A collision in the kitchen loomed ominously. Six adults in that kitchen would be disastrous. We’d end up wedged between the kitchen sink, the stove and the feature wall, spinning on the spot, multiple handshakes and cross conversations bumping into each other and accentuating the lack of, what every kitchen needs, space.
I headed off the big personalities in my company and steered them towards the cross roads, that tiny point in the house from which five of the six rooms could be viewed. The epicentre.
It was only a matter of two steps and we were in the main bedroom. In mum’s bedroom, now empty save for the oversized wardrobe with the dodgy sliding door which lined the southern wall. It had been assembled in this room and was now too big to remove.
Absent was the nuptial bed of fifty years. The bed on which, presumably, I’d been conceived and the bed on which I’d inadvertently seen as a seven year old, what I realised years later was my father’s old fella in a pose I didn’t recognise. Every night for my whole life the door to this room had been shut tight from ‘kiss goodnight’ time; not available again until the house stirred at dawn to prepare for dad’s early morning start at the smallgoods factory and the quiet voices of my parents drifted into my consciousness alongside sounds of prebreakfast ablutions and the crackling of frying bacon.
I don’t know how I came to enter the private chamber that day but it was an afternoon and I’d interrupted preparations for a Sunday ritual that I was not part of - except as an outcome many years previously in 1949. My catholic mother and less committed catholic father had practiced the sin of ‘coitus interruptus’ on hundreds of occasions in that room only allowing the passion to overwhelm the pragmatics a half a dozen times. Once each for my brother and myself and the others following a sad pattern of miscarriages - one of which came close to term.
’Little Albury”, as he became known to us, had a deep effect on my mother and it was my first encounter with real pain, deeper and more enduring than any thrashing I got from my father in punishment for my serious misdeeds of insolence or disobedience.
This was also the bedroom and bed in which my mother had died, nursed to her last breath by my father. Her final weeks in this room were marked by a stream of visitors, old friends, relatives, her sons, their wives, her grandchildren and the Blue Nurses on their daily visit to minister their palliative care. Only the latter had any real understanding of how quickly the end was rushing towards us all.
Only once did I cry. Only once did I share the name of death in her presence.
While my mother had always been a non stop talker, this was one topic which was never mentioned. Was it stoicism or stubbornness? I never fully understood, as my need to bring it into the open welled deep within me and was everywhere shared except on entering that room.
And now here we were, four intruders in this private space inspecting the ceiling, with its 1960s light shade, fancy cornice and off white stain, the walls, the dusty corners, the stuck windows, the empty wardrobe, the polished wooden floor.
The secret room.