It is late morning or early afternoon and I am turning the key in the heavy PVC door of 13 Amberley Drive.
I’ve been told that the key will need to turn several times to unlock the brassy deadlock strip that hides on the edge of the door and burrows into the frame with its locking bolting teeth. Biting into the house for safety, swallowing those inside. Teeth unclenched, I open the door with the key or a push down handle, unsealing its rubbery lips insulated and draughtproof with a squeak squidge squeal unbung.
Initially the view is close and flat, garden hiding behind dining room behind this plane of woodchip or puffed paper. A little beefeater on a shelf alone above a radiator, guarding or welcoming dustily. Dried flowers in a vase, or painted on an empty one. Carpet silence under my feet, and in the air, like time doesn’t bother this house now, as I close the door behind me and am suddenly sobbing. No where’s my beautifuls, no clattering, no of course because I’ve never opened this door alone before, it’s opened by them, not me. To me, not by me. The air hangs stale around my sobs not muffling nor mocking but just observing, awoken by my messiness from its comfy dust. Wallpaper seems to watch now that the focus of the house is gone. I am not a replacement for that, not a focus but a visitor, still a visitor, visiting now a space rather than a soul.
Grandad shrunk into a corner of this house once gran had gone, pulling tables and stands round him like an audience, everything within arm’s reach - don’t get up Freddie, I’ll get it. It was towards him that I went first, opening the door on the scene of a sad, slow, leaking crime of time and organism, blackening marks on armrests and at brush-height around him, evidence of movement, friction, the jammed-in-ness of convenience. Like he’d slowly melted off a layer of him that had been hers, to leave on the walls and armrests with her. Someone said he’d lifted his fingers to wave as her coffin slid away – just the fingers, palm still flat against the armrest, liked he waved at me when I called him, little, from across the room. Tom and I stuck in traffic all the way, funeral over and wake pathetic, memory of afterwards now gone. Missed it, like I missed Nana’s. Like I had to miss his, decided unwantingly after telling Dad that his new kids weren’t more important than us, for the only time. Looking down at the black stove-top. Were the walls still red, or already changed to green? Are you saying they don’t deserve to be there? I wasn’t. But they were our grandparents first. You watched me reveal, coded, the stories that she never shared with you.
Those armrests where his palms laid flat, oblique to the chair she’d died in, ready to give a finger flutter wave. Greasy evidence of a lifetime of choosing her, palms flat down. You’re not the one I’m looking for, Doris Teague. She’d just started choking and by the time the ambulance came she’d gone – evening, I think. In her chair with its back to the garden, at the edge of the archway where the stereo cabinet used to be. Her vantage point the last 50 years – their two rooms. Two phases of grandchildren. Two daughters-in-law, one waxing one waning, one wanted then blamed, one unwanted then treasured. I’m not sure about the treasuring actually, that’s part of the blank time and gran’s mind already erasing its sharp edges. She called me Katharine once, like grandad’s K.A. on my cheques.
Listening for you both now from this very different room, the chair the same angle to the window, but closer like a turning of the back to the room. Like a bringing together of you both – his angle, her position. You met permanently in dad, after all. Nobody here with me but instead back home, keeping the home fires burning, holding it down like he does, like he always does when I don’t deserve him and he doesn’t seem to know that. He’ll be the one I wave at like that, if he doesn’t let me die first like we agreed.
Quarter way to 10pm again and I’ve been writing for two days, sleeping 14 hours in the middle, like a rebirth for the true beginning today. Is this the silence I wanted? To remember you both and the missed years avoided years unknowing years with you? Is that what I’m reaching for, rather than Ida?
I loved you but I couldn’t. In your faces were the sorrow reminders accusation hope tentativity assessing judging fearing seeking searching peering examining and I couldn’t be looked at that way. I couldn’t answer those questions. I couldn’t relate myself to one you’d known. I couldn’t be on mum’s side and love you like you wanted. I couldn’t love you while you hated her. I couldn’t love dad because he wasn’t there. I couldn’t love you because your son wasn’t there. Because your fight was always acceptance. Because your sighs were not screams. Because you wanted it back to how you wanted it, which it had never been.
