There were a few things to do before I left the old house. First I needed to go into the back garden and touch the wall I built out of brick. It’s not much of wall. About waist height and as long as two chaps lying down head to head. I’m not much of a handy man, but our old house had a lot of bricks lying about, probably from the chimneys that had been taken down by some previous tenant, so it seemed like I should use them up. I bought some mortar and a little trowel and spent a few summer days a few years ago making that little wall. Brick is lovely in the sun; it responds to it and seems to glow. I think that wall is the most beautiful thing I have made with my hands so I had to go and sit by it one last time, and run my hand across the rough, uneven surface.
Like I had to go and sit under my favourite tree, and run my hand across the papery bark of the birch tree’s trunk. In early summer, when the leaves were burstingly green, and fresh with life, I always made time to lie under that tree and look at the big blue sky through those leaves. Can you feel the grass sing, take in the scent of it, fresh cut, see the leaves shiver in the wind, on the tips of their branches, and not feel young at heart? Can you?
So I said goodbye to the wall and the tree with a heavy heart, and walked inside to my daughters’ old room. All empty now; not even a curtain to pull. I stood over the corner where Eleanor had her cot when she was new born and felt myself pour into that space. Little girl, you were once a soft and nuzzling little being in my arms unaware even of yourself. You fitted in the crook of my arm when I bathed you tipping cups of water over your head and watching it pour back into the tub. Now you are such a big girl of five full or impatience and restlessness and tears and laughter and plans.
And on the other wall the space where dear little Rosamund slept. She will not remember this place. Her home is already the new house, and yet here you began to become yourself.
In the main bedroom I said goodbye, and thank you to the house. I said thank you because I was suddenly aware then of that house’s great age, and that for all our self-important bustling about, it was the house that was hosting us, watching us turn into parents, and celebrate births, and shed tears, and then letting us go before welcoming a new “owner”. I said thank you and I waited for a sign, and briefly the watery sunlight coming in through the bedroom windows strengthened and the whole room was bathed in light. That was enough for me to feel that the house, or the universe, or something had responded.
When I closed the front door behind me, and ran my hand over the house number one last time, I felt sad but ok. Ready to start again.