Empty Walls

For the third time in half an hour she stared at the flowers with a sense of childish wonder.
“Are they mine?” she asked, her eyes fixed on the vase by the window. She didn’t wait for a reply before remarking;
“They’re pretty.”
She turned form the flowers to the cabinet by the door and took a sip of her orange juice. Her mind had already wandered, briefly forgotten the flowers, and was now focused on her purse. It was a stubborn purse, ancient, it should have been thrown out years ago but refused. Her hands shook as she clutched the worn leather and opened it to reveal a twenty pence coin. She was not shocked that there was so little in the purse and without thinking about it put forward her bony hands offering the coin to the girl sitting on the bed.
“No thanks.” the girl said trying to seem grateful for the offering.
The hand retreated and with a slight look of disappointment she turned around and placed the purse back on it’s cabinet. There was a moment of silence as she scanned the room, her face was like a blank canvas absorbing everything she saw. The girl was used to it, it was the same every week. They would have a brief conversation, light topics, before repeating it several times. It didn’t matter, it was being there that counted, at least that’s what she told herself. This was the time to make up for the past and start fresh but of course it could never be the same, never be truly mended.
Her eyes had wandered back to the flowers, she moved to them and stroked their withering petals.
“Are they mine?”
“Yes Gran, they’re yours.”

The last few years had been tough on Steph, she was only seventeen but had already witnessed death, depression, cancer and now dementia try to tear her family apart. Dementia. The disease that had claimed her Gran two years ago was at it’s worst. Steph had watched as her Gran was consumed and overthrown by the disease and now on her weekly visits she could not help but feel she was visiting a shell; a hollowed out, diluted version of her Gran, not the strong, at times infuriating woman she remembered.
While emptying her Grandmother’s house Steph had found a box of old photographs, a box bursting with memories. The first photo she pulled from the box was Steph as a child, maybe five or six years old. She was at the local park just round the corner from her Gran’s house. This picture brought back one of Steph’s most vivid memories: It was the summer holidays and Steph had been stuck in the house with her Grandparents all day, she was sick of watching the old movies on TV and waiting on her mother to come home so when her friend knocked on the door and asked her to go out she jumped at the chance to escape. She couldn’t remember why but her Papa had not wanted her to go, he gave her half an hour and if she wasn’t back by then he was going to go out and find her. Of course half an hour had passed and Steph had no intention of leaving her friends, she decided to test the limits. As she pushed herself forward on the swing she glanced at the street opposite the play park and saw her Papa striding towards her, she turned her head and pretended not to see him. Ten minutes later she began to wonder why her Papa had not reached her and forced her back home. She took another glance at the street but he was nowhere to be seen. She had a bad feeling and was scared she was in  trouble so left her friends and made her way back to the house. As she gingerly opened the door to her Gran’s house she heard a ruckus coming from the living room. When she entered she saw her Papa stretched out on the sofa, blood pouring from his nose, he had fallen at the park. The two strangers who had helped him home swiftly left and Steph was left with her stern Grandmother. She was ushered to the kitchen and received a powerful telling off by her statue of a Gran. She never tested the limits again.
This was the Gran that Steph had grown up with, struggled with and fought with. This was the Gran she loved.
The next picture that Steph grasped in the box was an old one, it was worn and in black and white and showed children wearing old fashioned clothes playing in a field. This reminded Steph of the stories her Gran would tell on the long afternoons after her Papa died and her Mum began working late. She would tell Steph the stories of her childhood, what it was like growing up in the steelworks, witnessing the end of the war and the mischief she would cause at school. The tears of laughter would gather in the lines of her face, her joy was infectious and glowing. She had never seen her Gran so happy.
After this came the darker days and there were no pictures to describe those.
The day her Gran had been told of her brother’s death Steph saw for the first time true sadness and grief exude from her usually cold Grandmother. The tears did not gather on her face, they poured down it like a flood destroying everything in it’s path. They were tainted with the anguish and regret of a broken and distant relationship. Steph had never seen her Grandmother so exposed, so raw and she never would again.
Even on the day she discovered her cancer she did not flinch, she merely wheeled into the living room and sternly announced it to a shocked daughter and granddaughter. She wore that solemn, stern attitude throughout her treatment and recovery. Steph had never known such a figure of strength. It was a quality she admired and hoped she would gain someday.
As she pulled a portrait of her Gran as a young woman from the box Steph thought of the last memory she held. The days when things began to unravel.
Her mother had left in a rush at four o’clock one morning and Steph did not find out until the next day that her Gran had suffered a bad fall and that she was not recovering as quickly as usual. When she visited with her mother a day later she could immediately see the change in the old woman. Her face was blank, eyes wide and mouth gaping. Her hands shook when she attempted to drink her tea and she was timid, afraid of her own house and unsure of herself. This was the point when Steph realised that her Gran was slipping away. A month later she was moved into permanent care.


They had been emptying the house for two weeks, slowly stripping it of it’s heart and soul, reducing it to a shell. An echo of their past. Her mother was exhausted, the years of stress had taken their toll, but seeing the house empty a look of calm washed over her. She didn’t have to worry anymore. As Steph closed the door on the house that had seen so much she could not help but feel something was left behind; The strength and dignity of her Grandmother, the memories of a happy family and the frozen imprint of a fractured relationship.


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