My mother was speaking to my daughter, Zoe, the other evening. The conversation began like this,
Mother: “I haven’t seen Lesley since she fell through the ceiling,”
Needless to say, there were then hysterics on both ends of the line as the enormity and the humour of what she’d said, sank in.
If you ever see a novel written by me beginning with those words, you will know to what it really relates. Yes, my eldest sister did actually fall right through the ceiling.
Of course, one shouldn’t laugh, she is currently black and blue and in considerable pain but rather remarkably and thankfully, no bones were broken.
I should elaborate of course. You may want to know which ceiling she fell through, how and why?
Well, it all began when we put my late sister and brother-in-law’s house up for sale. Lesley has always spent a lot of time there and has always been very fond of the house both for the memories it holds and for its own sake. We knew she’d be very sad to see the house go. Over the last few months, she has ensured the large garden has been kept neat and the house itself kept clean and presentable while it was on the market. She has met gas men and gardeners, electricians and estate agents as needed.
After months of stagnation, the house has seemed to breathe again, readying itself for a new era.
We all hold memories of happy times spent there. We remember Christmases, with a sumptuous feast set out on the enormous, antique table. There was always a calamity of some type, involving my brother-in-law. There was the year he left us all mid morning, to go to Church, returning just before lunch in a state of great agitation,
“There’s a bird in the church and I need a fishing net to catch it!” he shouted as he routed around in the shed for his son’s net, the type hanging from a long pole. Off he went, on Christmas morning, to capture or rescue the bird that had dared fly into the church’s eaves. My sister held Christmas dinner up for as long as was possible, serving it with a tight smile when her husband finally returned.
She had single handedly decorated and prepared the house for nine visitors, cooked a four course meal for twelve, served drinks and nibbles, accepting only a little help from us, her guests.
By the time we all sat down to eat, she was quite exhausted.
Stuart, my brother-in-law, rushed in and sat down, telling us all about the bird, a sparrow he thought, he had set free. As we ate the last morsel, Stuart leant back in his chair and turning to Beverly said without a glimmer of humour,
“Well, Beverly, that was – very disappointing. I thought the dinner was a bit cold.”
We were horrified. I fully expected my sister to tip the rest of the gravy over his head. She didn’t.
How she kept her cool I do not know but the story has been told and re-told ever since. Perhaps they had words later because, believe me, Stuart never made the same mistake again.
We had five children, my sister just the one yet she found room for us all and made us feel welcome. We remember tucking small children up in makeshift beds and sleeping bags, the eldest often sleeping at the foot of our bed on a rolled up eiderdown. We remember Summer afternoons, lazing in the garden and winter evenings, spent sitting by the log fire, reading or watching favourite films on television. Such was the welcome the house seemed to give that we all looked forward to our visits. Of course, it was my sister and brother-in-law providing the welcome wasn’t it? The house is only a pile of bricks and mortar. Or is it?
Their untimely deaths, only four years apart, were shocking but it has taken a year to get everything sorted and the house on the market.
The house was snapped up quite quickly by eager buyers. We had agreed that the desired work, to install a new heating system, could be carried out once contracts were exchanged. Hence, my husband went up one last time to check everything was ok the other weekend, in readiness for completion. Lesley, wanting to say her own goodbye, took a last look round on the Saturday. She says she felt she really did not want to let the house go.
Exactly what happened next is a bit of a mystery, even to her.
We do know that the floorboards on the landing had been removed to allow access to pipes. Lesley saw this and as the gap blocked the way to the main bedroom, decided not to go any further. She turned to leave. That’s when it happened. Somehow, as she turned, she slipped and toppled backwards, twisting in mid-air so that she did not fall headlong into the hole. Instead, she found herself hanging, one leg marooned between floors, the other dangling below, wedged between the joists. She told me afterwards that she did not know whether to push herself through and fall to the stone floor, risking breaking both legs if not worse or whether to haul herself up. This would be a considerable feat for an able bodied person but my sister, in her sixties, does suffer from arthritis amongst other things. After some time, she thinks perhaps half an hour, she managed to heave herself out of the hole and stagger downstairs.
She phoned me when she got to the safety of the ground floor. I was horrified of course. It didn’t help that on that same day, a friend of mine had persuaded us to let her practise Christmas dinner on us because she’d promised to cook it for her pensioner parents this year, for the very first time. I was supervising a crucial part of stuffing the turkey when the phone call came and completely unprepared for the news that my one remaining sibling had fallen through a ceiling.
Having established that she was not seriously injured, I had to ask, was the house trying to swallow her up or spit her out?
Not wishing to risk A&E on a Saturday, she took herself home, not getting to the hospital until the following morning whereupon, they immediately strapped her into a neck brace for two hours and carried out a series of X-rays, believing she had broken her pelvis and shoulder. Neither turned out to be the case, nor had she broken her spine but the bruising and swelling are so bad that even now, over a week later, the bruising is still coming out and her right leg is black and her shoulder is stiff.
Having been so reluctant to let the house go, for so long, Lesley now says she never wants to see it again. So perhaps the house was forcing her to quit in the only way it could, which brings me back to my original question – do houses have souls?