I didn’t know why the move happened until much later in my life, and I often wonder how loyally memory truly serves. Though giving memory the benefit of the doubt, leaving that house was leaving behind what, to a naïve child (for I was still a child) felt like my whole sixteen years; as if I was carrying it all with a reluctant pout in our awkwardly shaped recycling tub down to the bottle bank across the park. As if tipping the days, months and years up and into the slit of its bristle-brush circular mouth, that I was always too scared to put my hand too far into.
And then I waited- to hear the glass crack and crash on the other side of the thick green vault, that felt more symbolic to me than a bottle-bank should.
I finally heard those sixteen years shatter at the end of the school day and the “only a short distance’s drive!” down the M3. ‘Only a short distance!’- Mum said it so it must be true, I reassured myself. I reassured my friends after school.
I was curious how fifteen miles could feel like such a detrimental distance, and how the breaking of glass could sound so reluctant, and so thick; the noise conjured up an impressive image of a hailstorm of glass coke bottle bottoms, falling to find a floor. “Oh darling, why do we get you slippers if you never even wear them around the house? You’ll cut your feet open one of these days! You’re just like your Father!”
Am I? I couldn’t admire him anymore, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, at the time. One thing I knew though was that I never thought sixteen could be so messy-We’d downsized to a bottle bank in a new borough, where we could hide all the shards neatly away inside a fresh set of magnolia walls, untainted.
No more reminders, and even less than that for little old me.
It was nice, the new house. Pleasant. The garden was large, offering a space where Mum could bury her head in the soil, and a pond she could study the sky in. An extension too, which was Dad’s new office. It joined to the kitchen, fuzzily attached by a glass block wall (More glass! Had we not learnt?)
The bricks looked as though a child had huffed and puffed on them, and had been called away before they could doodle their name into the condensation. Mum would be able to see a vague outline of Dad at his computer desk when she washed up in the new house. Vague outlines, like he blurred everything into every evening; it had taken its toll on the both of them, and I was too young then to twig it.
I wonder, now, if being able to watch him brought Mum comfort then. “Two ovens!” The kitchen had two ovens. It seemed to please her so greatly, as if it’s convenience would draw tears. We’ve only ever used the bottom one.
I took the train, after that, to school and back, and then to college after the long summer. I went to the same college as my school friends- I missed my old home and welcomed a new reason to travel back there. College meant travelling to Egham and back every day: 7.07 service leaving from Platform 1, change at Ascot, and if I missed that, the 7.37 and no time to scurry to the shop for sugar to see me through the slow first period.
My sister was older than me, nearly nineteen now, so that college was very much my own place. She had decided to wait a year to apply to University. She wouldn’t talk to me anymore. When she did it was like she wanted to get it over with. But I guess everyone was quieter then, more tired. I couldn’t understand, I’d thought we all liked the new house.
We had always had white walls- an ivory white with a cream skirting board. When we pulled into the stony drive (every reverse and park made Dad’s suburban Mitsubishi Galant sound like a getaway car) my Mum had the front door open- “to air out the fumes, dear!!” Fumes?
I walked into the living room and worried she had hit her head, or was having one of those mid-life-crisis things that people talk about; she’d already started digging up half the back garden to grow courgettes in.
She’d filled the back wall that the TV faced out from with methodical squares of warm, rich reds and pinks. It looked like the colour charts at Homebase. It looked like something from Cubism that I’d been looking at in Textiles.
She asked Dad and I ‘What do we think, then?’ She said that we needed to brighten up the place, asked us to side with ‘Jazzberry’ or ‘Raspberry Diva’.
She’d have called for my sister too, to make it a “family decision”, but Dad had already told how we’d ‘past her car down the road just now’, on the way home.
My sister had just passed her driving test, and always seemed to be playing the getaway driver from our gravelled forecourt. She and Dad were so similar, yet so far apart, now. We all were. But the sun was out that day, and we painted over the past in pink, as a family.