by Iona Glen
It is a place of dust. My grandparents are gone, along with their dreams of a working farm with cows and hens and sheep. Reclaimed by the outside world, the place becomes derelict. Swifts build their nests in the old kitchen. The red sandstone hunkers down against the bank, inside the cradled hands of the fells. Waiting.
Our family returns for the holidays. We carry in our Christmas paraphernalia to fill up the house again, to look back and forward at the dark close of the year.
Leaning against the walls allows memories to seep back, like holding up a shell to hear the ocean’s whisper. Back to the animal impressions of childhood, when eyes are close to the ground and I like to clamber about on all fours. Images flood to my mind’s eye if I let them approach slant, without trying to impose a narrative: willow pattern plates, tile-framed fireplaces, bubbling wallpaper mould, an olive Formica bathtub with matching sink. The living room has a figurine of a black Labrador, matching the real dog. Her name is Jetter. I curl up and go to sleep in her basket, leaning against her side.
My grandma brushes out my hair; age make her wrists bird-boned and her touch gentle. At Christmastime, she asks us children to unwrap her gifts without ripping the glittery paper so it can be folded and reused. My granddad puts pound coins in little plastic bags for pocket money. I see him turn from the mantlepiece down towards me, in front of the reproduction of a Van Gogh print made up of caterpillar-thick yellow brushstrokes.
Lives entwined with the house; they live in its embrace. Years later, at unexpected moments it releases a trace of their scent.
“There is an owl outside; its fluting hoot sounds soft and strangely intimate. Flagstones soften to the imprint of human voices. We’re snug as a kettle. Relit. Alive.”
It feels important to light the fire to mark this occasion, the revivification of the house. I build the tent of firelighters, rolled newspaper and dried kindling. I strike the match. The fire tucks into the logs with a juicy crack. Warmth begins to spread through old bones of wood and stone. Rooms are strewn with baubles and evergreens. The far kitchen wall will always be slightly damp at the best of times, soaking in the rain like a sea sponge. There is an owl outside; its fluting hoot sounds soft and strangely intimate. Flagstones soften to the imprint of human voices. We’re snug as a kettle. Relit. Alive.
Iona Glen | @glenwoman
Iona lives in London and works in a museum, where the collection provides endless inspiration for stories.