Where do memories go when you leave them behind?
This house holds memories, twined in the dusty sunbeams floating through sparkling windows and in the creak of its settling bones. Where to start, in this time-bound building filled with the recollections of those who have walked its halls?
Begin, perhaps, with the attic. Memories tucked away in cardboard boxes and tangled in spiderwebs. Small hands digging through flimsy mementoes, boxes pushed angrily to the back by tear-stained hands, old records silent and heavy, stored upright by meticulous minds. Empty space, echoing with lost belongings.
The hallways remember, too. The worn carpet tells of small feet running bare, big workman’s boots tromping dust into the weave. Heels tripping on the way to a party, Converse scuffing as their owners slouch downstairs, orange juice and paint spilled to seep into the floorboards beneath like rainbows staining the wood. Grimy hands and finger paintings on the walls, wallpaper laid over paint and the smell of varnish from the once-new skirting boards.
Clouds of flour, cookie dough and bread and the smell of burnt rice linger in the kitchen’s memories. The battered old table, scratched and scuffed and polished to a shine, soaked up spilled milk and the clatter of cutlery, laughter and screaming and tears and baby food splattered in howling tantrums that shook the high chair. The curtains watched hands splashing suds in the sink and midnight snacks slipped from the fridge in moonlight - the electric light snapping on and guilty looks and smiles all caught in the billowing drapes. Arguments over what to eat, kisses sticky with jam and honey, hands slamming cabinet doors and the good china tucked safely away save for weddings, funerals and the mother-in-laws’ rare visits are all etched into this room, ghosts hanging in the weak winter sunlight.
In the bathroom, the mirror still reflects gap-toothed grins and mascara carefully applied, face scrunched in concentration. Fingers wrote messages on the steamy glass, drew pictures, fogged it with breath and flecks of toothpaste. Blood from wobbly teeth and first menses and grazed knees and split lips gotten from ‘falling down the stairs’ have splattered on the tiles and been wiped away with bleach and water, but the memory lingers on. Soap suds and laughter and rose petals and soft touches filled the bathtub and remain in the splash of the taps and the waxy candle residue that just won’t come off the tiles. Romantic evenings and midnights spent soothing small children smelling of pee with gritty eyes and a desperate desire for sleep. Rubber duckies and toothpaste and sticky-sweet cough syrup and a panoply of make-up standing sentinel by the sink as fancy dresses and tuxedos are pulled on for the prom.
The living room breathes out, the couch cushions returning to their original shape, erasing curves and dents and shapes impressed by bottoms, feet and legs tucked up or slung over the arms or cuddled together under blankets as storms howled outside. The rug, always curled up on one corner where feet tripped over it, now lies flat, the wine stains and paint spatters and laughter shampooed out or hidden by carefully rearranged furniture. The memory of toys lie scattered on its plush surface, trains and cars bumping over woollen hills to the glassy smoothness of the wooden plains, varnished to a shine and still creaking from the remembered weight of bare feet padding misty footsteps over chill boards, or socked feet slip-sliding with screams of laughter echoing in the vaulted ceiling. Kisses and soft words, the smell of chicken soup and the feel of a thermometer, blanket forts and pieces of popcorn bouncing off the screen and heads have retreated to the corners and the nooks and crannies, holding on tight to their existence.
The bedrooms are all different. One holds memories of stolen kisses, hushed giggles, make-up and fast cars; an oil stain on the wall, hidden by fresh paint. Another has empty shelves upon which linger the ghosts of serried ranks of dinosaurs and spaceships. Scattered comics and books leave the smell of paper and sugary sweets and the laughter of young boys sliding under the bed and into the shadows of the closet. The master bedroom is warm despite the season; passion and romance lingering in the creak of the bed and the memory of drifts of clothes and the smell of perfume and cologne. Small bodies squeezed between larger bodies, tears and nightmares and half-burned breakfasts in bed accompanied by proud smiles and a cuddle. The bedside lamp lit novels and paperwork into the night, clicked off to the gentle sounds of sleeping breath and heartbeats slow and steady as dreams filled the silence.
The house remembers all these things and more - stories of life and living and loving.
It is not just a house. It is a home.
And it is lonely.
The house does not remember where they went. It does not know, but if it asked the front lawn, the grass might tell it of the piercing pain of a ‘For Sale’ sign breaking the turf and a newspaper hitting the ground with a wet flump one bright autumn morning when dew still lingered like jewels on the blades. ‘Mass Shooting at Concert Kills 58’ read the headline, before water blurred the ink like tears for all the memories that only the house would know.