Although the autumn day was warm, the drive lay in tree-haunted shadow and the iron gate was chill against my hand; I shivered at the shock of the touch. The estate agent looked back enquiringly.
“I’ve another viewing to go to in an hour,” she said, a little impatiently. She turned and her heels clicked on the tarmac drive as she walked away from the gate. Still with the strange chill in my hand, I followed her. This had been my grandparents’ house, now passed through others’ hands as I grew up and made my career. Now, on a whim, I’d come to view it – for sale yet again. Round the corner of the drive, and there it lay, exactly as I remembered. The windows glowered down the drive at the intruders, here on such a flimsy pretext.
“Come on,” called the middle-aged estate agent as she marched up to the oaken front door patterned with the little black studs I recalled so well. “No one’s been in here for a month. That’s why it’s cold,” she added. But the chill drifting from the hall into the warm sunshine told other stories, and even the agent shivered and tugged at her coat a little. I wasn’t feeling comfortable as the front door closed silently behind me, but she was already off down the hall into the front room, which served as a combination library and dining room. Books ran the length of the longest wall, floor-to-ceiling, as they had done when I last walked into this room. Had it ever changed, as the years fled past?
The chill lessened as I followed her out of the hall and looked around the well-remembered room. All those family Christmases spent here with a roaring fire in the grate, my sister and I wearing those paper hats from the crackers, excited by the presents and games, not noticing the occasional glance above our heads or the odd look shared by the adults.
“Now, upstairs we have three bedrooms and the bathroom,” she read from her clipboard and heel-clicked her way out of the room and up the stairs. I waited, and then just as I had all those years ago, ran up the stairs and into the safety of the front bedroom.
“You’ve found the front bedroom then – needs a bit of modernisation,” she said, and turning her back, went off to the master bedroom. An ancient yet familiar feeling came over me, and I pushed the bedroom door tightly shut. Was that an almost breath on the landing? Not quite a footfall? A heavy velvet curtain hung beside the door for this very purpose, and I pulled it hard across the doorway to seal the room. Her feet, her heels clicking as she fled, started down onto the varnished wooden stairs: reached the half-landing, and stopped abruptly. After counting to ten, I pulled aside the curtain, opened the door and walked firmly and without pause down the echoing, empty stairway, across the hall and out through the open front door, without once looking behind or to either side. The chill air followed me out onto the drive, and the door of the empty house slid shut behind me. The windows glowered as I made my solitary way up the drive. I would never want to own my grandparents’ house.