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.