I stare at the thin sliver of yellow light in the upstairs window as it escapes from behind the drapes. Tears smart and a silver coil swirls from my lips as I rub my gloved hands together. I run my finger along the rusted gate, watching shards of frost gather and drop. The pounding in my chest threatens to fell me and it takes every ounce of resolve to move my leaden legs and walk away.
My boots clump on the glittering, early morning pavement, as they have every day this week. I retrace yesterday’s footprints to the end of the street and slide round the corner. There, against the rows of garage doors, I give in to my tears and feel the sting of warmth roll down my frozen cheeks. Dark spots appear on my mackintosh, and my hands shake as I lift them to my face.
I gather wits and wipe away tears, and push away from the wall. I walk a familiar path, decorated with the ghost of my little, pink bicycle speeding uninhibited around the corner, and I smile. Children’s voices dance in my recollection and thirty-year-old pictures invade the street, warming up the cold morning, bathing the pavement in tinged faded memories of childhood.
As I reach the gate, upstairs curtains shift. A tempest whirls within my heart as I stand by the gate. The curtain drops and I push the gate open. Metal screeches against the ground, like it always did, and I flinch as it echoes across the sleepy neighbourhood. I drag my feet up the path and try not to slip on my rubbery legs. The door is new, white and plastic, not blue and broken.
A light snaps on behind the door and it takes everything I have not to turn and flee. Nausea rises, my stomach churns and I’m breathless. My hands shake, and I shiver with more than the frosty morning chill.
I imagine her face, lined and old, but familiar and…and what? It had been almost twenty years since I left; my soft, compliant hand in the firm grip of a social worker. I’d gone without a fight, because I’d had no fight left.
Now the door opens and I stare. She stands in a stark flood of light. I swallow, my throat as dry as the desert, and choke out something incomprehensible.
She places a hand on my arm. “Are you alright?” she asks in an alien voice.
“You’ve stopped outside every day this week,” she continues.
I nodded again.
“Have you got the right address?” Her face is gentle with concern. “Come on in, you look shattered.”
I shake my head. “Mrs Fenwick…”
She shakes her head. “No one here by that name.” She gazes past me. “Maybe…several tenants ago.”
“Do you know where..?”
She shakes her head again. “I’m sorry my love, past my time, and old Mrs Davies, next door, passed away, so she won’t know, and the Andrews are gone too…”
I step back, my feet almost tripping over each other.
“Won’t you come in? It’s so cold out there.”
I shake my head and sniff. I want this lady’s arms around me.
“Who was she?” asks the lady.
I shake my head again and I rush away down the old familiar path, the words barely making it out of my mouth as I run. “My mother…”