Saying Goodbye

I spent this morning in a small terraced house; an old factory workers’ terrace in a place they now call ‘dog shit valley’. The factories that brought people to live in these rows of terraces are long gone. The bell may as well ring now from the Asda down the road, as every morning people flock down the hill in their green fleeces to work their 12-hour shifts. In the small patch of grass in the garden (too small to fit a lawnmower) cats fight to bury their excrement. It’s the only patch of grass for a mile or so.

I parked my car on the familiar street. where once I walked out to find an American tourist taking a picture of the plaque on the wall opposite – I’d never noticed it before, it said ‘Victoria Street, 1885’. A piece of history; part of the daily furniture of my life.

I turned the key in the lock, and as I stepped over the threshold the house enveloped me in a motherly embrace. My muscles remembered the actions of turning to lock the door; completed every day for 6 years, they were still automatic: turn, put the key in the lock from the inside, push the handle down, then up again, hear it click and turn the key – and now you are safe….

This is the house that gave me shelter for 6 years. Here I fled my home town with my 2-year-old daughter, and here we lived until she was 8 years old. In 2010, we moved out to live with the man who is now my husband, and when I sit down at my kitchen table – still there – to record this moment in my diary, the date I unconsciously write is 2nd March, 2010. Since then the house has changed, altered itself a little to fit the tenants who lived here – a single mother with her two children – it is a generous house and can expand itself to accommodate anyone. Yet it recognises me still, whispering memories into my ear.

Lazy afternoons on the sofa in the living room, watching the light slant golden through the window, lighting up the wall in just that way. I am reading stories to my little girl, she’s snuggling into me, and it feels as if it will always be like this – the two of us, resting and dreaming together, curled up like a hand in a glove…

Cooking dinner in the large kitchen – music on, cooking bubbling on the stove. She’s choreographing a dance and making me do it with her. She won’t leave me alone…

Lying in bed in the morning, she’s running in to show me her first coin from the tooth fairy…

Lying together on a double mattress I have put in the living room (I can’t remember why). We are ill and have been alternately being sick and sleeping for two days, with a bucket each, and drinks by the side of the bed. There is nobody to help us and I look after her as best I can. We play playdoh when we are feeling alert, and watch TV…’nobody has come to us,’ she says ‘nobody has knocked on our door.’ 

There are memories in the very fabric of the building, in the walls that I decorated so many times, in the stains on the carpet and the noises that the boiler makes. Memories of contentment and loneliness, triumph and despair, love and exhaustion – and most of all, fulfilment. My single parent life.

I was there to put the finishing touches to the decoration, to clean the house ready for sale. Life moves on, and that life is no more, that little girl long gone. Yet after I had cleaned the detritus left by the tenant (coffee stains, dried spaghetti on the floor, thick balls of dust on the carpet by the wall…) the house belonged to me again, and I belonged to it, memories resonating through the both of us.

I escaped its embrace, but it was hard to leave…

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