Written by Rachel Hubbard
The house was large and empty and Kitty’s footsteps echoed loudly on the exposed wooden floorboards as she walked slowly down the hallway. Her fingertips ran along the dado rail as if savouring the memory of its touch and holding onto the house for a little longer.
Her feet led her into the dining room where a group of people stood in a circle and wore downcast expressions. In that moment her shoes felt unusually heavy, their leather more like lead and their rubber soles melting into the floor and keeping her there permanently. Her eyes burned the more she looked at those infuriatingly rigid figures with straight arms and thick hands clutching destructive clipboards. A tingle reached her fingers and spread quickly to the rest of her body. All she wanted to do was to rush forwards and pound her feeble little fists against the man’s trim blue suit and let her irrelevant salty tears stain his waistcoat. Instead, she clenched those little fingers into a little fist and forced herself to smile.
A hand rested on her back;
‘Come along now Kitty.’ She was ushered from their prying eyes into the kitchen. Her big sister set about making a jam sandwich for her in the usual motherly way that seemed to be so effortless. It was only an hour after lunch but there seemed nothing to be said between them and so it had to be a jam sandwich through which they communicated. Chrissy put the plate down in front of her with a caring solemnity, her aged hands steady and still while Kitty’s trembled wildly under the table with childish rage.
Kitty's big sister looked down at that infant, that little helpless child with deep blue eyes filled with a sadness and it pained her. She remembered feeling that way, remembered the feeling of having your life torn from your soul, your air supply cut off by one sentence, one letter, one boy. Kitty’s tears made her sandwich soggy as she chewed on it slowly as if trying to let the sweetness seep into her and somehow make her happy. Chrissy couldn’t bear to watch. She excused herself out the backdoor and stood for a second in the garden.
Her shoes nibbled the edge of the lawn, frosted in an icy grey as it began to harden with the coming days of cold weather. The air carried a chill which hurt her lungs as she breathed. She hugged herself tightly to keep warm. The smart dress she was wearing only reached her mid calves, leaving her ankles exposed but the layers that created the en Vogue hour glass figure of that summer were warm and insulating. Her painted fingernails scratched against the softness of her cashmere cardigan but it was a useless distraction from her thoughts.
Letting the air sting her eyes, she welcomed the tears as her gaze swept across the garden; the tree under which they’d kissed; the swing where he’d given her a rose; the little summer house where they’d hidden from her parents; the stone steps that he’d carried her down to save her shoes from the rain; the well he’d wished in to come home. Despair flooded through every inch of her body and tears streamed down her cheeks; her limbs began to shake. Not wanting to make a spectacle of herself, she ran across the grass, making little indents with her kitten heels on the soft lawn.
The summer house was locked and the shed too full of spiders so she ran into the woods that bordered their garden. Naked branches stretched out and snatched at her skirt. She knew the damage they would cause but she let them do it. Her shoes were uncomfortable and beginning to rub her toes so she kicked them off and soon had ladders in her stockings. Although her vision was blurred and her clothes ruined she still couldn’t find a part of her that cared. She didn’t care about the row she’d be in or the new house or the new neighbours or how to drink champagne in polite company or whether or not to invite the Jenkins to their Christmas party. She didn’t care about any of it.
‘Where’s Chrissy?’ her mother’s grip was firm and accusing on Kitty’s shoulder.
‘I don’t know.’ Kitty replied honestly but her voice sounded squeaky and untrustworthy as it echoed through the empty hallway, empty rooms and now very empty house. Her mother frowned. Kitty hated it. She hated how easy she was finding all of this, easily letting go of this wonderful house, Kitty’s Palace, Kitty’s Pirate Ship, Kitty’s Sanctuary. Her malicious thoughts were violently interrupted by the irritating tapping of smartly polished shoes. The man wearing these shoes frowned too. What did he have to frown about? He was the one profiting from this house! How dare he and all his little minions stand crowding their doorway on this fateful day.
‘Kitty, go and wait in the car.’ her mother said.
Chrissy’s lungs burned where she lay on the damp woodland ground, wincing with the pain in her chest and the stinging in her feet. Tears stung her eyes now more than the cold air. So much weighed down on her – so much she had had to think about; to worry about; to consume her time. This was the first time she’d had to think in weeks. To just think about anything besides what her mother drowned her life with. Here she wasn’t concerned about the church roof; the Scouts coffee morning or the new hospital opening. Here she was free to think, to wander and explore the memories and the thoughts of her own wonderful, terrifying brain.
Her thoughts were plain at first - boring and mundane and she clenched her fists and curled her toes and willed her brain to summon her most painful thought. In a moment her eyes flew open, tears streaming from their corners and her breathing changed from a shallow pant to a staggered whimper. Sobs rose in her chest and soon she was unable to contain them and she turned over to shield her sorrow from the world.
Kitty watched from the car window as her mother spoke to the men in suits. They leaned into her with condescension as if she needed encouragement to construct and deliver a coherent and confident sentence. The men seemed to smile at her as if she too were a child. After some time, they bid their farewells and left. Kitty shivered at the thought of ever having to love a man like that, a man so spiteful, so cruel and so insensitive. She was distracted in her fury and didn’t notice her mother receding once again into the house. Kitty was confused by her disappearance.
Angela - for that was what everyone called her apart from Kitty and Chrissy, who simply referred to her as,"Mother" - walked quickly down the corridor, trying desperately to ignore her echoing footsteps. Her lips pursed in anguish as she saw the deep gash in the wall paper. Utter terror coursed through her veins and she had to remind herself of the immortal excuse. War changed him. Clasping her hands together she ran the last couple of steps through the kitchen and gasped with the cold air outside, or, perhaps, the shock of the memory; her husband staggering backwards, his hand dripping with blood and glass surrounding his feet from where he’d punched the kitchen window. ‘I’m sorry,’ his wails haunted her as she ran across the grass, making large indents with her high heels on the soft lawn.
The woods were cold and eerie. Angela had been scared of them when they’d first moved into the house, a bride of just 23. But she’d grown to love them. They were filled with memories that reached out like old friends to touch her legs and arms and claw at her dress in desperation, demanding attention she so often insisted was needed elsewhere.
Taking care not to let the sharp branches snatch and tear her skirt Angela tip toed silently across the dense woodland ground. She was unsurprised to find her daughter’s shoes abandoned on the side of the overgrown pathway and continued with them held at arm’s length to save the precious chiffon from the ever-staining mud.
From behind a tree, Angela could see a figure collapsed on the ground and weeping loudly into the crook of their arm. She went no further.
‘Christina,’ she said in a measured tone. There was a gasp but she didn’t look to see a ruined face stare up at her. Instead she looked away, trying hard to find the beauty in nature that her husband had always insisted was there. The sobbing continued and there was the sound of shuffling but Chrissy did not appear in front of her mother. ‘We all have to deal with loss, Christina. The whole country has been affected, as you well know. It is our duty to carry on, to do our best to continue without loved ones by our side. You know as well as I do that even if George had come back he wouldn’t have been the same.’
Chrissy had heard this from everyone. Not one person seemed to have any sympathy for her when in one moment she’d gone from seeing the world in vibrant colour to seeing everything in black and white. So she got up, brushed down her dress and looked in the unresponsive eyes of a face she knew so well.
‘Yes mother,’ she said and walked back to a house she would never see again and attempted to expel from her memory the name of a boy she would never forget.