The Peace Rose
The tip of my tongue runs over my dry lips as I twist my aching neck from side to side. The trowel slips from my fingers as I rise from the freshly dug flower bed. Soon the scarlet Bleeding Hearts will bloom. The fall of my shadow on the rough path, and the burning sun on my bare flesh, indicative of the day drifting away. My hand lingers on the curve of my back. As I knead the tense muscle, I turn towards the frosted glass patio table only to discover my glass of freshly made lavender lemonade, is empty. With a shrug, and a slight smile, I absorb my handiwork. The garden is no longer the jungle of dead plants and overgrown grass it was when we moved in.
As a child, we always holidayed in the same village, year after year, and as we drove down the street, this house would draw me in. My hunger to feast on its beauty, intense until I had fed my curiosity. An old couple lived here then, and although I often dreamt about the house, I never believed it would be in my grasp, or I would own it.
I was scrolling through several online estate agencies when I stumbled across the house. My fingers had hesitated over the mouse, and soon I found myself flipping through photograph after photograph, devouring every detail on show. On impulse, I emailed the brokers. It was only as I was flickering through the brochure; I noticed the original asking price had been dropped and was well within our budget. It hadn’t been easy to convince, Ian; the house was a great buy. The battle had been long and heated until he finally came around to the idea of moving. The kids had baulked when I mention moving to the county. That was until I booked a short getaway and showed them the house. Then everyone fell in love with the old, three-storey, red stone house. Especially Si and Carl when they were told they would have their own bedroom. That was three months ago. A month later, the house was ours.
As my gaze roams over the house, a curtain wafts through the attic window. I don’t remember opening the window, and know if I don’t close it now, I’ll forget to do it later. Three flights of steep stairs have me inhaling deeply, and it takes several moments to steady my thumping heart before I attempt to open the attic door. At first it refuses to budge and with the full weight of my body, I lean hard against the wooden panelling. As it gives, I stumble into the room, and draw in a large breath. The pale cream curtain lies dormant against the unloved wall, and as I close the window, a shiver runs through me when cool fingers stroke the indent of my spine. Although I haven’t seen or heard a car pull up; I expect to find Ian, or one of the kids standing behind me. The smile I muster in greeting, slips when I turn and discover no-one is there. That’s when I hear the rattle of feet on the faded wooden floor.
‘Rats.’ I mutter loudly as another quiver runs through me as I close the door. ‘I better ring Ian and tell him to collect some traps on his way home.’
The television blares as Ian watches the Footie, and I lie spread out on the sofa, studying my toes. Wiggling them occasionally whilst waiting for the dark, glittering purple nail polish to dry. As I watch my toes, I swallow a healthy amount of my dry cider. The crispiness of the sparkling cool amber liquid tickles the back of my throat. It’s Saturday night, and the house is quiet for the first time in weeks. Carl and Libby are out with their friends, and Si is in his room, with Deezer, the recently rescued dog of an unidentifiable breed. My gaze wanders over to Ian. Several cans of beer lay scattered on the table. Some are empty. His fingers are wrapped in his shaggy brown hair.
‘How long do you think the peace will last?’
This isn’t an idle question to pass the time. Recently, strange things have begun to happen, and as I watch Ian, waiting for his answer, I wonder if he, or one of the kids has begun to gaslight me. It’s a phase, I recently read about on one of the social media sites. How else could I explain what’s happening?
‘Until the twins come home.’
‘Faith, Ian – Have faith.’
‘Yeah – We’ll see.’ His gaze comes to rest on me. His blue eyes intent as he studies me. ‘Did you move my work stuff from the office?’
The term, office, is used loosely, as we all have access to the multi-functioning room. Not only does Ian use it, and the kids for homework, it’s also the dining room and my craft room. My heart stills. The remains of the Chinese, I’d picked up on the way home from work, and their wrappers, lie strewn over the table.
‘No – Is something missing?’
‘No -Maybe the kids moved my report.’ Ian rolls his shoulders as he gives a slight shake of his head.
‘They haven’t been in the study today.’
‘It doesn’t matter – It’s probably in my briefcase.’
Ian’s report isn’t the first thing to go missing since we moved into the house. Things began to go astray about a month ago. Usually it’s my stuff. At first. I thought I was misplacing them. My car keys, glasses. The odd shopping list. Then more items began to disappear. Only to turn up in odd places. About a week ago, I found the silver earrings, Ian had given me for Christmas a few years ago, in the cutlery drawer. I’d put them back in the cream and floral jewellery box Libby had made me for my last birthday, only to find them back in the cutlery drawer a couple of days later.
My first thoughts had gone to Si. That he was playing games with me after I’d told him he wasn’t allowed to go camping with some friends one weekend. It was after that incident, he started acting up, refusing to go to bed. The excuses mounted until we’d given in and redecorated his bedroom to his liking. Tonight, is his first night in the newly decorated room, and nothing is going to ruin the evening I have planned.
‘There’s something going on, Ian.’
‘What do you mean?’ Ian lowers the volume on the television. It’s halftime, and his attention is all mine for the next fifteen minutes.
