The old man leaned on the wall and looked at the house. It was, he had to admit, not the prettiest house. It was grey in colour and looked like it should live in a black and white photograph, leaking monochromatically into the sky and trees surrounding it. There were splashes of colour and he took consolation in them – the pale green curtains, the plants in the hanging basket by the door and the yellow daffodil on the painted house name sign – “Ambleside”.
The woman who now occupied the house was visible briefly through the window. She was a widow, who, despite her loneliness, seemed generally happy but today there was more of a bustle about her movement. Her activity indicated that this was the day when her grandchildren would visit her – she always put the tiny tent out in the back garden in summertime and had washed the bedding from the guest rooms. The children’s arrival was bittersweet for him – it reminded him of when he had lived there as a boy. He loved that house, its strange staircase, the odd nooks and crannies to hide in, and the loft that he could climb into and listen to the creaking of its wooden floors when the wind was high. His mother, also a widow, would call him down for tea and he would climb down from the loft and scamper down the staircase following the rising scent of a stew or fresh baked bread.
He was happy with his mum and his house. He loved them both. Then he came. With his superficial charm, his flowers and chocolates, and, later, his drunken rages. Sadness rose in the man’s body as his mind drifted, as it always did, to that night. To the child whose toothache was so bad he couldn’t stop crying despite the shouting from the room next door. “Shut him up, Mary, before I do!” – he knew his mother would be sobbing and that made him cry more.
Shut him up.
Suddenly there were footsteps and the door burst open – the man came in and grabbed him by the arm, dragging him from his narrow bed onto the floor. He could smell the whisky on his breath and feel the hands on his throat, tightening; he could hear the man shouting “SHUT UP!” “SHUT UP!”, his mother screaming, the pain from the rotten tooth drifting away.
He had followed the man to the prison and to the hanging – before they put the hood on he knew that his killer had seen him. The terror in his eyes was more than could be explained by his imminent death. His black soul didn’t linger – the trap opened and he was gone. Shut him up.
He was always sad that his mother couldn’t see him – couldn’t watch him growing up to be a man. She had moved away and he tried to follow but the house always drew him back. He barely left the house now, except to potter around the garden, as he was doing now. He loved this house and, as he entered what would be his ninetieth year, he wondered how much longer he would be here. He never wanted to leave – he wanted to be together with the house, forever.
Tim Fellows is a software development manager from Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He is a writer of poems based mainly on the themes of mining, war (and peace), and social justice. Much of his inspiration comes from his own family history – and its future via his three children and two grandchildren – and from folk and roots music.