The house is large but not too large for a family, especially one that had three boys in it, each with a bedroom of his own. It is large enough to host a big Christmas and small enough to whisper a secret. It can hug you a warm welcome and it can fade and crumble as the years pass. The window frames can peel, the render crack, the doorstep become so uneven it is practically trying to kill you. The garden, once home to a sprinkler and semi naked children is so overgrown I can’t be sure if the back fence is still there, for all I know the land has been sold and a block of flats built on it. The apple tree with the boys initials carved into its trunk long since buried in brambles and weeds, and the little gravestone for Bonnie the lab further back into a life before this one.
I am not sure where the time went, where the life went, one day it was hectic at the bottom of a PE kit or at the end of a spelling test, now it is quiet. Silent. Gone. No more shouting, no more arguing amongst the boys. The boys are men, and not young men, except Martin who will never be more than 23 years and forty one days old. He will never know grey hair, marriage or children of his own. His is a life that stopped abruptly on the M11 on a wet Tuesday morning. The thought that he died doing what he loved, riding his big red too bloody fast motorbike has never brought me comfort, I would have preferred him to die of boredom, old and bored and slowly winding down to a tick tock tick t…
I left Martin’s room exactly how it was for years, probably for too long, until the smell of him was replaced by the smell of dust and memories. Until the posters of motorbikes on his wall looked more dated than a sidecar in a black and white film. Martin’s things were packed up and stored in the loft while Martin himself was elevated into position on the highest of pedestals. Never to be tarnished and to be revered as a modern day saint, never to be thought of as anything but a sunbeam on a cloudy day. The other two boys grew up, made mistakes but not ‘My Martin’ as he was cruelly renamed, he never was anything but perfect.
The grandchildren used to come over to stay when their parents needed a night off but as they grew older and the house grew more dank, they retreated to the comfort of friends houses with central heating and soft duvets, no need to inconvenience Nana and her scratchy blankets and coal boiler. Nana who laid the table properly every evening and gave thanks for what she was about to receive even if in latter years that might have been a tin of corned beef and a few pickled onions. Cooking dinner had always been my least favourite task, boiled potatoes, boiled vegetables and a piece of meat followed by something with custard, a jug of cold tap water sitting in the middle of the table and three boys, one husband and myself sitting around it.
“And how was your day?” he would say after we said grace and the boys would squabble about who’s turn it was to answer first.
“Simply delicious,” he would say at the end of every meal, “you are a wonderful cook,” and I’m sure the boys believed him until they were old enough to take themselves to restaurants and eat food cooked by people who enjoyed cooking.
After he passed I left his study, his desk with his glasses and his pen laying on the blotter like he’d popped to the lavatory for a minute not to heaven for eternity. The room is still like it, mainly because I locked the door and have lost the key, my old mind not hanging onto the information required. I’m sure someone will find it, eventually. They will open the door and watch as the dust ballet dances in the breeze of the fresh air that has just been permitted entry.
I have done my best to pack my belongings. A couple of years ago I started by colour coding with a packet of dot stickers. I wrote the key down in the kitchen on the calendar, a calendar that is over four years out of date. The key is; a red dot is an expensive item worthy of being kept, a green dot is toot unless you happen to like it and a blue dot is something else, which if you give me a minute will come back to me. The whole house looks like a colour by numbers now, and I’m not one hundred percent sure the key has been adhered to as vigilantly as it should have been, but it will give the boys a starting point if nothing else. I hadn’t had the chance to dot Martin’s belongings and it had been weighing on me. What if something happened to me and there was no label on the dusty boxes and Martin got recycled like yesterdays newspaper? I just couldn’t bear it so I decided yesterday afternoon that I was going up into the loft.
I used the hook to pull the ladder down, it was heavy at first but then shot out, glad of its freedom after all these years. I stepped back just in time for it to land heavily on the landing. I tested it and it held fast so I climbed up. A few rungs up I caught sight of a shrivelled grey haired woman in the hall mirror, she was old, there was no sign of the young beauty, or the new bride or the expectant mother, or even the first time grand mother, but I knew she was in there, like the layers of wallpaper on these walls. Peel one layer back and see what went before it, keep peeling until you get back to the bare bones.
I was happy with the labelling I had done, happy that Martin’s belongings were suitably marked with red dots and a few stuck on notes explaining the contents of each of his boxes. I had found other boxes filled with my previous life, little boys booties, bonnets and school reports, trophy’s and toys. I had found a lifetime of memories and refreshed the ones in my head with a spritz of yesterday. The dust had tickled my nose and the sadness dried my throat.
“A nice cup of tea before Eggheads on BBC2,” I said aloud.
I turned around to come down the ladder backwards as one knows well enough to do, only one hadn’t taken into account that ones old ankles are not equipped to balance mid air on a ladder anymore and it was done. In a flash, a flash and a thud and it was done. The end. I lay there for a minute until Martin stretched out his hand and helped me to my feet.
“Dad’s waiting,” he said and we walked down the stairs and out of the front door. I looked at the uneven doorstep who I knew had been waiting for years to trip me up and I felt a bit sorry for it laying there quietly having missed its chance, because I knew one way or another that the house had decided it needed new occupants if it were to stand any chance of survival. I held Martin’s hand, young and strong and he led me towards the light. We walked away and I looked back at the darkened windows.
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