On the side of the kitchen cupboard that faces the door there are a series of lines, marking the changing heights of all the kids that lived there. It’s a steady progression, up and up and up, levelling off I’d guess in the teenage years, except for one line way above the others – a good few feet, almost at the ceiling.
‘Jesse did that’ says Ange, laughing. ‘He stood on a chair. Although – to be fair – he probably didn’t need to.’
Bill, the father to all these kids, is sitting impressively at the kitchen table, quite possibly the very chair Jesse used. He’s still and watchful, with a head of hair and beard so full and pure and white it’s like watching snow clouds gather on a craggy peak.
‘I don’t like all this,’ he says.
‘I know, pops,’ says Ange, giving him a squeeze that he tolerates stiffly. ‘I know. But it’s like we said. Remember? Things have got to change. You’re not as young as you used to be.’
She looks at me and smiles. ‘Let’s face it. None of us are.’
It’s an eerie feeling, sitting in that kitchen. At one time it must have been the centre of the house, the first and main room commanding the hallway, which itself leads off into a honeycomb of other rooms. Spilling down into the hallway is a bare, broad staircase whose handrail and boards are smoothed from decades of hands and footsteps. Everything is shadowy, now. Haunted – and quiet, too, with that deep and settled kind of quiet that makes your ears ring.
There’s a knock on the front door. Ange gets up to show in a couple of guys from the equipment department who’ve been tasked to fit a handrail up the stairs on the other side. They get straight to it, and soon the old house rattles with an intensity of drilling and shouted instruction.
Bill winces, directs his attention out into the garden, so wild it’s like the whole world is green and spilling over everything, advancing in a wave. He buries his focus somewhere out there.
Ange gives him another squeeze.
‘Mum would’ve said the same,’ she says.
He doesn’t reply.