THE RETURN – a short story by Janet Bucknall
Nothing was as it appeared to be, not the road that led to the house, not the house itself, nor the garden and certainly not the occupants, who were waiting on the steps by the front door. This was not a good beginning, but then Jane was feeling more like she was coming to the end of something, rather than the start.
No, she decided, looking around, thoroughly confused. It wasn’t that things were not as they appeared to be, more like that nothing was as it should be. She double-checked the name on the gatepost. Yes, it still said ‘Marshall House’, it was definitely the right place.
She started to walk slowly on the unfamiliar pebbles of the drive. Her feet sinking and slipping on the smooth round surfaces. It was so awkward to walk on and looked so ugly – like an industrial beach! Where was the lovely driveway that was here before? Red and cream bricks, laid out in a geometric pattern, looked so pleasing to the eye and much nicer to walk on. She looked in vain for her Father’s pride and joy, the D-shaped shrubbery down by the garden wall. It had been lovingly tended by him, and their part-time gardener, Mr Deans. The bed had been full of laurels, myrtles and, her particular favourite, lilacs. Her mother had filled the house with the beautiful lilac flowers in the summer. The central rose bed, which was her mother’s, had gone too. The air had been redolent with their sweet, but subtle, scent on warm summer evenings. In its place was a garish statue of a golden dolphin, surrounded by a small pond. There was not one thing growing in this barren sea of stones!
A few steps further, and Jane stopped to view the front of the house. She shook her head in disbelief, again it was all so different. In her day, the house had been pretty and inviting, even from the outside. Warm red bricks, with an occasional row of cream ones for decoration, an imposing pointed arch porch, and a grey slate roof. The large bays, with sash windows, had stained glass mullions, which matched the front door. All the windows had the same pointed arches as the porch, and ivy had started to spread its green mantle around them. It was a typical Victorian Gothic Revival style detached house and a wonderful home for Jane and her family. Now it was ruined! It looked so cold and stark. The sash windows had all been replaced with modern, easy-opening ones, and the welcoming porch had been demolished altogether, leaving the front door exposed to the elements. All the walls had been pained a bland, ugly cream, completely erasing the colourful character of the house.
Jane sighed, feeling dejected, wishing she hadn’t come. Nevertheless, she now walked as quickly as she could, up to the steps by the door. The people there, a man, woman, and two children, suddenly became animated, smiling and waving in her direction. Jane was confused, she didn’t know these people. Hearing answering noises from behind her, she turned to see a similar group of people walking up the drive from the road. Quickly, while they were all distracted, she walked up to the open door and slipped inside.
“Oh!”, she exclaimed, as she stood in the hallway. Here inside, the house was just the same as it had always been. Nothing had changed at all! She could hardly believe it. She gazed at the familiar beautiful intricate mosaic floor, of green and cream tiles, and the dark brown doors and staircase. The walls below the dado were dark green with a cream floral paper above, and there was a strip of green carpet running up the middle of the stairs.
She heard a sound and looked up to see her Mother, coming down the staircase, in one of her beautiful afternoon gowns. Backlit by the light from the landing window, she looked every inch the regal elegant lady that she was.
“Jane, darling”, she smiled, opening her arms. “Welcome home, my dear”
“Mama, oh Mama”, and Jane ran up the stairs, a young girl once more, into her Mother’s embrace.
“Come along now dear, your Father is waiting”. And turning together, they climbed up the stairs, hand in hand.
Outside, Mike felt his wife shiver in the sunshine.
“What’s wrong, love? Are you cold?” he asked. Jill turned to him, looking a little puzzled.
“I suddenly went very cold all over, and then I felt as if someone had brushed past me and into the house”. She turned and looked into their bright, light hall, with its wooden floor, white painted doors, and staircase, and cream walls. She couldn’t see anyone, but as she looked up the stairs, she thought she saw something move at the top.
“No, don’t be silly”, she said to herself, “it’ll just be a breeze and a trick of the light”.
At that moment their friends were at the door, and it was all forgotten, as she greeted everyone and was kept busy entertaining their guests for the Bank Holiday weekend.
A few days later, however, it all came back to Jill, as she was relaxing with the local paper. She spotted a familiar name in the obituaries, that made her heart thump. She read ………………
MARSHALL Miss Jane Elizabeth, Saturday 27th August, aged 95, at the Trenton Care Home, late of Marshall House, Station Road, Trenton. Peacefully in her sleep, now reunited with her beloved parents.
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