Some days I can’t swim, Ida
Is that you flailing?
The first time I went to her house without her in it I cried for an hour
Feeling like her, I suppose, when love is met with a blank space
Not blank though, was it? The armrests were greasy, except for the chair she died in
Different fabric maybe.
I’d like to have held her hand, as she so often did mine, and guided her to you
She was taught to forget you
But she remembered you to me, secretly, and although it took me more than ten years to understand, I called you onto the screen, straightbacked
Before turning back to her
My ears have always been my keenest sense and that’s you, isn’t it, switching on inside me to listen?
I can remember tone of voice long after I’ve forgotten the words
I dream in music sometimes, but I never play
I wish I’d confessed
Funny how my scars throb along with the learning about lament. Rose and Kivivuori talk of psy- and my breast-ribs burn. The sunlight is streaming in and there’s a fire in the firepit that winks blue and pink in my mind’s eye – Sara’s trousers, Mari’s romper. They’re talking, so I won’t go over even though I’d like to. The snow was too soft today to make water drawings, or at least to make the kind I’d imagined. Even a spoonful of warm water went straight through to grass, the snow capitulating fluffily. Bright green under sparkling white, moist and preparing.
Who are you that collapses loglike with the pillow over your head and the moans of pain
Waking bleary but sweet, unremembering
Of the undercover fingers searching my insides, and
Of the heaving you away, hating. Snapped awake by your return, often
Able to tell drunkenness by your rhythm
Or the crash of a fallen plate, glassy scraping of pickles and beetroot and metal grill shelf drag
Is this the night he leaves it on?
And along with you I opened my whole self, my whole doubt, my whole hidden hatred of the thing that is me that I have carried around, as if you’d shown me that I was right to trust you and that if anyone would accept what was underneath it was you. And so
I showed you.
I split open, and
In time the huge, dry initial splits gave way to smaller, damper, tighter, knottier splits that cracked so begrudgingly and
The old lines
The ley of the problem
Early, early doubt made wood under the flesh of adult trauma
Fossilized each time with the constant drip of sad, hurt, lonely
But you, there
All the way along, annoyed
Sometimes, of course, but
Pushing your oil into those gnarled splits and loving them, and
Showing me how to rub it in a little, hurting
But like a hope
And we did this together, didn’t we
The biggest thing I’ve ever attempted is done with you, and now
I’m here in the snow without you and I can handle it
I can handle being me without you, but
oh I want you, not
because of wanting someone to soften the loneliness, but
Just you, for yourself. And
Because I have something to offer you
Not even a quarter of the way round I lost it
Pressure building on the drive, polite chit-chat
Feeling the familiar clamping up
Jaw solid like
But something about this blue sky, this air
Loosening me so fast I didn’t know what
Was going to come out until it did
Not the first time of course, not the second or tenth
So now angrily
Her hurt tangible, her hurt mine but resisted now
And this is the first time I think, at least in her presence
Her martyred tendencies
If you need distance I’ll respect that
Not seeing how the distance was snatched in 1996
But it wasn’t outside me as I had thought
The bungee snapping me back every few years once I had twanged too far away
Suckling again, unknowing
Mistaking us-against-the-world for acceptance
Mistaking words for truth
Mistaking need for love
Mistaking work for coping
Mistaking home for safety
Mistaking achievements for growth
Surface, shopping streets in central London - spring/summer 1972
The first purchases seem tentative, of lesser value and further apart; a flutter of larger amounts towards the wedding day, on a Saturday in late June. This narrative of a wedding is by far the strongest, though not the only one. And it’s loose, refusing to consummate, shifting like Google Earth. Hilda made gowns, among other things.
We’re approaching a threshold moment. In just a few years, “a whole world… (will become) obsolete, and the contours of a new (one will begin) to show themselves.” Things are kinder in some ways, harsher in others, “before the switch.” Punk is about to emerge in response, then Joy Division.
