354 Church Drive laid on a suburban street radiating from the center of town. The road that lead directly to the village church. Hence the name. The medieval steeple anchored one end of the road. The house was a nice, as far as houses goes. Two stories, sky blue on the outside and with a red tiled roof. I didn’t move into “my” room until Tuesday, I was too tired to make it past the couch the day before. I went for the guest bedroom on the second, make that, the first floor. Not that I had a choice. The other two where not suitable, one was locked (probably Michael’s) and the other belonged to my father. Apparently it had been tidied up sometime ago. In the few moments I spent inside the house I felt like a scavenger in an post-apocalyptic flick. It felt as the people inside had all suddenly vanished leaving few clues of their existence. An empty house that once was a home.
That did not deterred me. I explored every inch out of necessity. I delved into cupboards, broom closets, the backyard, the attic and the bathrooms (two, one per floor). I dared not use the things I found within; the soap, towels, toothpaste, utensils, etc. It was as if they where contaminated somehow by the ghost of their former owners. Crucial to my quest was knowing how the hot and cold water taps worked. Survival depended on avoiding either freezing death or scalding my skin raw. I started to catalog everything, setting it aside and in between short trips to the local stores (taking advantage of the stops made by the company drivers I was riding with) I started carving a little niche for myself inside the place.
Michael behavior did not help, not that I had any time for it. He did not say a single word when he got home or the days since. It was as if I was an unwelcome guest at best, a dangerous intruder at worst. I spent most of my time at the office or riding along with the company drivers, getting a feel for the business. It was not until Saturday morning over breakfast (first meal we had together by the way) that Michael deigned to speak to me.
“I need some money” he said in a low tone.
Bewildered I said “What?”
Michael face scrunched “Twenty pounds.”
His face hardened as he tried to stare me down. If he thought I was just going to hand him money because he asked he was sorely mistaken. I grinned and waited. I mastered the art of extracting information from my taciturn father. Michael was no challenge.
“Its for my mum?”
Again silence. The staring contest continued. It didn’t take long for him to give in.
“I need the money to fuel up the car and buy some flowers, for Sunday.”
“What happens on Sunday?”
“I go and visit her”.
“At what time?”
Michael’s voice betrayed his edginess. My interrogation technique wore him down. Then he switched to the offensive.
“Why? Why do you wanna know?”
“I want to see her” I said with a grin.
His’ nostrils flared. For a second I thought he was going to storm out of the kitchen. But he was stubborn enough to stick it out. “Why? She is not your mum? You’re not family.”
If that last was meant as a barb it missed. I was enjoying this a bit too much. “Well Mike” he bristled upon hearing the epitaph “I will have to meet her sometime or other. Am sure she would like to see me, eventually. Might as well make it sooner rather than later”.
And then he switched tactics, unexpected but not surprising “She is not well”.
“Can she talk? Recognize people?”
“Then she will recognize me.”
“She never seen you in her life!”
“That won’t be a problem.”
Michael had enough and got up to leave “I need to go to the library. I got study for my A-levels”.
I didn’t know what that meant, probably some kind of exam. Using my most neutral voice possible I pressed him “Mike, it would be best if I go with you tomorrow, otherwise things could get more complicated. Like I said, the sooner the better”.
“Whatever!” and he stormed off. The sound of the front door banging shut and his old beat up VW driving away marked his escape.
I sighed. It was not fair. Dad had screwed us both real good. However I was not about to put up with my brother’s bullshit for long. I was in charge, whether he or liked it.