A New Beginning (Autumn 2007)
Home from Home
The Volvo let out a sigh as the ignition was switched off. Its passengers sighed quietly too as everyone sat looking at the new house.
“Well guys, we’ve made it.”
At the age of forty, Laura Andrews turned with her work in progress ‘not a problem’ smile and patted the steering wheel. She could have said that shehad made it and that would have summed up her terrible journey of the past fifteen years. She had been happy, no she had been more than happy, but that was in a previous life and that had changed, Changed Utterly… Simon would have jumped in with the name of the poet and Laura would have given him that Duh response as they had both studied Yeats as undergraduates. For a second she thought of the Wild Swans At Cooleand of how they were destined to spend the rest of their lives with their first mate. She felt anger welling up from far below and remembered what she had been taught to do. When she had first gone into therapy she had suffered from panic and anger attacks and had been shown how to think through these anxieties, to counteract the darkness with light. The light she had chosen had been the one that was closest to her heart. She saw herself on a bench, just as the sun was setting. Their first baby was in her womb and she was – had been – happy. If she could sustain this vision, the darkness would eventually go away. Now she decided to make her way to the garden and counted slowly before saying, “Brian’s made it again.”
Michael, who was sitting next to her in the front passenger seat, nodded.
“Brian’s done it again,” he repeated.
Brian was the name they had decided to give the Volvo estate car. It had served them well for over five years and had managed to compensate for the unusual driving techniques sometimes employed by Laura Andrews. It was called Brian because of its speed and colour. A surprising yellow and a turn of pace that would match that of the snail on the children’s TV programme was an appropriate name for the vehicle. Still, it had never let them down. This was the sixth time they had moved house in three years and the boys were becoming dab hands at packing what little they had and moving at a moment’s notice. They never thought to complain.
The new house was situated on a very ordinary road on the outskirts of a very ordinary district of the city. It was constructed from an austere stone that wore the soot of a century’s coal fires. The front garden was evidence of the neglect it had witnessed from the numerous tenants who had stayed in its confines and the door, painted green, was stained with the dirt of traffic.
Hall Road was a late Victorian terrace that had always found itself in what town planners liked to call a transitional zone. In layman’s terms this meant that it had never had the opportunity to make its mind up whether it was a residential area, a commercial area or a bleak industrial area. In truth, it was all of these things and none of them. Hall Road was an afterthought for planners and for those who lived, sold or worked in and around it. It was a meeting place for those who had fallen on hard times, those who were recently arrived or those who merely wanted to hide. The Andrews family ticked all of these boxes.
“It’s sad,” uttered a small voice from the back of the car.
Peter, the four-year-old of the family, had not yet learnt to allot emotions to humans or at least things that were animate. He saw things in terms of happy and sad rather than in any physical manner.
“Yes, I’d say it was sad,” agreed Chris, his second eldest brother before his mother shot him a glance. “It needs us to cheer it up,” he added in an effort to save himself.
“Yes, we can do that. We can cheer the place up can’t we, Mum?” Michael, forever the diplomat, the peacekeeper and the image of his father interjected. “We can cheer the place up just by turning the lights on and giving it a bit of company.”
His mother breathed out an apologetic laugh.
“Just until we get ourselves going again, boys. It’s only for a while. I promise.”
That was the thing with their mother, she felt the guilt of having dragged her young sons through her own descent. The dark terrace stretched out before her with cars lining either side and she thought for a moment of the life that had been theirs until recently. For where they found themselves now, a few short years may have well have been a century or belonging to the life of another. Again, the she tasted the bile and swallowed hard.
“It’s all right, Mum. It’s going to be fine. This new job of yours will make all the difference and we get the chance to go to a new school don’t we, Chris?”
“Oh. Yes, a new school. Great.”
It was Michael’s turn to shoot his younger brother a look of censorship. Chris got the message and rolled his eyes.
“They’ve got a good set of football teams. That’ll suit you won’t it, Chris?”
Chris smiled in agreement.
“With your skill, you’ll walk straight into the first team.”
“If they don’t break my legs I might. St Agnes is the dirtiest side in schools football. If they can’t win on the pitch they do it off it. They take no prisoners.”
“You boys make it sound as if it’s war rather than an innocent game of football. It’s not about the winning but the taking part.”
“Yes, Mum, but it’s the way they take the parts that I’m not too fond of,” responded Chris in his traditional deadpan. As usual, he could always make his mother laugh even in the darkest of her moods.
“Well, do you want to stay here all night steaming up the car or do you want to get in and give the house something happy to think about?”
“Happy, Mum? Happy,” little Peter echoed from the rear of the car.
Once they had unpacked themselves from the car, their mother led them up the short path to the door. She took out her key, placed it in the lock and turned. Obstinately it refused to turn at the first time of trying, but then it clicked into place, moving stubbornly to allow entry. Open, the smell of its emptiness wafted into the evening air. Laura hesitated for a moment and touched the frame of the door, sliding fingers along the neglected paintwork. Michael had seen her do this many times before when she came across something new. It was as if she had to check its solidity, touch its tangibility, feel the reassurance of its reality. She had done this frequently in recent years and today’s ritual seemed to have done the job. She smiled to herself and nodded to her sons.
The next moments saw them following their mother in through the front door. The first light didn’t work so Michael made his way into the living room and turned on the main light there. It immediately threw out a shaft that lit up the central hallway. A pile of letters had managed to build up and had been pushed against the wall by the door upon opening. A stairway ran away from them towards the bedrooms and an ancient musty smell greeted their arrival.
Moving from room to room, the family investigated their new surroundings. Immediately behind the front room was another, smaller one. Then beyond that was a kitchen that was long and thin with reasonable fittings and decoration. Out back was a strip of worn turf, the remains of a small garden orchard and a hut. They didn’t venture beyond the paved area.
What was more interesting was the upstairs where they found three decently proportioned bedrooms and a bathroom with separate shower. Laura Andrews said something about first appearances and book covers and this seemed to put a smile on her face. All things taken into consideration, it appeared that the house had managed to exceed their expectations.
Michael and Chris set about bringing in their possessions from the car, working in tandem so that there was always someone to make sure that nothing went missing. They had heard a few things about this end of town and didn’t want to take any chances. Their mother stayed indoors with Peter sorting through the cases and placing the appropriate things in the appropriate rooms. Their industry was rewarded when the last of the boxes was unpacked and the kettle was beginning to boil.
It was already dark outside as the August night was prematurely being vanquished from the skies. Although rain had threatened throughout the day, it was still dry and seasonably mild. The work that they had done had built up decent appetites and it was decided that the two eldest boys would go out to hunt down some fish and chips for a late supper. One of the benefits of living there would be the proximity of fast food takeaways.
With purpose in their steps, the boys set off along Hall Road towards the main thoroughfare where they had noticed a line of shops including what looked like a small supermarket, an Indian takeaway, a newsagent’s and a fish and chip shop.
What they didn’t notice was the outline of a figure standing back from the road, clothed in the garb of shadows, watching everything they did.