Hello downstairs, my name is Maria. I spent the best part of my life looking after the Hall; scrubbing, cleaning, polishing and decorating. I come back now to see my son, always a loner and a gentle soul, sensitive to the pain of the world we have created. I also keep an eye on the house and it upsets me to see the ceilings bulge and the brickwork crack. And winter is coming again.
The hall has a wall. I think it’s been there at least a hundred years. Handmade bricks; coloured crimson, gold, copper, amber and umber have protected the ancient mansion well. On its top, gleaming multicoloured glass sparkles, ready to rip and tear an intruder’s thieving skin. The stone lions sit patiently on the brick columns, looking out to the Red Lion pub opposite, staring out at drunken, singing revellers on their way home.
Inside the rooms span the decades. The yellow kitchen is linoleum and Formica from the late sixties, the vintage units still doing their jobs. The tap merrily dribbles water all day as it’s done for nearly fifty years. Once, this kitchen safe guarded the family crockery, gleaming porcelain and silver spoons. It’s really just a place to dump muddy shoes now and other debris stained by the outside world.
Another step takes you into the main kitchen, circa 1985, with its beiges and browns. Cupboards now open to reveal golf balls, batteries and string as opposed to the normal pantry requirements. It does make me see red…It took so much sweat and tears to keep the place in order and now you would be stretched to find a fresh baked bun. The tiles are losing their sheen and the grout has turned a shade of black. Even old Arga has a fine skim of grease, protecting the gleam underneath.
The amount of nagging echoes I hear, as I roam these rooms is deafening.
The old copper door handle has been eternally loose and rattles as you enter the middle earth of the Hall. Darker and more sombre we step back to Victorian England, with florals and pelmets and tassels galore. Dark carved furniture on animal paws crouch as you walk through the hallway and into the lounge. A table, big enough for a dinner party of ten, sits struggling with the mound of paperwork heaved upon it. The chairs sit around it looking bored and deflated. Above, on a winch sits an elderly light fixture, presently the home a family of busy spiders. The times we had around this table; Christmas, Easter, Weddings, Births and even the occasional death was celebrated here. I’m not long departed so still feel very close to this house. If I had a body I would scratch.
This house, which proved the death of me…
And now on, into the lounge, which I converted when I moved in. Running with cockroaches it was. Disgusting bugs of an indestructible kind. This is the oldest part of the house, dating back to the 17th century. It feels different. The beamed ceiling, with its meat hooks, is twice as high as any other room in the house. The walls are feet thick and you can feel the centuries there.
I left the old ovens in the wall and the big old fireplace in the centre (the one Oliver fell into and died). It warms an otherwise freezing room in the depths of winter, despite the numerous cast iron radiators that clank their way through the cold season. The room feels stately and in my lifetime was used to entertain guests and accommodate family events. Christmas morning was spent here, with the fire roaring and wrapping paper and mince pies flowing freely. I loved Christmas and every year planned for perfection. Presents were all bought by November, Christmas cake started and shopping lists made. A season to be merry. It never really turned out that way and Bill and I usually ended up roaring at each other. My nostalgia for the season drove me a little too far near the edge, I see that now but hey,hoe.
Sophia’s baby grand piano sits neglected in this room, used as a cup shelf by my old lover William. This is base camp for him now and I can barely look at it. The copper fire grate and its coal bucket were polished every fortnight by our lifelong cleaner, Mary, usually assisted by a very grumpy Sophia. The place was dusted and vacuumed till it shone; it was the pride of the house. The tall Georgian windows and doors with their thick uneven glass were cleaned with vinegar and newspaper, inside and out. I have to say I never liked sitting in it though. It was as if I could feel them there, the people upstairs…
Through the beautiful glass doors you fall into the Retreat; a seventies conservatory extension, triangular in shape with big metal patio doors. I spent my last months in this room as it has a good panoramic view of the garden and I could watch nature at work. The windows look foggy now so the garden looks like it’s shrouded in a perpetual mist. The flat roof has always leaked and since my passing , everything has been covered with tarpaulin with buckets collecting the drips.
Odd how the mind works. I remember my family on their last visit, buzzing around trying to make me smile and find some peace but I wouldn’t have it. The disease not only had my body but my mind as well. Thinking beyond the struggle seemed impossible. And the Hall, it needed looking after and I couldn’t do it. So I barked orders from my sick sofa and fought with my feelings of uselessness and approaching death. My family could do little but sit with me as I stared out to the garden, head filled with fear and loathing.
I beat the cancer but the Hall wouldn’t let me rest. There was so much to catch up on, so much to do. And I couldn’t do it; I was weak from my fight but angry, so angry. I wanted to get on, the house was shouting for attention.
My only lung collapsed and my heart stopped.
Never did get to repaint the windows, redecorate the lounge, replace the stair carpet and patch up the roof. Never got round to planting a vegetable garden and clearing the shed. Never nagged William enough to fix the tap in the yellow kitchen.
I stand by him today, shouting as loud as I can in his ear. I think he can hear me, like a nagging conscience and I rather like that…
And then we go upstairs.