We don’t know that yet though. Look laterally. TVs are black and white. Telephones are a luxury. Birkin smiles and poses, her basket in the crook of her arm. Hilda impends behind her and the musician - “bras and tights… suspenders and knickers” half-hidden by apples and oranges - “’come and get your gums ‘round me plums,’” – far beyond the woman strutting past piles of boxes, in the “central hub for music and vinyl.”24 “They used to call it the Latin Quarter, because it was full of Europeans.” “Oh, Hilda was the one who supplied me with my clothes… they were one-offs. Nobody else had ‘em… They were all one-offs, Hilda’s.”
 Fisher, M. (2014). The Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Hampshire, UK: Zero Books, p.50
 Fisher, p.50
 Scott, J. cited by Soho Then: Ep. 1 - Food and Shopping. thephotographersgallery.org.uk
 Stannett, L. cited by Soho Then: Ep. 1 - Food and Shopping. thephotographersgallery.org.uk 24 Berwick Street. www.visitlondon.com
 Mussi, C. cited by Soho Then: Ep. 1 - Food and Shopping. thephotographersgallery.org.uk
 Rottondo, R. cited by Soho Then: Ep. 3 - Fashion and Tailoring. thephotographersgallery.org.uk
Surface, North London - early 1972
The houses are terraced, the aerial view striped green and brown. It is springtime, then early summer. Most people have replied to their invitation with black ink, looping their letters and exclaiming delight, or occasionally regret. The handwriting is evocative, the shapes of the characters outdated, and the letters and cards are oddly similar, housed in creamy thick envelopes, lined and unlined.
83 Sydney Road is behind the white van, the silver car, the post van that might have delivered these pen marks; in an area of comparatively low crime for the region; red-doored and black-; for sale; under grey skies and blue. I can see the buildings from above, and for all of the zoom in, it is only when the street view kicks in that the building becomes obstructed. If I move along the road a little, I can look back at the building in all its oblique allure, asking me to step a little closer, free of its white van and beckoning me, as if suggesting that by moving stealthily enough I can trick the vehicle into not being there. It never works.
 North London violent crime rate comparison map. www.plumplot.co.uk
Surface, at a computer screen - present day
If, as Lyotard claims, postmodernism can be defined as "a radical incredulity" toward the religious, political, mythical and scientific meta-narratives which serve(d) to "legitimize the pursuit of knowledge," then archives of personal material stored online may be considered examples of postmodern narrative, in line with his idea that narrative has a "modest" place in contemporary culture, no longer being meta- but instead rhetorical, performative. The box is almost the opposite of this, its contents folded and contained, seemingly meant only for the owner. But I, as the current trustee of the box, in 2019, have access to such online sources, and I dive and surface, dive and surface, prompted by the box. I create a trail, I examine and save strands and threads which form an "encompassing framework (in which) narratives are embedded,"14 shifting my role in the traditional writer/reader relationship to something more like detective, rejecting the "cause-and-effect trajectory" in favour of numerous possible trajectories based on my clicks, not on a single path dictated by a storyteller. I trace an online identity of the box, imagining the investigation later - my computer seized, experts following the browsing history and telling themselves this same story, but backwards.
 Lyotard, J.-F. (1984), cited by Alphen, p.9
 Lyotard, J.-F. (1984), cited by Alphen, p.8 14 Alphen, p.12
 Manovich, L. (2001), cited by Alphen, p.9
I am quiet
I know things
I show you which way to go
But I shuffle and you must shuffle me back
I lie in layers
Then I shuffle
You can spy through me
You can magnify, enlarge
And zoom and swoop over my lines
But then I'll close and you'll be lost
I'll close my secrets back into the darkness and tuck my lens away under the black
You'll have to prise me open if you want my help
But I'll have shuffled
Layers conceal most of what you're asking for
I'll illuminate a spot for you
Though maybe not the one you wanted
Probably not the one you wanted
Tilt me, that might help. Tile my layers.
Or close me again and I'll shuffle
We can just repeat this