In later life she’d found that she spent a lot of time browsing through memories. She’d dwell on short synapses of childhood incidents, the few she could remember, at least, the good and bad times of early marriage and raising the family. Latterly she’d been thinking a lot about George’s illness and then his passing.
That’s what had brought her up to the attic; she hadn’t been up there for years. She’d had no need to visit the neglected rooms at the top of the old house, and frankly, these days, climbing the stairs as far as her bedroom was effort enough. She was feeling lonely and yearned for the days when the house was filled with the laughter of children and the barking of dogs. Even Tilly had left her now to be with George. She’d like the company of another dog but she always felt that they were such a responsibility. What would happen to a young dog if she wasn’t there any longer? The kids had little enough time for her with their busy lives and social involvements; they wouldn’t welcome the responsibility of taking over a family pet if she suddenly ended her days on earth.
What had she been looking for in the attic, exactly? She chuckled to herself and said aloud that by the time she’d climbed all those stairs she couldn’t remember. Visual memories, she supposed. Photographs of course, letters written decades earlier, pictures the kids had lovingly drawn for her.
She soon found an old tin full of paper and crayoned passageways to the past. The sight of the old wicker peacock-chair wrenched at her heart. It had been up here for almost thirty years. She’d sat in that chair with gentle music playing while she gave Jenny her night-feeds. This had been her favourite time, sitting in the calming nursery through the dead of night with her newborn pulling at her breast. She took the tin over to the chair. It was positioned near the window and she felt that the light might be better there. Her eyes were fading along with her memory. Dust nodes floated in the air around her and attached themselves to the cobwebs floating in the corners of the room. She felt the dust settling on her chest and coughed several times before deciding to open the window just a crack. It was stiff with lack of use and, at first she didn’t think that it was going to give. She was frail now and was ready to give up when the latch gave and the soft summer breeze let itself into the room. She pulled her shawl around her shoulders. She didn’t want to catch a chill.
She didn’t remember the chair ever being this unyielding. As she went through the mementoes in the box she stiffened quickly and her bones didn’t mould into the bends of the wicker like they used to. A photograph of the kids playing as children rested in her lap. She felt her eyes growing heavy and she lay her head against one of the wings. This was another symptom of the illness of the passing of years; she couldn’t get through the day without dosing off in her armchair.
Her eyes were closing as she became aware of the buzzing noise in her ear. A wasp had come in through the window. It was a big one and it batted itself noisily against the filthy window pane. She watched as it became covered in the filaments of the dusty webs. She was half interested to see if it would manage to extract itself or if it would become stuck and die. If it had been a butterfly she might have been inclined to help it escape if that was the case, she didn’t like wasps and didn’t care if it lived or died as long as it kept out of her way. As it was, she needn’t have worried, not that she was worried about the wasp. The webs had no substance. They were much like her life. The wasp continued to bat against the window and he continued to lose herself in her memories, not really awake, not really sleep, maybe not really there. Her life had ended ten years ago, her body was just too pig-headed to realise it
She found herself thinking about her Uncle Frank. He had been her dad’s brother, long since dead and forgotten. It bemused her that he should pop into her mind, she hadn’t given him a thought in years. She’d liked her Uncle Frank. He always used to bring her little toys and enjoyed playing with her in the garden when she’d been a little girl. If he hadn’t been her only uncle he would definitely have been a favourite. He went away before she’d joined senior school and although she wracked her tired brain, she couldn’t remember why. Maybe she’d never known. He just left and went to live in Australia. She only saw him a couple of time after that and he’d died out there a long time ago.
Her eyes were fully closed now; she was unable to open them and didn’t really want to. It was uncomfortable in the chair and she would suffer for it later but sleep was taking her over and like most afternoons at this time she was powerless to resist its call.
She was in the car with Uncle Frank. It was just the two of them and they were singing The Cows Kicking Ellie, in the Belly, in the barn at the top of their voices. She dissolved into giggles and Uncle Frank took his eyes off the road to grin at her. He patted her on the knee.
They were at Brighton-on-Sea. She had on a swimming costume with a little skirt attached and her hair hung past her shoulders in wet ringlets. Uncle Frank kept picking her out of the water and throwing her away in the surf. Sometimes she went all the way under the water, but she wasn’t scared because Uncle Frank was with her. He taught her to swim that week and he always watched over her very closely.
They were in her bedroom. Uncle Frank was babysitting. She was screaming at the top of her voice. He held her tightly, hugging her to him. He was trying to stroke her hair but she was struggling against him. He was talking to her in a soft, gentle voice as he took off her cardigan and began to undo the top buttons of her blouse. She kept telling him to stop. She was crying very hard and struggling to get off his knee, but Uncle Frank was very strong. His fingers were wet and he was touching her inside her top. She couldn’t get away.
Her eyes opened very wide. She looked around the attic, almost as if she expected Frank to be there in front of her. She felt sick. Her eyes were stinging with unshed tears. Where had the horrible memory come from? She’d always been very fond of Uncle Frank. He’d never have hurt her. Would he? Why had she spent so much time alone with him when she was little? Had he orchestrated that? Where were her parents? She’s always been so fond of him. She’d had an idyllic childhood; her memories were all happy ones. They were a close knit family.
She wasn’t abused as a child, she couldn’t be. Abused children were dirty with unkempt hair and runny noses. They wore skirts that they’d outgrown and were too small for them. They weren’t children with red coats trimmed with black velvet collars.
She searched back in her memory, urging her mind to take her back to that time. She couldn’t really recall the features of his face. What did he look like? Did he have a kind face or did his eyes give away a darker side to him? Did he have secrets? Was she his sordid, dirty secret? She couldn’t remember. The more she tried to force herself back to her childhood the more the images stubbornly refused to form themselves. She was distressed.
She couldn’t remember the car rides. She couldn’t remember him touching her under cover of the sea. Why had he suddenly gone away? She was distressed. She felt a pain burning in her chest. She clutched at her throat unable to breathe. The sudden movement caused the chair to tipple, it was falling and she was going down with it.
She was on the floor now. So much pain… and the wasp …. The wasp was still buzzing. Darkness was coming. The pain was easing … she was slipping… away.
She was in her bedroom. She was with Uncle Frank. They were lying on her bed and he was reading her a story. The window was open. A wasp was buzzing on the window.
And then it stung her.
Uncle Frank pulled her onto his knee. She was screaming in terror and pain. He cuddled her close, talking to her calmly as she fought and struggled against him. He stoked her hair with one hand as he took off her cardigan. Still holding her tightly to him, he undid the first two buttons of her blouse, only two. He opened the collar of her top and looked at the raised pimple just beside her throat where her skin was already reacting against the wasp sting. He spat on his finger and rubbed it gently over the sore all the while telling her that it was going to be all right. He was going to make it all right.
She couldn’t hear the wasp anymore. She loved her Unlce Frank and she wondered if he’d be there to greet her along with her parents and George and, dear old Tilly the terrier.