This is the view I saw from the window of my bedroom in the house I lived in as a child until the day I married. The war memorial, an Obelisk, on Alderman’s Hill is called Pots and Pans. No one seems to know why. When I was eleven I had a dog (a Heinz Fifty-Seven variety; a cross between a corgi and a terrier, who probably these days would be called a Torgi) named Rusty. She and I could climb and run back down the hill in twenty minutes. Nowadays I think it would take me an hour just to get to the top. I’m not even going to try.
The house itself doesn’t change. Each tread of the stairs has its own noise; a soft whisper, a sigh of relief underfoot, a crack of protest. Each door sounds my progress through the house; the bedroom door protests its opening on the ill-fitted carpet, the bathroom door shushes closed. Downstairs the living room door opens quietly, then creaks as it’s forced against the many painted-over the hinges and frame. Finally there’s the heavy sigh of kitchen door, as though opening onto another day’s toil.
It’s my mother’s house. Once I lived here too. Now I visit.
It’s six o’clock in the morning.With laptop and cup of tea I settle down to write. I must have done this hundreds of times before. I wait to hear the thud of her feet as she stomps across the bedroom, the sound of her peeing in the bathroom, the yank on the chain of the flush of the old-fashioned cistern. I hold my breath, force back the slight irritation, hope she gets back into bed. But the mumblings get louder. I hear her tap on my bedroom door: ‘Judith?’ followed by the feigned echo of surprise; ‘you’re up already?’ as she takes the first two steps onto the landing.
In the past I bit back the exasperation. She knew I wrote at this time. I always have; it’s my time. We had a day of shared memories to get through. Again. Of laughing at the old black and white photographs; the different and often outrageous hairstyles and perms, her hats and frilly blouses, my flower-power flared jeans and mini skirts. Hours of mindless TV; Jeremy Kyle, This Morning, Doctors. Lunchtimes; chomping mournfully through thinly buttered Ryvita on diet days – joyfully savouring meat and potato pies and custard slices on ‘who gives a damn’ days. Then the comfort of the afternoon nap and the quiet hour of companionable reading.
I wait to hear the thud of her feet as she stomps across the bedroom floor.
It doesn’t happen.
Some weeks ago, a quick phone call, a frantic journey brought us to to this part of the country, to the hospital, to the ward, to the bed she sat up … cheerfully waving as we walk towards her. ‘Hello love,’ she shouted, ‘ well, here’s another fine pickle I’ve got myself into.’ She seemed perfectly clear, lucid for a few minutes. Then she called me Olive, her sister who’d died some years ago, mixing up past and present; confused. I held her hand, traced the veins under the thin, wrinkled skin, touched the deformed nail on her right hand little finger that once was trapped in the machinery of her winding frame in a cotton mill and never properly grew back..
And I knew there were hard family decisions to be made.
Mum at a family wedding ten years ago.
Yesterday Mum went into residential care. At ninety three she’d lived in this house for sixty-one years.
Today will be the last time I write here; it felt as though it was a ritual I needed to go through. This is what I wrote.