I put the key in the lock and the door resists being opened, swollen with recent rain, causing it to stick in its frame. As I push against it, I muse ruefully on why it couldn’t have sealed itself in its frame during the winter, thereby halting the freezing wind whistling round the edges and down the corridor towards the kitchen. The cloying smell of damp mixed with sickly sweet air fresheners hits me as I step in and I exhale loudly, the only sound in the house. It took weeks to clear the air of ‘fresh peach’ or somesuch, even after I took down the ghastly curtains which reeked of it and bagged them up in the attic when we moved in but I was never able to rid the smell of damp which pervaded in the study and bedrooms and I could sometimes smell the house 20 kilometres away when I was in the car as it clung on my clothes. Windows were opened timorously as there was a fair chance the glass would fall out in a welcome breeze. The ghastly curtains now hang again but there are no clothes hanging in the wardrobe. There is little furniture here now and none of it is ours. The house is empty.
I check for any post which is ostensibly why I still have a key and wander in to the study and am, as always, taken aback how gloomy it is. Little light reaches through the window. Outside the back door the lavender is in full bloom and I tut as I see that the small crab apple tree, awash with blossom a few months ago and recently showing a mass of tiny fruits, has been rather brutally pruned. It’s quiet, there is no clicking sound which came from the pair of breeding black redstarts which nested in a crevice in the barn wall and I hope their young all made it. Up the steps, the grass is long and looks more lush than I ever saw it before. The marestail has started poking its spiky leaves up through the gravel of the seating area again where my sisters and I sat and drank tea in the unusually warm early evenings at the end of March. The tree I planted is still there and I breathe a sigh of relief – this house is no longer my home, it’s nobody’s home at the moment but the A Vendre sign at the front an open plea by the owners that soon it will be. I’ll then no longer have a key and will not be able to check for post, a ruse really for my real purpose. The tree was the second thing I planted in this garden, my cat the first and it would be fair to say I had a huge problem with what felt like leaving him and hoping he’d be safe under his tree. I had, and still have, a huge problem with the fact that he’s gone.
“I think he’s gone back to Somerset” I told Joe Brown a while ago. “Well, I like to think he has anyway”. Back from whence he came, back to when he was robust and hefty.
I turn and leave, pulling the front door to and double-lock it. In the car, I drive in silence – no radio tuned to a French radio station to aid in attuning my British ears to another language, no music. I always drive away from the House on the Hill now in silence.
The Tangerine House sits in a small village a kilometre or two down a winding road which opens out to the valley as you reach the bottom. Bizarrely, it was the first house Joe Brown and I looked at when we came to the Small Country in December 2010, a month before he started his new job. I’d snickered at the very notion of potentially living in a tangerine house which was newly built and therefore not our style at all although we both almost reluctantly admitted we quite liked it. We rejected it largely due to the size of the garden which, compared to the garden in Blighty, looked pitiful. We have since learned that here this is classed as reasonable.
The walls in the living room are now white – tangerine on the outside is one thing, inside was not acceptable – and mid-morning, the sideways light causes a checkered pattern to appear on the walls from the marble tiles on the floor. The study has blinds to shade the bright light so we can see our computer screens. There are plants in the front garden, some of which came with us from Blighty which never got planted at the House on the Hill. I think I knew fairly soon I didn’t want to stay there. I’ve bought roses. I still sometimes find fine strands of cat hair, unmistakeably familiar with their tabby ring of white at the tip.
The windows are large and I spend time watching clouds scud across the open sky, of late dropping rain on distant villages before reaching here. In the evenings, we sometimes sit on the terrace with glasses of cidre, occasionally visited by a pair of black redstarts. Three cows of varying hues of gold mooch around the field at the back of the house, the open view beyond the low garden fence sweeping upwards. Westerly winds hiss through the dense line of trees up in the distance and it sometimes sounds like the sea. In the twilight one evening, Joe Brown mused that the snorts and puffing emissions from the cows could be mistaken for passing whales in a darkening green ocean.