His car parked in front of the gate was the first sign that she had arrived at her destination. Should she open the garage door and park inside? No, not now. Better go in and look around first. She stood in front of the door for a second, knowing that as soon as she opened it the memories would flood back. Memories from a past that she could no longer meet in the present.
After crossing the porch and turning the key in the lock, her first sensation was triggered by the colours. The reception room was in soft greens, the sofas bathed by the morning sun still had their protective covers in place. The coffee table was guardian to a collection of small silver pieces. She knew each one, some were presents, others memories of good times when travelling. On the floor was the same wool carpet, worn into areas of light and the darkness through use. Around her feet, were the accumulated letters and bills – a reminder that this had once been someone’s home.
“He still existed here…his name on the letters, his mark was still on the house.”
Moving with counting, she went to the kitchen; a cup of tea was what she needed to face her next task. The detergent was on the kitchen sink, showing the same level in the bottle from yesterday. The cups in the cupboard were a little dusty; she washed one. The kettle needed rather more attention, to clean out the greening lime scale!… but then, the tea was soon ready. She sat on the kitchen chair, and inhaled the scents in the air.
“Memory is a funny thing, I can remember the scones his wife use to make when I visited them. And the jam…yes the home made jam, sweet, but with the biting acidity of real, wild berries. The clotted cream smelling of fresh milk…” The memory was so strong; she could ‘feel’ the taste even now.
Next stop was the bathroom. Some of the perfumes had lost their essence, others were only empty bottles. “Why did he never throw them out?” She knew the answer. Those coloured glass bottles werereminders of a time when loneliness wasn’t his constant companion. The towels hanging over the heater were now yellowish, the shaving brush still rested in a glass near the toothbrush. A brown comb was in its place on the other end of the short shelf. “Organised. He was so organised. Quite the opposite of me.”
She couldn’t delay any more. The bedroom was there, closed, hiding important memories she wasn’t sure she wanted to remember. “I have to; I promised.” But, the sound of the birds singing outside made her delay the encounter with those ghosts, just a little longer. Opening the reception window, a light breeze wafted into the room. From the hillside on which the house was situated she could see other hills where further houses clamped themselves to the steep slopes like little cubic mountain-goats. She smiled, “I can do it tomorrow.” She went to the garden. The grass had become wild, growing without control, above the other plants.. Amongst it, small weeds, so perfectly hidden, were competing with the flowers, fruits bushes, and other plants. “I’m going to have a lot to work to do here. Hope the weather holds.”
In the back garden, a a sturdy log cabin had been used for keeping the gardening materials and more memories. A small chest with old clothes; some black and white photographs; an ancient camera, and, naturally, some forgotten books; a stack of receipts… “Life is interesting, we put all this in a trunk to remember it but then it’s as if it just ceases to exist. I’ll never understand why we don’t just put it all in the bin.” An old photograph of him and her together on a beach; another showing two lovers embracing. “I miss all of you.”
Hungry, she was hungry. Going to the village centre to get a bite to eat, she passed though places they had visited together. “That small china bird he gave me is still on my bookcase; and the old poetry book is on my bedside table.” A light lunch, a walk down the main street, then a quick stop at the grocers. “I need supplies. I can’t come down here every day and night to eat.” With a heavy bag in each hand, she returned home. “Why on Earth didn’t I take the car? If you had been here…” But, he wasn’t.
It was afternoon when she woke after a short rest. “Well, no more excuses, I need to do what I need to do.” Marching to the bedroom, she opened the door. His imprint was so intense she almost fainted. Even knowing he wasn’t there it was as if she could touch him, kiss his cheeks again, laugh loudly at his jokes. She opened the wardrobe. Taking the clothes out, she thought how strange it was to be invading someone else’s personal belongs. The white shirts, the blue trousers, the brown shoes; all there, all waiting. “Someone will be pleased to have these.” The small book in the chest of drawers beckoned to her, but she pretended not see it. After two hours all the clothes were sorted. Finally, she took the book, and, sitting on the bed, began to read. It was a small diary, where trembling hands had written all the emotions he hadn’t had the courage to express.
“Why I didn’t I visit you more? Why did we not call each other more?” Life passes so fast; we have no time to see the end coming. We just keep moving, moving…and then the chance is gone.
It was 3 am when she woke on his bed. A fog had covered the valley; maybe tomorrow would be a bright day and the sun would come and dissolve it. She would have a dawn shower, but, for now she changed into her pyjamas and moved to the guest room for a more comfortable sleep. “It wasn’t easy being in his room, inhaling his scent.”
Dreams. How many do we have without remembering? That morning she remembered one of hers: They were having a picnic; all the family was there. Kids running back and forth; adults having beers and talking about politics, family and the future. When was the last time they had had a time like that? She couldn’t remember. “So long ago, I think it must have been when one of the boys was seven.” That boy now was a father, yet they had never shared a moment like that again. Not him, not her.
The work was hard. Clearing the garden was not really a task for one person, but she didn’t want to hire anyone else to do that. “I have the time; it was his pride and joy, I am doing it for him; I don’t need to do it all at once.” Days became weeks, and she was cleaning, cooking, reading, and working on his home. She had never felt so close to him; so capable of understanding the man behind the glasses, the blue eyes, the bright mind.
She stayed there for two months. In the end, the clothes were dispatched to charity; the furniture would be sold with the house. The garden was perfect, and the trees were now welcoming the autumn. It was time to leave. Did she want to? She had a good life down south; a comfortable home; just a few, but true, friends. “Why did my marriage have to end? Why could he and I never take that next step in our relationship and learn to understand each other’s flaws.” Alone. She had been alone for a while; then, from time to time, searching in relationships without meaning, to compensate her empty heart. While driving back home she thought about the man whose house she had visited, cleaned, and prepared to be the nest for another family. Her brother; although he was her brother she had never really known the plans he made, the dreams he never fulfilled, the fears and desperation that were surely part of his days…the loneliness that she had never taken the time to console.
“My brother was important to me. Why did I not stay by his side, or return, even after I got divorced?” Why is it a kind of constant that when we become old, we are finally capable of asking the right questions, and at that point discovering that only we, ourselves, could have given the answers so long ago? She arrived home in the evening. Her first action after turning on the lights to make the house look lived in again, was to open the mail, then she called her close friends, Mary and Anne. Maybe, it was time to express her feelings openly. Time to live the life she wanted to live. This was time for her. Closing her eyes, her elder brother’s image danced into her vision. He was smiling, and waving to her the goodbye she should have taken the time to say before he had left HER in a house with just her memories…