Breaking the stillness that I’ve grown accustomed to, but wearied of, a door handle is suddenly turned. She is home!
But wait; the grasp on the handle is one I don’t recognise; it isn’t hers. Or rather, it reminds me of hers when she first arrived here: capable, with a hint of matriarch.
The door opens, and suddenly there are sounds, unheard for so long. Footsteps, slow and heavy, boxes being set down in echoing rooms, and the urgent blether of feet as wee boys race to bagsy bedrooms ahead of their brothers. A new family has arrived.
The click of the kettle and sudden whoosh of the boiler begin to spread warmth; it floats from the kitchen into the hall, making floorboards and doors swell and creak back into life.
The smallest boy is on tiptoes, peering out of the window halfway up the stairs. His new home! And yet…
These door handles were shaped by her hands, over decades, to fit her grip exactly. The banister is worn shiny as conkers by her cautious clutch as she warily navigated the stairs. In the plastered walls live the scent of her perfume, in the carpet lingers the faint tobacco smell of furtive but luxurious cigarettes, and in the kitchen, tiny drifts of flour nestle between floorboards. The product of a thousand cakes, made not by measure but by eye alone.
And the stairs, each one unique. The bottom stair is sunken in the middle, bowed by the weary tread of an old lady’s footsteps at bedtime. The third stair has a creak, the noble victim of three generations of cowboys and Indians, hide and seek and games of tig that ended in tears.
The seventh stair was the domain of the little girls, where they sat and traded stories and stickers, secrets and scraps. Where they did each others’ hair and shrieked if the boys came too close to entering their world.
And the top step? If you look around the corner, you’ll see her bedroom. Of course, once it was theirs. But for a long time now, just hers. Where she slept in that big bed – alone, but seldom lonely. Until the last night, when she woke somewhere between very late and too early, and never slept another night here.
The weight of this families’ lifetime of memories rests in every inch of this place. The parties, the Christmas mornings, the being together just because. And those other, quieter days, where one of those little girls, now grown, would bring her own little girl to visit.
There’s a spare key under the floorboard by the door, the height of nine cousins in 1986, marked in biro and hidden by fresh paint on the kitchen wall, and a new family here now who will never know these things.
On the stairs, the little boy turns quickly from the window, attention caught by something unseen. Hopping down the stairs, teddy clutched in one hand, he races off to find his brothers.