful. Noble is drinking. Alexander is in the room. Now Lary says if Alexander was the one who threw the bomb.

After dinner, at the canteen, they tell Tabaqui that Lary went to the Outsides with the Flyers for something. Smoker asks Tabaqui if what he saw in the room (when they all ended up hurt, the window broken), did really happen. Tabaqui says that depends on what he saw.

Noble wakes Tabaqui. He says, ‘you are him, you can’t fool me.’ He wants Tabaqui to help him. They go to the classroom where Tabaqui keeps all those knickknacks. Noble finds those rat skulls in a string that Tabaqui was given, and he places them around a hat, the way they were meant to latch. Tabaqui then asks Noble if he has made his ‘stupid’ choice. Noble has, and he won’t change it. Apparently Tabaqui is going to send Noble to another loop, at the risk of not remembering there who he was before that loop, or who he loved before. Tabaqui unclasps a gear from the chain, places it into Noble’s palm, and he declares himself Master of Time for a moment.


Same artist drew this backpack

Sphinx: This chapter is very intense. We are getting to the end of the book, and I don’t know about you, but for me, since last chapter, Blind, I had to keep reading.

The chapter opens with this sentence, ‘Sphinx dreams of the House breaking out in cracks, raining down pieces, bigger and bigger, until they’re the size of entire rooms.

They are going to, either demolish the House, or redoing it, in which case, the House they know is disappearing. Alexander is changing his appearance, and he tells Sphinx those outside change him. Sphinx is talking to one of Alexander’s followers. Yeap, they are a cult, they have booklets with a winged angel on the cover, saying ‘Sharing in the divine grace is attainable in this life, my brother (sister)!’

Humpback comes back. He has no clue of the things that transpired in the House (the strange episode when Alexander ‘jumped’ through the window, or not through the window, when there was a bomb, or not, and a fire, where?, we don’t know, but Sphinx’s prosthetics ‘died’ in it. Humpback asks Sphinx what he’ll do without them, and Sphinx says he’ll be alright, like when he was little, and no one was allowed to hurt him (or that’s what he thought).  Humpback doesn’t like Sphinx’s attitude, he says, quote, it’s better to grieve inside, quietly, than laugh over things that aren’t funny at all. The first approach is more normal, the second attitude smells of the nuthouse.

We have another small mystery, Humpback’s fingers, they are bleeding, his bandages dirt and barely holding together, Sphinx insists on him going straight to the Sepulcher, no time for even shoes. Humpback replies, quote, ‘It’s nothing. Just bites. There’s this little tot…’ (What was the full word?) Red also talks to Alexander followers, he calls them poisoned strangers.

Vulture is playing solitaire at their dorm. Sphinx meets him there, they are alone, and they have a conversation. First Vulture is avoiding the true reason for his talk with Sphinx, and tells him to alert Blind that his Birdies saw Solomon, that he’s back at the House. But what Vulture wants to tell Sphinx is that he is his only hope. What happened happened, he says, yesterday for him, Vulture, but long ago for everyone else. Vulture is seeking Jackal’s help through Sphinx, his friend. Sphinx will try.

Vulture tells Sphinx about his twin brother. He is convinced that the wrong one died, that his twin would have been able to succeed where he has failed. Vulture says he’s remained a mere Jumper, even after all the poison he has forced into himself.

At the canteen they are eating when Ralph informs them that they are conducting a search at their dorms. That doesn’t make any of them happy, but it makes Lary very anxious (who has been outside, presumably for a tie for his wedding with Needle.)

Cases reappear. These cases seem to be people they have interrogated, and they are Noble and Alexander, and after, Blind.

Black manages to have a private and short conversation with Sphinx. He tells him about that bus rumor. It’s true. He’s managed to park a van in the surroundings, but ever since they got those visitors, they have not been to see it. He also has gotten a fake driver license. Black is looking for Sphinx’s approval, maybe even wishing he joins them in leaving in the bus. (Do you all wonder why they have to escape in that bus?, is it because these people won’t be able to leave with grown ups at their care, or because they don’t want to go back to the adults who are waiting for them?)

