I visit your home for the first time in over six years. As I enter I hear your two chihuahuas yapping as usual. It seems that if I look down they will be there as always, circling my ankles, but of course they are not. They are long gone.
I remember coming to tea. You would talk about why you could never lose weight, “After all, I eat a lot of salad,” and I would look at your ‘salad’ laid out on the table. Ham, sausage rolls, pork pie, cheese, scotch eggs, coleslaw, potato salad……and a few lettuce leaves, a tomato and some cucumber as a garnish. I remember you always pronounced ‘pizza’ wrong and made my little boy laugh. To you, pizza, or was something exotic, as also was the lasagne you discovered you liked and then would always order in restaurants. You never went abroad in your life, and you were terrified when any of us travelled by plane, you worried constantly until you knew we were safely on solid ground again.
I recall watching you peeling potatoes, always with the same old knife, and telling me it had been your mother's. You kept your saucepans on top of the cooker all the time, you said it was the old-fashioned way and what your Mum always did, and it's something I do too because it makes me think of you. You and your Mum were very close. You lived at home with her until she died, and you were eventually buried with her; the gravestone reads ‘Reunited’.
You always had pets. There were various dogs and cats over the years, and usually an indoor bird or two. You loved your animals and pampered them. Every day you cooked and then fed little morsels of chicken by hand to the two chihuahuas, for their evening treat. I was irritated at having to do the same when I stayed at your house to look after them when you were on holiday. They were temperamental and either refused to come near me, or would sidle up to my outstretched hand, all friendly with tails wagging, and try to bite me. I would throw the chicken in their food dishes and let them get on with it.
I was touched to find that so much was the same. That he kept your things as they were. I was so sure that, many years after your death, the gifts my little boy made for you so long ago would have been thrown away. Yet there they were. Half an eggshell; coloured patterns in felt tip pens on the outside, a tiny chick glued inside. The papier mache plate. A valentine card with my toddler son’s scribble and a mug in the cupboard with his picture on. I opened a drawer. A pad with your writing, lists and addresses, scraps of paper everywhere with your writing. I found your Mum’s knife and brought it away with me to peel my potatoes with. A magnet bearing your name, still there on the fridge. The sheet music for the organ you loved to play. In another drawer, your knitting needles and the patterns for clothes that I remember my son wearing. I just recently gave away the bagfuls of clothes you knitted for him when he was a baby, though I still have the cot blankets in a box on top of my wardrobe. It’s so hard to part with them, but I will. I’ll donate them to a charity that provides blankets to orphans. So much love in every stitch; I will pass on that love to other babies.
Your husband, my uncle, has gone now too, and I stand in your home looking at the framed photograph of you that I gave him on his birthday just after you died. I am touched that it has been on the mantelpiece all these years after I thought you had been surpassed in his affections. I am taken aback by all these things remaining where I remember them. Still in place, despite all the years that have passed and despite the woman your husband became involved with, the woman who began to make a play for him as we started to lose you, whose presence meant we no longer visited your house or your husband. This has remained your home, with your things as they were.
It is seven years since I lost you. A strange expression, because you don’t feel lost to me. It’s as if we haven’t seen each other for a very long time, and of course we haven't. Yet you remain, like your dogs at the bungalow, almost in my peripheral vision. You are only just out of my sight, and never out of mind.