by Philip Dodd
I feel guilty just for being here. I feel like I’ve intruded into another world, into another life. The air is stale, and I’m walking as quietly as possible, for no reason. There’s no one else here, there hasn’t been for almost forty years. That’s how long the house has stood empty. I hesitate to even breathe. I can feel a lump in my throat, but my eyes are dry, there are no tears.
There is a plastic flower in a vase on the dining table. A red rose, it is the only real colour in the whole house. Colour has bled out of this house. There are only mildewed shades of faded tones, the original colours hard to guess at. There are family photographs on the walls. Formal, posed shots of well dressed men and women, stern and unsmiling. A family record more than a fond possession at first, they become precious after the sitter has passed on. But these pictures look down upon no one. They should have passed through a generation or two by now, but they remain here, trapped in time. The doors between this room and the sitting room have stained glass panels at the top, which should be beautiful. But the shutters are closed at the front of the house, and there’s also a layer of dust that leaves me peering through cataracts.
The hallway is devastating. The curtains appear to have rotted and fallen from the window at the bottom of the stairs. But that’s not the thing that has stopped me in my tracks. It’s the coats on the rack, as if she had just come in, she might be upstairs, or in the kitchen downstairs. All the hooks are full. When they took her away there wasn’t even enough time to grab a coat. As if she hadn’t suffered enough, she had to be taken to the police station without a coat. Cold, in the back of a car. It must have been winter, because these are all winter coats. I touch the hem of one, and I feel like I’m touching her. I feel no pulse. I feel only despair at the tragedy of this house.
The rising damp has taken hold of the wallpaper, and it hangs loose on the walls, like a snake shedding skin. The paint is blistering and peeling from the woodwork and ceilings. As if the house needs soothing, comforting, softening and smoothing. I head up the stairs.
The bedroom. I feel dizzy. There’s an enormous wooden bed of dark stained oak. This must have been her marital bed. She’d been a widow for some time, I’m not really familiar with that part of her life. Then there’d been a scandal. A child. Many years after her husband had died, a child. Tongues wagged. They turned away from her in the street, they looked at her with contempt. There were rumours that the child’s father was the parish priest. The scandal wouldn’t die down. Other than the bed, the room is sparsely furnished. Sleepless, tearful, nights. A moment of human frailty, a yearning for love, followed by cruel rejection and isolation. It drove her mad. She killed the baby and dumped it in the cesspit.
The air is full, it buzzes and hums. This house is stained, corrupted. But not by her actions, the actions of an abandoned soul. It is stained with the spite and bile of her so-called friends and neighbours. Stained by the pain and tragedy of lives wasted.
I’ve had enough. I go back down the stairs and leave by the front door. I take one last look back into the house, as she must have done, before I pull the door shut.
Philip Dodd tells stories, both fiction and non fiction, often about memory.