Search in the rooms is over, but since there’s several things still missing, they have decided to search their backpacks there at the canteen. The announcement doesn’t happen without a heaping serving of drama (Sheriff shooting at the ceiling.) Elephant needs to go pee pee, it’s mayhem.

Blind tells Sphinx he’s found out that graduation will be the next day. Sphinx doesn’t like Black’s plan, but Blind seems to have come to terms with it, he cannot stop him, or Lary, he says. Blind is a rules follower. He won’t stop Lary even if he could, because as a leader, Lary has that right to leave if that’s what he wants.

Backpacks search is going on at the background. It’s Red’s turn, they find lots of condoms. Sphinx is counting the days they’ve robbed them (by moving up graduation day), six and a half. Sphinx is looking at Blind’s hands. That’s the way of knowing what truly is crossing his mind, not by looking at his face.

I believe this is an important part of the book, and I cannot extract all the meaning that it has. Two worlds overlap in Sphinx’s reality, the real one, and the ghostly one, and that makes Sphinx nauseated. He knows if he concentrates on one, the other will disappear, but he doesn’t want to do that. Blind calls him to stop, and he obeys, Blind commands him to choose the direction before he starts running. Blind read his intentions, for he wanted to run. Sphinx is also tired of being cooped up at the House.

They both leave the canteen, alleging they have no backpacks. They let them go. They have to find a place to continue their serious talk. Sphinx decides to go to the Coffeepot. There, over a cup of coffee, they talk. Is Sphinx going to stay or leave? Sphinx says he’s leaving, and Blind is confused. Sphinx says his words could have sounded exactly the opposite of what he meant, he should have said, I’m staying, and Blind would have understood right away. Blind asks if that’s final. Sphinx says yes. And it’s not, as Blind thinks, because of ‘them’ (the ones leaving), but because Sphinx says, ‘it’s my life’, “I want to live it”. Then this strange assertion,

‘It’s no one’s fault that for you the real world is there, and for me it’s here. That’s just the way it is.’

Blind asks about Mermaid. Sphinx is sure he’ll meet her outside, but Blind plays a trick on him, and says he won’t. Anyway, Sphinx admits he’s tired of living in the shadow of the House, tired of the tricks, the gifts that are traps. It seems as if he says he doesn’t want to get old in the House. Blind asks him if he is also scared of him dragging Sphinx over and Sphinx not able to crawl out of there. Blind says he could have brought Sphinx over completely, even Noble could have done it. This is their goodbye. It leaves both of them angry.


Smoker: Fairy Tale Night is coming! They’ve returned from the canteen, they are at the dorm, and that’s their Fairy Tale Night. Tabaqui instructs Smoker to write that down in his diary. It’s their last one, they are expecting guests, Tabaqui is asking Smoker to behave, clueless Smoker doesn’t understand, he has an idea that it’s like one of those unpleasant nights like the one when Pompey was killed, Red was cut, and Crab was found dead.

Tabaqui was singing nonstop. (Now I also remember that at the canteen, in previous chapters someone was singing The Immigrant Song, another title by Led Zeppelin.) Ginger and Blind came in wearing the same cheerful expression, and they were hugging everybody, she even hugged Smoker. Tabaqui went to the canteen for bread. Back at the dorm, there’s Black, Tabaqui making sandwiches for everybody, Ginger had left her bear with Smoker, and she too returns and gets her bear back. Tubby was there. Mermaid too. The hallway was empty, the Crossroads too. All the backpacks seem to be packed and ready in the room. Smoker then realizes everyone has packed, and he starts doing so hurriedly. Tabaqui manages to do lots of sandwiches with the few things at hand. It’s party time. Bird-Logs come back with Vulture’s stepladder. Mermaid and Needle bring a pie they both have cooked. Needle leaves, she has to change. Mermaid claims to have changed already, her change is to have adorned her hair with something different, a fish and a bell made of a whittled seed, Blind’s present.

