The lock is stiff but my fathers’ thick fingers make light work of our entry. It is spring, 1984 and at six-and-a-half I have never knowingly been to this house before, but for the moment at least, a not quite tangible sense of familiarity and peace contradicts the echoing eeriness of the house. I know I am welcome here.
“Where are we Daddy?”
“This is Elva’s house sweetheart. You were very small when we last came. We just need sort out a few things.”
“The dead lady Daddy?”
“That’s right. Julia my love, I think we’ll start through here.”
My parents disappear into Elva’s main living area and my sister Pip and I are free to explore her life-long home. A great staircase invites us up from the coolness of the Victorian entrance hall and without hesitation, we become the fourth generation of the Blacker family to tread its creaky boards.
At least four doors line the first-floor landing. All are explored with intrigue and enthusiasm but the horror awaiting us behind the fourth, deletes any memories of the first three. A breeze catches as we enter. A moth ridden curtain, dangling at a missing window swooshes into the room. The carpet rises and a disturbed brood of panicked pigeons send us squealing back on to the landing.
I am alone now. Pip has returned downstairs and I notice a further door tucked around the landing. There are more stairs behind it, narrow and less grand this time; they dare me to explore further. I stand in a self-contained annex flat. There are no birds and for the moment my nerves are forgotten. I sweep the cupboards of the kitchenette in search of treasure. A blue and white teddy bear lies abandoned and I hug it to me hoping I am allowed to keep him. “Hello Blue Bear; Kiss”
Blue bear is dirty and needs to be tidied up. Is there a bathroom? Yes.
It is tiny and more like a cupboard. Blue Bear and I enter and I turn the lock behind us with ease but I can’t turn it back again. Noises distract me. I can’t decipher them. Did I really hear something? Still, I can’t turn the lock back. I want to go back downstairs. No one knows I’m here. I am frantic. I cry, shout and hammer at the door but no one comes.
Daddy is outside; amused and calmly reassuring. He pushes the key from his side of the door and it drops at my feet. It passes easily under the door and I am out, safe and being carried downstairs. Blue Bear stays in the attic.
Back on the ground floor I stay close to the goings on. The eerie emptiness of upstairs is forgotten and the cluttered, overcrowded busyness of the main living area absorbs me. I search through drawers, fiddle with ornaments and generally get in the way.
Pip is in a glass room attached to the lounge; or is it part of the garden? The space is a chaos of weeds, dust and cobwebs with endless pots of brushes and pencils screaming for use after years of apparent neglect.
“Has Elva been dead a long time Daddy?”
“No sweetheart, not long.”
“Then how come..”
“Shh, come now, come back inside.”
His tone is gentle but guardedly commanding and I am steered away with an uncanny understanding that there are things I am too young to understand.
I have wondered about Elva ever since.