She stood outside the old house, the familiar paneled wooden door in front of her. She swallowed, surprised to be feeling nervous. Her palms were clammy and her heart was beating a little faster, but she knew she had to do this. She raised her hand and knocked on the door.
It was late afternoon on a breezy October day and leaves blew around her in a swirl of gold and brown as she waited. Shifting her weight from foot to foot she blew on her hands and knocked again. She wished she had brought her gloves.
She heard bolts sliding and a key turned, then the door opened a fraction. In the narrow gap she glimpsed a man, perhaps in his 60s, with rosy cheeks and a friendly face. As the door open wider he caught sight of her. He gasped and took a step back and she watched in dismay as the colour drained from his face.
* * *
Kate poured herself a mug of fresh coffee and stood looking out of the window. A week sun was shining and she watched as robins, bluetits and wrens darted about outside. A bluetit landed on top of the bird-box in the sycamore tree, clearly visible now that most of the yellow leaves have fallen. The box had been made by her father many years ago. She thought of how he and Mum could sit at the window with cups of tea and a plate of biscuits between them for hours, just watching the birds in the garden.
Was it really only twelve months since she had packed the bird-box in her car along with all the remnants of her parents lives and driven away from her childhood home for the last time?
Her parents had both passed away a year ago, her mother first following a long illness and then - out of the blue because he had seemed to be in good health - her father died suddenly of a heart attack less than four months later. They had been together since their schooldays and married for over 50 years. Everyone said he couldn’t live without her.
She took a sip of the hot, bitter coffee and watched for a little while as a blackbird hopped around the lawn listening for worms.
She heard the front door click and was startled back to the present.
“Mmm, I smell fresh coffee”, John called coming through into the kitchen. He bent and kissed Kate’s cheek before heading toward the percolator.
“… All okay?” Kate asked.
“They’re fine.” John sat down at the table. “As soon as we got to the community centre Ben’s teammates shouted that he’s in goal this week and Ellie rushed off to ballet class. And how’s my wife this fine morning?”
“I had another dream last night,” Kate said.
Kate nodded.” Exactly the same as the others”.
The dreams had started not long after Kate handed over the keys of her parents’ house to the estate agent. It was a necessity as she lived too far away to handle the sale herself and besides she had no desire to show strangers around her mom and dad’s cherished home.
“I walked around the house again,” she said. ”Mum was standing at the old mustard coloured sink-unit in the kitchen, surrounded by plates and steaming pans, preparing Sunday dinner. I could hear dad in the bathroom having a shower and I knew he had been busy in the garden all morning.
“I went upstairs to my bedroom and looked at the lovely, faded Lemon wallpaper. The pine wardrobe smells as the day it arrived on my 14th birthday and I remembered how I had loved putting all my clothes away in their new home. Do you know, the greens are so vivid that I can even feel the metal of the door handles when I touch them. I can feel the carpet beneath my feet and everytime I go upstairs I hear the third stair Creek when I step on it. Dad had been meaning to fix it for ages”.
They were quiet for a few minutes, then John spoke.
“I’ve got an idea”, he said. ” when we go to stay with my parents next weekend, let’s drive over to the old house”.
“And then what”? Kate said
* * *
In the end Kate had decided to go to the house alone but the man’s odd reaction was causing her to have second thoughts. As another gust of wind blew the leaves in the air he began to close the door.
“Wait”! Kate hadn’t come all this way to have the door closed in her face.
He looked startled, as if he hadn’t expected her to speak.
“My name is Kate and this was my parents’ house,” she said. “I grew up here. I was passing and I thought… I wondered if you would mind me taking a look around, for old times’ sake?”
The man seemed to look relieved.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “We weren’t expecting anyone and you’ve taken us by surprise. Please come in. I’m Tom by the way”.
Kate followed him into the hallway. She quickly glanced around. Gone was the all flowery wallpaper and in its place was a fleur-de-lis design. There was a new, pale grey carpet too.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Tom said and went into the living room where a murmuring of voices could be heard. When Tom returned he was accompanied by a small grey-haired woman who was nervously twisting a string of beads around her neck. She stared at Kate.
“This is Anne, my wife,” Tom said.
“I am sure you would like a hot drink,” Anne said. “Please come into the kitchen.”
In the kitchen Kate was faced with new, cream fitted cupboards. The old mustard-coloured sink unit was gone.
Over a cup of tea Kate shared some of her memories with the couple, telling them about losing her parents and having to clear the house of all their belongings.
“Tears were streaming down my face as I drove away for last time,” she said.
“You obviously loved it here very much,” Anne said. “Would you like to look around now?”
Kate made her way upstairs, stepping gingerly on the third stair. To her surprise there was no creak.
The door to her old room was ajar. She gently pushed it open, expecting her memories to come flooding back. She was taken aback by what she found. Her lemon wallpaper was gone and have been replaced by brightly coloured aliens whizzing around in flying saucers.
“This is the spare room where our grandson’s stay,” Anne said coming into the room behind her.
“It used to be my room,” Kate said. The changes were everywhere and she was beginning to wish she had never returned. How naïve to think it would be the same as when she was last here.
Downstairs she sat with the couple chatting about her parents and her happy childhood.
“Will you stay here?” She asked.
Tom glanced at his wife.
“We’d like to but we have a problem.”
“A problem?” Kate was unprepared for what came next.
“Yes,” said Tom.” The house is haunted.”
“Haunted! That’s ridiculous.”
Tom went on to tell Kate about the door handles that turned by themselves, the way steam would suddenly appear on the kitchen windows for no reason, the shower coming on of its own accord. He talked about the footsteps on the stairs and the way they heard the third stair creek, even though he had repaired it when they first moved in.
“One evening we followed the footsteps and found the door to the spare bedroom open. Inside we glimpsed a woman. She was staring at the wall”.
“when I answered the door this evening I recognized you instantly,” he said. “You haunt our house Kate”.
Kate took a deep breath, Then told them about her dream; about the steam from her mums Sunday dinner, her dad in the shower and the creaky stair.
“ It’s hard to believe that somehow I have been coming back”, Kate said. “I’ve missed the house so much and I think my heart was still here”. She Paused. “But it’s very different now. It doesn’t feel like my old home any more”.
As they said their goodbyes Tom and Anne invited Kate to call in when she was next in the area.
At the wrought-iron gate Kate stopped and looked back. The old house had moved on and she knew she would not be returning.
© 2016 Yeadon Writers
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