Climbing the stairs, she looks up at the 3 closed doors, her parents room, her room, the spare room. She has made this journey so many times over the years, doesn’t even have to think about the number of steps, the sharp bend before the last 3 stairs and then the slightly higher step, the one that takes you to the landing and then the 4 steps to her bedroom door and sanctuary.
She remembers the angry retreats she would make as a teenager, door slammed just so, a fling of limbs onto the bed and a sense of injustice so strong that she can still, 25 years on, almost taste the emotion, although she cannot remember any particular battle, just an over-riding sense of not being understood.
As she reaches the landing today, she revisits other times, drunk at 18 or maybe 19, creeping up on bare feet, trying hard not to giggle, not to fall against the wall, wake her parents and later, when boyfriends were allowed to stay, as long as they had passed some unspoken parental rule, but always in the spare room, tiptoeing across the landing, trying to actually float past her parents room and then whispered, strangely passionate sex in the too narrow bed while old stuffed toys starred on.
The spare room has had other names, the guest room, although there were rarely any guests that got to use the special good towels, the ones kept for best and only hung on the bathroom radiator if a visitor was deemed important or worrying enough, so always for her fathers’ own mother, less so for her other grandmother.
Then the box room, when her parents became more relaxed about their lives, when, thinking back, both their own sets of parents were dead and visitors stayed for supper and usually lived close enough to simply walk home. As a box room, it became as most of them do, a place to put things, to hide anything unfinished, half started projects. A halfway house between the home proper and the shed, the place where objects go to die.
It was only as an adult that she understood that for years the spare room had another name, another identity – the new baby’s’ room, waiting for a brother or a sister who never came. She can’t remember when the rabbit curtains came down, replaced by something cream, something neutral, but one day they were there and then, gone.
Standing, one hand on the door handle, she realises that she has never and now will never, speak to her parents about her only child status. As a child herself, she took for granted her single status, enjoyed it, had no urge to share their attention and when her father died and she, an orphan, saw that she was the last of a small suburban line, it was too late to suddenly want a brother, a younger sister and anyway, the patterns of onliness were too deeply entrenched.
But, just for a moment, now, standing here, she wonders what this process would be like with someone else to share it, she wonders what they would make of the newspaper clipping and then, suddenly possessive of the cuttings and the stories , she is profoundly glad that is just her.
The spare room has become shabby over the years, the room her parents and then just her father didn’t worry about, didn’t struggle to keep on top of.
The wall paper is a slightly faded floral, autumnal pinks and browns , the carpet has begun to fray where the door catches on it. It feels like a room where nobody has opened the door for some time and for a moment, she considers simply shutting the door herself and finding a less depressing task, but, she reasons, this is exactly why she is here and if she is being completely honest, she hopes, wishes, needs to find another newspaper cutting.
The house clearing has become like a scavenger hunt, even when she is not really sure if there is any more treasure to find, is not even sure if there is a treasure hunt to join.
She starts with determination, using the narrow, stripped bed as a sorting area, she pulls boxes, neatly piled carrier bags toward her, makes three piles – keep, donate, chuck.
The keep pile stays stubbornly small and she hopes, needs, to find things amongst all these forgotten items that will speak to her, tell her that they need her, need to be taken home, loved, valued, put somewhere safe and warm.
On the other hand, the donate pile gets larger and larger, towels, spare bedding, her mothers’ sewing machine, she lingers over this, wonders if she could find a space for it, even pictures herself sewing, making something, but the something remains obstinately vague and in heart of hearts she knows that the baby blue singer machine will simply end up in another spare room, gathering dust.
She ploughs on and finally does hit a kind of treasure, photograph albums and then of course she has to stop, curl on the the corner of the bed, shove piles out of her way and fal back into her childhood.
The photographs are, for the most part , neatly arranged in albums.
The cast is small, her, her parents and sometimes her grandparents. It strikes her, not for the first time, how friendless her parents were, how happily self-contained they seemed to be.
The photographs are arranged chronologically, her as a new-born, a baby, toddler and then school, holiday and high days.
She sees for the first time, now she herself is older, how much like her mother she looks, even their stance is similar, head often cocked to one side, listening carefully or looking for escape, in many of these photographs, she cannot tell which.
Of course, her father is mostly absent, clearly he was the main photographer and when she thinks back, she has vivid memories of her father choreographing, almost dragooning them into position
“Smile, just look a little happier” he would mutter at her, not understanding that her serious face was a mark of her concentration on the event, her desire to not miss any element of the experience on hand.
There are a muddle of unsorted photos in the final album and she shakes them out, curious to see which pictures did not make it into an album.
She doesn’t quite know what to feel when she begins to recognise the images, they are all photos that she has sent her parents over the years.
Holidays she has been on, parties, barbeques, the cats, weddings she has attended as a guest, a bridesmaid and more recently a maid of honour.
There are even pictures of her and boyfriends over the years in a changing backdrop of different sitting rooms.
And then and she smiles with pleasure, although there is no=one to see it, a newspaper cutting flutter onto the bed spread, she pounces on it, excited and then stops.
The clipping is of part of an obituary, just a headline and a blurred black and white photo – a man, more moustache than facial features, eyes hard, staring out at the reader and the headline
“Director dies at his desk – it’s what he would have wanted”
The Next Narrative – The Man Who loved His Job More Than His Wife
The widow dabs at her eyes, sniffs and faces the journalist again.
“It’ s what he would have wanted ” she repeats the platitude ” He lived for his work” and she sees the journalist, young, stumbling shorthand, nod and she wants to scream, to shake him, to make him hear the raw truth in her words, but instead, she offer a cup of tea, tells him that he can smoke if he wants, he has the look of a smoker, drawn and hungry and they sit on opposite sofas, facing eachother……..
( to be continued…..)