Ah here you are again. I’m sorry but I really don’t have the time to join you for tea, it you’d like to make yourself comfortable though. The kettle is on and you know where I keep the biscuits by now! Oh and please don’t forget to lock the door when you leave. Hope you enjoy this little short story offering:
Home. It’s funny really but there is something about the house of your childhood, the house of your parents, that is forever ‘home’ in your mind, no matter what other home you might go on to make yourself the house that saw you take your first steps and heard you say your first words would always be something special.
As I stepped over the threshold I felt icy cold fingers travel slowly down my spine, eliciting a deep shiver that made me look around nervously. Taking a deep breath I felt transported back in time, the aromas of the house, of my youth, filling my senses. The familiar wax that polished the wooden floors mingled with the scent of the lilies that stood in a crystal vase on the deep mahogany sideboard. Beneath the floral bouquet I could detect a hint of freshly brewed coffee that was percolating in the kitchen, hidden away at the back of the house.
Ten years ago I had believed nothing would make me return to that house but then ten years ago her death had seemed something too distant to imagine.
I didn’t cry when I got the call about her death, the overwhelming emotion had been mere emptiness, nothingness.
The woman who had given birth to me had died but I felt no great sense of loss, no need to grieve. People kept telling me that it would come, that the tears would fall when they were ready, but I doubted it. There had been little love between mother and daughter, no friendship, no connection, nothing but some vague bonds of blood.
I had been told that things were different once, that the baby I had been had once been held by a loving, doting mother but that all changed when I was barely 18 months old.
I had been crying and fussing all evening, letting out screams so shrill that they tore at the nerves and drove my mother to the end of her patience. In an attempt to calm his restless child my father had suggested the well known technique of putting me in the car and going for a late night drive. The motion of the car would be soothing he had insisted and, despite the lateness of the hour, my mother had agreed.
No one ever discovered what happened that night, the baby that I was had been far too young to bare witness to the accident, but it had been the night my mother changed. The death of her husband made her shut down, closing off her emotions when the grief became too much and she never allowed herself to truly feel again.
She never said it in words but a million different looks and actions told me every day. She blamed me. A small crying child had caused the death of the man she loved and she never learned to forgive. I’m not sure she ever even tried.
I didn’t realise I had been standing in the hallway in my silent contemplation till the voice broke my thoughts. Raising my head I saw a familiar, but greatly aged, face.
Mrs Jenkins had been my mother’s housekeeper since before I was born, and for a while she had been the substitute mother that I had craved, and, as I stood looking at the grey haired elderly woman who still possessed the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen, I realised I had never known her first name.
Mrs Jenkins had cared for me and played games with me when my mother showed no interest and leaving her had been my only regret when I finally packed up and left, but she had encouraged my departure, she knew that I needed to find a life beyond the stagnant walls of my childhood home.
“It’s good to see you,” I said, I could feel the smile on my lips as she moved towards me. Her kind face was deeply lined and there was a tiredness about her eyes that I did not recognise, but then ten years is a long time in anyone’s life. “I’m sorry I never kept in touch.”
“I never expected it,” Mrs Jenkins replied, her smile mirroring mine as we both relived the games of my youth.
I looked down as Mrs Jenkins held out her hand, shivering as I saw the object lying on her outstretched palm.
A key. A single key, much like any other, albeit of a large and old styled variety, yet I knew instinctively which door that key would open.
I had only ever tried to open that door once in my life. I must have been about five or six years old when I discovered there was a room that my childish interest had not taken me into. My hand had barely gripped the door handle when my mother’s voice had screamed at me with such anger that I cowered away, trying to melt into the wall behind me to avoid the blow that struck me hard against the side of the face, sending me reeling as I collapsed in a pile of tears and terror.
“Don’t you ever go near that room again,” my mother had hissed, her dark eyes glowing with such fury that I thought I could see the devil inside them. And I never had. Instead I would run past the forbidden room in fear that my lingering might be taken as an attempt to gain access.
I didn’t move as Mrs Jenkins held out the key to me, my eyes traced its shape against her pale skin, the dark metal seeming to glow eerily in contrast to the paper white of her palm.
“It’s time,” Mrs Jenkins said, her hand reaching out for mine and gently pressing the key into it, her touch soft and gentle as she curled my fingers around it. “This house is yours now, all of it.”
My legs hardly seemed able to support me as I began to climb the stairs, my body trembling as I touched my hand to my cheek, still able to remember the only blow I had ever received from my mother.
The key scratched against the lock and it took a few attempts before it finally slid home, my hand shaking uncontrollably as the key turned the lock with a heavy metallic groan before the catch was released and the door swung slowly open.
The air inside the room smelt stale and dusty and the furniture was grey and dull, hidden beneath years of neglect behind a locked door.
I don’t know what I had always imagined lay inside that room but when I finally saw the truth my breath caught in my throat, the dry dusty air clawing at my lungs, making me cough and retch but unable to tear my gaze from what I saw.