‘It’s this house.’
His left eyebrow rises as he finishes his beer
‘-It was you who wanted this house – If I remember. You begged for us to buy it.’
‘I know – But did you ever wonder why it was going so cheap.’
‘The last owners wanted a quick sale.’
‘I bet – but didn’t you ever wonder why.’
‘He got a job offer….’
My gaze shifts to Si as he blunders into the lounge.
‘What is it.’
‘I heard something in the attic.’
My sigh is wry as I swing my legs to the ground and rise from the sofa.
‘It’s probably rats – Ian did you set the traps?’
Ian’s involved in his game again and grunts.
‘No, Mum – It sounded more like someone calling me.’
The games are getting out of hand, and once more my gaze shifts to Ian. With a shake of my head, I turn away. Libby complained of hearing voices the same night I asked if any of them had been in the attic when the window had been opened.
Taking Si by the hand, I lead him back to his room. His laptop lies on the bed. His screensaver of Corey Taylor, the lead singer from Slip Knot flashes at me. At eleven, Si’s music tastes are a far cry from my own.
‘You heard whispering over your music.’
My gaze drifts over the room. The bedroom window is shut, and the clothes he wore earlier, are in a heap on the floor
‘There’s nothing here. Si.’
‘There it goes again.’
‘There goes what?’
‘The voice, Mum. Didn’t you hear it?’
‘It’s an old house. There’s bound to be the odd noises we don’t understand. Old pipes creaking with an air lock, or something trapped in them.’
Just then, a scurrying from above, catches my attention.
‘You’ll be fine, Si.’
‘Where are you going?’
I don’t bother to look at Si as I move towards the door.
‘To the attic to check on those traps your dad set – What are you doing.’
Si’s behind me. His green eyes wide as his gaze sweeps pass me.
‘I’m coming with you.’
The door to the attic opens without any problems, and Si and I enter the room.
‘Shit! – Did you open the window.’
Si shakes his head. He pushes his body up against mine as his fingers cling to my hand.
‘No. I don’t like coming up here on my own.’
After I close the window, my gaze wanders around the room. Since moving into the house, we haven’t touched this room. Our boxes, the ones we’ve not unpacked are stored in the garage. The attic has its own belonging. I turn to Si, and smile.
‘How about tomorrow, you and I sort out these boxes, and dump this stuff.’
As I watch Si, his lip trembles, and something brushes against my arm. I turn, but there is nothing there.
Si, and I have the house to ourselves. Carl and Ian have gone to play soccer for the local village team, and Libby has gone swimming with a couple of her girlfriends and will not return until after lunch.
‘Okay, Si. Let’s get rid of this junk.’
The sun streams into the room and I open the window to clear the musty smell. The cool air, fresh against my clammy flesh.
‘How come you’re looking in the boxes, Mum. If it’s just junk.’
‘You never know what treasure you’ll come across – You’ve seen Cash in the Attic.’
‘Ha, ha – You’re funny.’
Si opens one of the discarded boxes. His hands nimble as he tears at brittle tape. Once the box is open, he digs into the box, pulling out a couple of scrapbooks, flickering through them.
‘Who’s this woman, Mum.’
I keep hold of the diary I’m thumbing through and make my way over to Si. When I glance at the book, I discover it’s full of newspaper clippings of the same woman. The year at the top of the page, 1979. My fingers shake, and my stomach churns as I flip through the pages. The woman with her green eyes and brown hair, is familiar, although I don’t remember meeting her.
‘It’s okay. I just need a drink.’ And I don’t mean lemonade – Not on its own, anyway.
‘She looks like Aunt Debbie.’
‘Yeah, she does.’ My voice is nothing more than a whisper. The resemblance is faint. The same quirk of the red lips as my sister’s. The green eyes, the same slant and shade. My mum died a year after I was born. I never met her. I don’t remember her, but I have devoured all her photographs. Her image imprinted in my brain. Dad, and Gran, said she died of cancer. Yet the articles I’m reading, talks about a disappearance. That she went missing after a fight with her husband, and her body has never been recovered.
My fingers move with haste as I tip the box. They tremble when I push aside screwed up newspaper. My mouth grows drier when I come across a luminous orange top. The same style as the one in the photograph. Beneath it, is a pair of faded pale blue jeans. Cool air heavy with the fresh scent of roses, surrounds me as I hear my name carried on the breeze.
My body refuses to move, I don’t want to face my past.
‘Jen.’ It comes again. My body shakes as I rise. My stomach twists whilst bile forms at the back of my throat. As a child, I’d hungered to own this house whenever I came to visit the friendly village. When I’d played in the garden, tended to the rose bush, Harry James, planted for my sixth birthday, I’d dreamt of owning this house.
My feet drag me to the window. I search for the bush. I know where it is. It’s the only plant I saved when I began to restore the garden.
I couldn’t look away. She stands there. Her green gaze intense as she stares up at the window. Her eyes pleading, whilst she fondles a yellow and peach rose. My favourite rose. The Peace Rose.