They are waiting for guests. Alexander comes in with two strangers, one seems to be that dwarfish man, the night guard and former principal, and a woman who claims to have lots of ailments and to have been healed before by Alexander. Red is in the room. And R One is there too! They switch of the lights, lit some candles, and Fairy Tale Night begins.

15 thoughts on “The Gray House, Week 9

  1. I think the gavel is a mallet. Remember that Tabaqui smashes all timekeeping devices?

  2. I agree, I read that sentence twice. That is a very satisfying sentence.

    I placed a lot of weight in the ending, initially, but not for long, I am now constantly thinking about some passages, some sentences, some events and people, and I smile and feel content.

  3. Oh wow, that drawing of Tabaqui/Master of Time is fantastic. Mesmerizing. The way it is composed feels very right to me, but I don’t understand all of it. What is the gavel-like thing? And the partial creature (dragon?)? I’m trying to remember if Tabaqui has ever been described as an animal – beyond his namesake, of course. I think the bottom dragon may be his drawing of Noble. Is the other Alexander? Tabaqui was the one who identified him as a dragon.

  4. Oh, by the way, where did you find the drawings of Sphinx and Blind. I didn’t see a link, though maybe I missed it. I really love it. It seems like they are separate, facing the worlds they have chosen, yet connected.

  5. You have in no way killed any magic! Like I’ve said before, your realistic insights really help to balance me out. Learning how to navigate this book has been a challenge for me, but one I’m enjoying immensely, and I love how we all contribute our unique perspectives.

    “This is a book about a brotherhood of people, for a brotherhood of readers.” 💙💙💙

    I gotta say that this sentence is about as close to perfect as a writer can get: “The pack solemnly regards the Leader who is capable of forgetting about a crow hidden on his person.”

    I don’t know why I feel that way, and it is quite possibly just me, but it gives me such pleasure. I just love this sentence – just as a sentence.

  6. I agree with what you say about your INFJ.

    I know I’ve always been pulling the book to the realistic side, and proposing all those hypothesis that kill the magic, but I’ve also enjoyed the book immensely, and I’m very moved by the whole thing, I also love to know I was ‘wrong’ those times when I lost hope caught up in the ugliness of the difficult events in our current loop.

    I also am feeling more as time passes, more than when I read those last pages. At that time, I felt extremely lonely. Every week I had to read ahead, I’ve had troubles with the part you all had not read yet, but every week my cup got full whenever you all kept making comments and adding them to the current week. That helped me process the book. I’ve said this a million times, but this is a book to read together, this is a book about a brotherhood of people, for a brotherhood of readers.

    You are going to enjoy that alternate conversation immensely.

    As for “knowing it all” about them all, you know how it goes with TGH, yes and no, ha ha ha. But there’s much to get closure, or that catharsis, thanks to Yuri’s comments in week 10.

  7. I think it would be a rather depressing read if one were to discover that the fantastical was merely a figment of the imaginations of the mentally unstable and drug addicts! I gotta believe that there is transcendence! I said from the outset that this was my kind of book. It really does fit my INFJ personality so well because I think largely in images and metaphors and lead with my intuition. I am also someone who notices and delights in the details, but I have a harder time zooming out to see the larger picture. So I’m looking forward to talking about the overarching themes and ideas and all that.

    When I read the last sentences of the book, I was at first, let down a bit. I’m not sure why. Maybe partly because I didn’t experience the sense of catharsis that I expected. I felt a bit emotional, but I didn’t even cry! Which, anyone who knows me in real life would think that peculiar. In hindsight, I think it’s because I had so much to process. It is now, thinking back to the conclusion that I feel all those expected emotions welling up in me.

