Christina went to sleep in Ricky’s arms, but woke with a gulf of space between them, the blankets completely off and the sheet twisted up like a rope on her side, evidence of another bad night. She had convinced herself that it was getting worse because it was such a stressful time, that as soon as they were in the new house, and she in her new job that everything would be ok.
But there was no new house, Ricky still didn’t have a job there either. Maybe today she could make some progress with it all, ease some of the stress. Resolved, she righted her side of the bed, had a shower and sat down with a cup of coffee to scan property websites.
There only seemed to be one main estate agents serving the area and their website was pretty useless, full of pictures that wouldn’t load and scrambled text. She decided to give them a ring. Explained her situation to them.
The woman she spoke to was very helpful, and the news seemed promising. Plenty of terraced houses, all with gardens, all affordable.
‘… Though there is one property that stands out if you an your partner both drive… and if your prepared to do a little modernising.’
‘Is there a picture on your website?’ Christina asked.
‘Well yes, but you’ve seen our website! It’s a two bedroom cottage with a bit of land, more like a smallholding really, it’s a good ten to fifteen mile drive from the village but the views are stunning and it’s very peaceful. We’re quiet today, so if you want to drive down I could give you a viewing this afternoon.’
It sounded perfect. She preferred old houses so much more than new builds. It felt as if you were living inside a mystery, an anthology of stories hinted at in the fibre of the house, but that you could never fully know. She could grow her own fruit and veg, just like grandma had. She even started to think about children playing in the garden. It was so exciting that she’d probably burst waiting to see it, especially as the website almost certainly wouldn’t deliver with a picture.
‘I’ll do it’ she said ‘I’ll call you when I get there… yes I have your address. Bye’
Just as she hung up her mobile rang it was Sandy.
‘Hey girl how are you feeling?’
‘I feel absolutely fine! You fancy coming for a drive? I’m going to view a house, well a cottage to be exact.’ She squealed excitedly.
‘Isn’t Ricky going with you?’ Sandy asked, her meaning clear.
‘No I haven’t told him, and before you kick off, he’s not too enthusiastic about this move and I don’t want to take him to see a wreck of a house, I want to check it out first so that when he first goes he can see how good it could be.’
Christina felt she’d had enough silent drives to last her a lifetime. It didn’t matter what Sandy wanted to talk about as long as she talked. That was pretty much guaranteed.
She picked Sandy up at the corner of her street where she stood in a ski jacket, with her handbag and a flask.
‘Roads are still pretty icy’ She offered Christina the chance to back out of the potentially difficult drive. When Cristina didn’t reply she smiled.
‘I brought hot chocolate.’ Sandy said waving the flask.
‘It’ll be fine when we get on the motorway, besides the sky is blue, the sunshine will melt it as we go along’ Nothing could bring her mood down right now.
It took just under two hours to reach the estate agents, and then another twenty-five minutes down country lanes and roads barely used by anything other than tractors until they reached the cottage.
It was as if the house had dropped from the sky and nestled into the round-topped little hills. Vibrant green grass with icy white clinging to its blades surrounded the house to the front and beyond the back garden was a wood.
‘Oh it’s so beautiful.’ Sandy gasped as they pulled up behind the front door. Christina had gone grey in the passengers seat. The whole place was familiar and pulling up to the front door she was plagued with a sense of de ja vu. ‘You’re loosing the plot’ she repeated to herself. ‘It can’t be the same house.’
‘Hell if this is what you can get for your money out here I might even move!’ Sandy chirped on, putting Christina’s quiet demeanour to being overwhelmed by the house, it was like a scene from the front of a chocolate box, so quaint, so precious, the sort of place people dreamed of escaping the city and sitting in front of a roaring log fire in.
The estate agent strode ahead to unlock the door while the two friends followed in silence, drinking in the atmosphere of the place, though for different reasons. Stepping inside the front door Christina felt confused, she’d never spent much time in the front of the house and she knew the only way to be sure was to see the kitchen. She pushed passed the women in the hallway, almost knocking the pleasant estate agent off her feet as she began her script about original period features.
‘Christina…’ Sandy chastised and called after her as she disappeared through the hallway.
Shock pinned her completely to the spot and she was unable to move even a muscle. Her eyes wouldn’t even blink and her lips wouldn’t move despite the groan that wanted to force it’s way out. She didn’t know what she should feel, whether she should be happy or sad, she just felt as though someone had torn a void into her chest. She was stood in grandma’s kitchen and it almost smelt the same as it had before.
Sandy had followed her and seeing Christina was clearly distressed she hugged her arms around her shoulders.
‘What is it?’ She coaxed.
‘Grandma’ was all Christina could manage to bleat out, only managing to enunciate half the syllables.
Sandy turned to the estate agent, who hovered bewildered in the doorway. ‘Lets get you sat down…. Maybe you could show us to the living room.’
She poured some of the hot chocolate out into the plastic cup and tried to hand it to Christina, she recognised the symptoms of shock and wanted to get some sugar inside her friend.
Christina just sat on the old floral print sofa with her face in her hands, hunched over sobbing into her palms. The estate agent had no idea how to react and so looked out the window allowing the emotional scene to run its course.
Eventually Christina reached into her pocket for a handkerchief and dried her face, dabbing at the now blotchy skin. She could explain to Sandy later but this poor lady had gone out of her way to give Christina a viewing and it would be impolite to leave now.
It was only when she looked up that she noticed that the pictures that lined the walls and adorned the mantle piece were mostly of her mother, some as a young girl, some as a teenager, and some as a really very attractive young woman. The room was like a storyboard of her mother before Christina was born. Dotted here and there were also pictures of Christina as a child, playing in the garden, or sat at the stove reading, there was one where she had her sleeves rolled up with an oversized apron protecting her from the cloud of flour that surrounded her. She was grinning through the powdery fog right at the camera and she remembered the day so clearly, helping grandma to bake bread in the early morning.
She felt as though she had fallen off the edge of the world, nothing was real, nothing made sense. The house was in too good a state of repair to have stood empty for all those years since grandma had died, but who else would have left all these pictures up? Physically shaking now, summoning every last dreg of strength she had left, she addressed the estate agent.
‘The previous owner?’ She asked.
‘Hmm?’ The estate agent had been distracted ‘Oh, an old lady who had lived alone and passed away just over a month ago, she kept the gardens right up until she died, incredible woman really to live so independently right up to the end.’
‘Her name?’ Christina forced the words passed the lump in her throat and braced herself for the answer.
‘Valmai Cotter, I believe, did you know her?’
‘She was my grandmother’ Christina answered through gritted teeth; the tears came like a waterfall.