‘TALK to me.’ Suzy opened the passenger door, and breathless manure-scented air thrummed with a billion insects.
‘It’s a doer-upper.’ I may have low-bowled it. When I was a kid, The Old Farmhouse was impressive. Now it lurked amongst the briars as if waiting for…for what, a victim?
Suzy peered between the slats of a boarded-up window.
‘Seeing as we’re here, we might as well…’ My sentence was guillotined as the front door groaned inwards, puffing out staleness. ‘Err, hello?’ I squinted into the darkened rectangle. ‘The estate agent said he’d meet us here.’
‘What just happened?’ Suzy gripped my bare arm, nails drilling deep.
‘Ow.’ I pulled free a little too quickly, the welling blood adding the only splash of colour to the over-bright midday.
‘Sharp scratch?’ said Suzy. ‘Sorry.’
‘Apology accepted’ Ignoring the cut, I stepped across the threshold. ‘I can’t see a thing.’ Blue-green sun-blobs floated across my vision. ‘Hello?’
I was ten-years-old again and waiting in The Old Farmhouse living room for my best friend Richard, during the hottest summer of the twentieth century.
‘Who are you talking to?’ called Suzy, too chicken to come inside.
‘Oh, no one.’ Now my eyesight had adjusted to the gloom, I could see that I was alone. I navigated deeper into the lounge, the peeling wallpaper making shadow-patterns on the stained Draylon suite. Richard’s mum had been so house-proud, she’d covered the damned thing in plastic, but even then, I wasn’t allowed to sit on it.
The mushroomy odour morphed into a coppery tang that wrenched not only my stomach, but my memory. ‘Richard?’ He couldn’t have been there, I knew that.
‘What can you see now?’ said Suzy from outside. For a doctor, she didn’t have much straight-up courage.
The TV filled the sun-drenched room with the famous McEnroe meltdown
‘Up here,’ said Richard.
‘I’m not allowed upstairs. Your mum will throw one.’
‘No. She won’t.’ His monotone reply sounded, I don’t know… dead?
‘You need to come back now,’ said Suzy.
‘I have to see Richard.’
The stairs creaked and unseen scurryings fled before my footfalls. The grimed half-light evaporated before ten-billion-watt whiteness as I stepped onto the over-hoovered landing. Mr Sheen. The smell of that stuff made me sick.
The toy donkey with its god-awful sombrero. It was grinning at me from the window ledge. I wished I’d ripped its head off.
‘You have to come back now.’ Suzy again. Urgent.
Did I really have to open the bathroom door?
‘You have to come out now.’
My ten-year-old fingers on the handle.
‘I’m going to count backwards from three. Three…’
The scream of unoiled hinges.
Richard’s mum staring up at me from the bath, eyes dull, mouth open, revealing the gold tooth. ‘Richard, What have you done?’
‘One.’ A snap of fingers. ‘You’re back in the room.’
‘Suzy?’ Institute-grey walls, and Suzy’s ponytail bobbing against her white coat as she nodded.
‘I prefer it if you called me Doctor Klein, Richard.’