Art Pact 111


If it was up to me I wouldn't talk about it at all, but I suppose I have to admit that I have a pretty good home life. It's just something you don't like to talk about - perhaps even think about, because there's always the chance that I might jinx it. What I'm trying to say is, don't tell Dad or Phyllis that I said anything.

My dad isn't around much - not physically, I mean, but his presence is everywhere. Our house is the biggest in the road, and it's mainly due to his constant obsession with adding rooms. Once (before I was born) it was a three-bed semi. Then he built an extension to the kitchen, then above that an extension to the bathroom, then Carrie was born, then the extension was rolled into the rest of the house so that there were two new rooms above the garage, then I was born, then a utility room came out of the other side of the kitchen, then Bridget was born and mum died, then there was the porch, then the conservatory, then the living room extended out into the front garden, then above that another bedroom, then he met Phyllis, then the conservatory grew again, and that's got us all caught up with the state of the house and how it is now.

You'll notice that there are six bedrooms in the house. One of them - the original, and still the biggest - is where Phyllis and dad sleep (when he's back, that is. More commonly Phyllis sleeps there alone). Bridget and me have the two extended bedrooms, and Boston (Phyllis's son by her first marriage, the younger of her two children) has the smallest of the original bedrooms. That leaves two spare - one for guests, and one which Carrie used to live in. Now that she's at university she hardly ever comes back, but when she does she checks her room carefully for any sign of missing clothes, books, or jewellery. She has a good eye, too - Bridget took two of ten almost identical earrings once, ones that Carrie hadn't worn for five years, and Carrie spotted that she'd been robbed within five minutes of her return.

When I was a much younger, Carrie and I shared a bedroom. Then Carrie got old enough to need her own bedroom and shortly after that Bridget moved in in her place - until I was old enough to need my own room. If you've been counting you'll see that there were plenty of rooms in the house - before I was born there were already five bedrooms in the house, more than enough for all of us leaving one spare. I think that was mum's idea, that sharing a room while it was still reasonably might make us closer as siblings or something. I never got the chance to ask her sensibly, though. It didn't occur to me, even when I was most annoyed with Carrie or Bridget, that it would have been simpler to have shared out bedrooms to start with. By the time I was old enough to wonder whether it had been whim or one of mum's experimental parenting ideas she was gone.

We get on pretty well with Phyllis, and although Boston gets on my nerves he and Bridget (who are about the same age - Boston is a lot younger than his older sister) are pretty tight. They're both kind of intellectuals, and if they'd not met at such a young age I suspect there would have been some romantic spark potential in their future, but as it is they'll probably just end up as a vetting committee for each other's eventual dates. If Phyllis has a fault it's that she's a lot more traditional than mum was, but on the other hand there's something comfortable in being able to do a few things normally, so that even though we're considered strange by some of the kids in our school we're normal enough to be well up the status ranks. We're not like the religious freaks who aren't allowed to do dissections or the girl in my year whose parents are some sort of fifty-years-too-late hippies who live in a weird commune and (so the rumour goes) partner-swap with everyone else.

Mum's presence in the house is subtle. Phyllis did a bit of a purge in the master bedroom - no pictures of mum there, none of her knick-knacks, new bedding and curtains and paint job so that there as nothing in there that mum chose, no reminder that there'd ever been a mum, in fact. But that was understandable. The rest of the house she left alone, so that although things have got changed or broken or lost over the years there is still enough of mum's residue to keep her in our minds. I think about her when I'm cooking, because although she was gone long before I got into cooking I can remember playing in there while she cooked, the only thing she didn't question about her and dad's roles in the house. Carrie (who lives exclusively on junk food at university which she burns off like it was nothing with her running) says that actually Dad was a much better cook than mum ever was.

Bridget, I know logically, can't really remember mum at all. She was only a few weeks old when mum died, and no-one remembers things from when they're that age, do they? She agrees... but: she says that she's most happy thinking about mum when she's in the conservatory, and I am certainly old enough to remember mum being there a lot during her last days. She came home from the hospital weak, but everyone thought it was perfectly normal - she's just had a kid, right? She sat in the conservatory all the time (it was July, and a hot one), cradling baby Bridget and enjoying the sun.

I don't know, maybe Bridget's onto something.

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