She remembers the sky was yellow as the sun set slow and low over suburbia. She sat at the kitchen table, the house growing dark around her, last bits of light filtering down through the hall from the glass-paned door. The tea on the table was cold.
Upstairs she could hear her brother moving through the rooms; the soft thumps of boxes on the floor, the low whine of wardrobes being opened and then closed indefinitely. She walked up the creaking stairs towards him. The carpet was a strange shade of brown, slightly bleached from the sun and patterned in a way that clung tightly to a time she had never lived in. It reminded her firmly that the house was most definitely not her own.
“How is it going in here?” she asked, reaching down to turn on the bedside lamp. He hadn’t noticed the darkness creeping in.
“Almost done.” He said, turning to look at her. In the yellow lamp-light she could see particles of dust floating through the air, years of dust her brother had raised by his stomping through the small upstairs of the small house.
She leaned against the door frame as he reached up to the top shelf of the press and pulled down a pile of towels. He dropped them onto the bed and held one up to the light.
“I think I can see you through this, it’s been washed that many times.”
She exhaled a laugh and reached out to feel the threadbare towel. “Bin?” she asked.
“Bin.” He agreed, dumping them into an already-full bin liner.
“Good luck getting that down the stairs.”
He grinned at her quick and bright and he was suddenly seventeen again. “What are you talking about? I’m a master.”
She shook her head and moved across the landing, checking the empty rooms. The smell was the same, slightly musty, like the windows were never really opened, and slightly sweet, like powdered make-up.
She opened the drawers of the dresser in the box room, making her way down towards the floor. In the last one she found a hairbrush she had used as a child. There were still hairs stuck between the thistles and she pulled one out, considering it. She wondered if she should feel something but all she felt was a strange sort of detachment from this piece of DNA that used to be a part of herself. She let the hair go and closed the drawer, walking into the next room and dropping the brush into the bin bag.
“Is that yours?” Her brother asked, glancing over at her.
“No. It’s nothing.”
He didn’t reply, picking up one of the full bin-bags so that she couldn’t see his face. “I’m going to start bringing these out to the car.”
She nodded, walking over to the window where the sun was dipping beneath the rooves of houses that stretched out row upon row. In the distance there was smoke rising up and drifting into the lowering dusk.
As a child she had played down the back of the garden, behind the tall foliage so she was hidden away, out of sight, out of mind. Granny would call them for dinner and they would run up the garden path, tumbling over one another like baby animals dying to be fed.
Time has strange ways of moving and in that movement she felt its waves rush all over her and she was neither here nor there, a child nor an adult but somewhere so inevitably in-between. This was not home anymore. In the evenings after dinner they would lie on the floor on front of the television until they were bleary-eyed and ready for bed. She felt bleary-eyed now as the top of the sky turned purple. She wondered where they all went, scattered like seeds in different parts, or like ashes. They had never been tied by blood and that’s what runs thickest of all, she thought, watching her brother on the street below, loading up the car. She ran her finger along the edge of the windowsill, picking up dust. That’s what used-to-be too. At least she wasn’t alone, feeling like she left her residue everywhere she went. It was a messy business.
When the car was packed they stood in the purple darkness. In the empty hallway she felt displaced, disconnected. She had been a child here. They had been children here. There were once heads on pillows and bare feet down the hallway and piles of laundry so high they would topple over onto the carpet and the folding would begin again. It didn’t seem as though it had ever happened, as though any of it was real. In the dark hall she could barely see the threshold between her and the kitchen, one room blended into the other.
“Ready?”, he asked her. He was still there, the single thing in her life that confirmed who she had once been, that her life had been anything other than what it was right now. She looked up at him, his face blurred in the darkness. “Yes.”
They closed the door, double-locking it for safe-keeping. In the car the back seats were loaded with bags but they stopped off at a dump, throwing them into the skip, where the old baggage looked like everyone else’s old baggage. When the car was empty, her brother pushed the seats back into place so it looked like nothing had ever been there and then they drove.
In the morning they were far away from the suburbs, out near the sea where she felt like she could breathe. It was early and her brother was in bed, the air still cool as the day dawned over the sand dunes. She stepped out onto the deck with two mugs of tea, handing one to Granny and sitting down beside her. The sky was yellow as the sun rose and she thought about what it meant to come home.
Kelly O’Brien is a third-year undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin and is studying English.