Number 90- downsizing.
The first time she saw the house, it was, all too appropriately, lashing down with rain. The sort of rain that soaks you immediately, leaves you wet to the bone, hair plastered to your skull and not able to shake off a feeling of your own impending death.
The estate agent leapt from his car, tried to usher her quickly into the house before she noticed the street drinkers congregated on the corner, the bags of rubbish piled close to but not actually in the bins and the baby screaming in a pushchair parked outside the corner shop.
He smiles nervously, runs a hand carefully through his complicated hairdo and shrugs,
“ it’s not the best end of the street” and he points down the way to the leafy end, the end with the neatly parked cars, the planters outside every front door,
“But” and he shrugs again, “well, it all costs and if you’re on a tight budget….”
The sentence trails off and they both stare in silence at number 90.
It’s neat enough, basic UPVC double glazing, a solid wooden door and a small paved front garden, she smiles, tries to concentrate on not crying in front of this shiny, happy 20 something.
The front door opens straight into the house proper, the house has been modernised by a jobbing builder, so the walls are painted magnolia, the two rooms have been knocked together and she can just see into the kitchen, a basic modernisation, clean, adequate, good enough for the first time buyer this house is marketed at.
She tries very hard not to think about the other kitchen, her kitchen, the kitchen at what is still, very soon not to be, her home.
That kitchen is huge, the furniture lovingly discovered, restored and nurtured over the, every item with a back story, a chapter of their lives, a little anecdote to laugh over .
The Welsh dresser they bought in Wales on a holiday when it rained every day and they were reduced to attending strange and sad farmhouse sales,the dresser cost next to nothing, the specialist removal team were more expensive than the whole holiday, but,but, they agreed, worth every penny,when later, sensitively restored it stood, strong, plump, with grooves worn into the wood from generations of Welsh housewives scrubbing at the White wood.
The green glasses they found in a Parisian street market, stupidly overpriced, but perfect on the glass shelves in the master bathroom.
This house is too small for almost everything they own, she owns, he owns and anyway, she is not clear about what she will be allowed to take with her, what he will argue must stay, must continue to live in the family home, must give security for the girls, limit the amount of upheaval she is forcing upon them all.
Some days now, as they rattle around the family home,she feels his eyes on her, his face blank, neutral, looking at her as if he has never seen her before and then she cannot make eye contact and retreats to another room.
The girls have gone back to university, not making eye contact with her, turning away when she tries to speak to them. They have not allowed her to take them back at the beginning of this term, instead, boys, boys who are friends, not boy friends have packed cars with duvets and boxes and house plants and not the carefully packed containers of homemade cakes and biscuits and stupid flavoured vodka and bags of fizzy sweets, these have been left, placed carefully on the centre of the shaker kitchen table, not even opened.
This house reminds her of the student houses that she and he have so often moved the girls to over the last 2 years.
This, the house that she will probably buy is exactly like a student house on the first day that students move in.
Minimum spend, neutral, just enough space, nothing extra, no luxury.
They walk upstairs, the middle aged woman and the very young estate agent, she silent,not responding to his patter, not hearing his edgy jangling of the enormous bunch of keys in his right hand, his attempt to fill the gaps, where she should be talking, asking questions , taking part.
There are two bedrooms,not three, no chance of giving the girls their own bedrooms, no possibility of even playing at making another home where they might come.
One day, maybe, when they have forgiven her.
The big bedroom is big enough for a double bed, but there is no room for her chaise langue, no room for her Victorian screen, no room for her Edwardian nursing chair.
No room for any of her history, their history.
Walking downstairs again, she calculates that she can find room for a small dining room table, enough space for three, maybe four chairs. She wonders if she still has enough friends to even need four chairs, wonders if in the train wreck which is what is left of the marriage she has destroyed,she has enough of a circle of friends to ever have another dinner party, even the scaled down, bonsiad social life that this house would dictate.
The estate agent is speaking, looking at her, has clearly been sPeaking for some time, but she has missed almost all of it
“…..small garden” and he opens the back door and ushers her outside and it is not what she expects, not what she expects at all.
For some reason, apathy, funds or time running out, the builder has done nothing to the tiny garden,no decking, no neat paving slabs, the garden has been left untouched.
Yes, it’s overgrown, plants left unchecked, weeds choking more delicate flowers,but, someone has made a garden here.
There are beds, curved beds, each one carefully edged with those blue industrial bricks that cost a fortune in reclamation yard. There are trellises, a space which must once been just right for a tiny garden table and chairs and old fashioned roses, gone overboard now, but not totally lost, still saveable.
She stands and looks around carefully, sees clematis, wisteria and climbing hydrangea struggling out from beneath the Russian vine and the couch grass.
The estate agent has gone into some mad marketing overdrive, is telling her about the bus services and how close the nearest supermarket is, she puts up a hand, stops him in mid flow
“ it’s fine, I’ll take it, I’m offering the asking price “ and then she turns away from him, bends down to inspect the clematis more carefully. There is a space beside it, or rather there could be a space, with a little digging, a little clearing, perfect for hostas and maybe even a bushy salvia.
She smiles for the first time since her fall from grace.