    Is this really Tabaqui’s book? I wouldn’t have thought it until the end, but now I wonder.

    I am saving the new part that Yuri translated to enjoy with my afternoon coffee and then perhaps I will have time to reread the last chapters before I catch up with you on chapter 10. I think I understand what happens to everybody, but I haven’t digested all the how and why. So I’d like to give that a bit of thought and enjoy processing those things.

  8. I think you are also right with Humpback, -he was bitten by Godmother.

    I’m truly amazed at how well you read the book, Katie, at how you have always stayed on the fantastic side, which is what Mariam put there for us to grasp, the loops. I could not lift my eyes from the more literal, I couldn’t see, but I think all along you’ve been pointing to the right direction. I’m so excited to know that the LOOPS are real!, ha ha ha, and to know there’s several lives.

    Tabaqui’s desire to break off his monotony, will soon be realized, as in next week’s post, he’s back as Stinker, having a party with his ‘war’ that ends up with the confetti shot that fills the gray asphalt with colors, as Grasshopper is about to enter the House.

  9. Katie, you are spot on, and Yuri explains these time loops in his comment, -the first comment -, on week 10. You need to head there. You were the one closest to figure this out by yourself!

  10. I think you’re spot on with Tabaqui and his relationship with time/aging: he sees the Master of Time peeking out of his own eyes.
    Here’s even a picture of this for you:

  11. Oh dear. I can’t resist. I was really going to do some other reading this morning. lol. I don’t have much more time to indulge like this, as school is fast approaching – so I’m going with it! I think I will not step into your post on chapter 10 just yet, though.

    I love what you quoted from Tabaqui. I’m not sure I understand it completely, but it’s beautiful. I think the snapping of the string is graduation. As it approaches tension increases until finally it snaps and the bonds of the residents are severed as they must go their separate ways. The curious part is when he says he will be thrown farther than can be imagined and yet he’ll stay right where he is. I think this is because he will remain at the House, but as we know from the book 3 designations, he will move to another time loop. Based on the last chapter of the book, it seems that he will go back to his childhood, but it will be another story line. A bit like the ideas in Back to the Future where we see that there are parallel timelines where the world is similar, but different. Except in this book, the various loops aren’t affected by anyone meddling with the past, the loops are just there. I think. I’ve been wondering if Tabaqui exists outside the House. We’ve been wondering about Blind all this time, but is Tabaqui human? As the Master of Time (and I haven’t worked out precisely what that all means) he seems more powerful than Blind. Even the orchestrator? Maybe not of events, but he seems to have power to allow people into the underside. It’s interesting that he is the Master of Time – whatever that means, exactly – and he hates clocks. Is it because time is meaningless to him? Has he only become the Master of TIme because of all the loops he’s lived through, or is that who he is, first and foremost? He calls himself greedy for jumping so frequently, but I think it just fits his personality. He has a zest for life and wants to do as much living as he can.

    I was just looking at the passage on 620, and I think I am understanding a little more about Time. Tabaqui’s looking in the mirror and he says, “It hits me square on: I’m old. The mirror still reflects the same me as five years ago, but something’s missing on the inside. And it shows. The familiar prankster isn’t there. If you think about it, it’s been bloody ages since I did something amusing. Brought pox on all houses. I can’t even remember the last time I got beat up.” Then at the bottom of the page he says, “As I drive along I get to thinking how many things are too late for me now.” And a few pages later: “Our own reflections disrespect our advanced age.” Is this merely an adolescent feeling the passage of time as he is moving from one phase of life toward adulthood? Or is he actually an old man inside because of the amount of time he’s lived on the underside?

    You mentioned Humpback’s hand and how Sphinx was alarmed. I think what we are seeing is the wounds Godmother inflicted on him in the underside. Remember that she bites? He was saying tot, short for toddler.

    Naturally, I’m dying to talk about what happened with Alexander, but I better save that for later. And Noble!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s