They came after the old lady died. Her family had been the first, back when everything was shiny new, and the smell of fresh paint was thick in the air. Back when there were fields all around and cars were still a hard earned luxury. Way back in the early 1950s, when life was very different, but when some things were still exactly the same. The children pressed their tiny hands into the fresh concrete in the garden, and left their names too for the next family to find. By that time, those children were holding the tiny hands of grandchildren.
Then they arrived; just three of them to begin with.
A small blonde child, not much older than a baby. She had blonde pigtails and a voice which chimed, and called “Mummy” and later, “Daddy.”
They inherited the old lady’s décor: The shock of orange which carpeted the stairs; the glossy, battleship grey woodwork, which was applied to every paintable surface; the salmon pink bathroom suite; the eye-watering, brown, Paisley living room carpet, and the headache inducing, though strangely mesmerising artexed ceiling, which they must have slowly grown to like, because they never got rid of it.
Over the years I watched them transform. I saw life happen.
They became husband and wife. I watched them embrace, with trepidation and delight, outside the bathroom, with the plastic test still clutched in her hand. Then eight months later I watched her clutch his hand, in the early hours of a June morning, before heading off to the hospital. They liked the experience so much they did it too more times, and somewhere in between the arrival of tiny newborn people, they brought a tiny puppy into the house too. Later still, we all watched her bring seven more little lives into the home. Life happened, in all its bloody, painful, majestic, messy glory.
They laughed and cried and screamed and sighed. Tiny feet took their first steps, and they delighted in first belly giggles and smiles. They rocked, and sang, and soothed, and scolded. They read the same stories; uttered the same words, sang the same rhymes, over and over again. They tiptoed across the creaky landing countless times; numerous times, to wipe down fevered brows, dispense spoonfuls of pink, magic, sticky stuff, and croon softly that it's ok…we’re here.
They built snowmen, and planted daffodils. They hunted for eggs, barbecued one hundred burgers, splashed madly in the paddling pool, and applied antiseptic cream to a multitude of scraped knees and elbows.
They taught skinny legs to pedal, and timid little hearts to trust. They baked, and feasted, and celebrated. They blew out candles, popped open pink fizz, and sung birthday greetings, over and over again. Nine times they tiptoed down the stairs in the expectant blackness of a December morning, just to see if he'd been.
I witnessed their agony; their despair and their broken sorrow. I have known their complete joy and happiness, and felt the woman's superstitious terror that something bad would happen to mar it. A few times it did…Illness, redundancy, miscarriage, depression; minor disasters in the story of the world, and small dropped stitches in the tapestry of their lives. Overall, they considered themselves well blessed.
They were just three in number when they arrived, and now they have doubled. The small, blonde child is now an adolescent; no longer chubby cheeked and round, but taller and slim, showing the promise of the woman she will soon become. The man has more greys in his hair, and the woman has crinkles around her blue eyes. They both look weary, and are filled out in a way that only contentment can create.
The rooms are empty, with just trace memories of the family still here; sticky fingerprints on the glass doors, and the indentations of where they slept, pressed into the carpet of every bedroom. Soon, a new family will come here. New children will grow, and laugh, and squabble, and learn, and live.
And I will bear witness to it all.
I will be their shelter…their place of comfort and refuge. Inside these walls they will dwell in safety and they too will transform. They are moving in, and they will carry on moving, for that is the way of it.
I will be watching, for I am not just a house. I am a home, and here is where life does its thing.