Emma went through the front door into the hall. She knew exactly where everything was. It was imprinted on her memory and in her heart, this house she’d lived in for so long, so long ago.
She peeped into the cloakroom. There was a new gleaming white suite whereas theirs had been green. In the living room the wallpaper and carpet had gone. The room looked bigger with plain walls and what looked like floorboards. She liked it.
Emma drifted upstairs to the bedrooms. First into hers and Steve’s; it too looked very different but she didn’t want to linger. The other large bedroom was Mark’s and Simon had slept in the smaller single. The boys’ rooms hadn’t changed that much, still showing signs of male teenage occupancy, posters on the walls, clothes on the floor. But their boys had never had all these strange electronic games. She pushed open the door to their spare room and found herself in a pink fairyland with fluffy toys and dolls lined up on the bed. If baby Anna had lived she might have had a room like this. She’d never been able to part with her tiny layette.
‘Mum, I’m cold,’ a voice broke into her reverie. A little girl of about six was sitting at a miniature dressing table combing a doll’s hair.
‘Well, put a jumper on,’ the reply floated up from below.
‘Hello,’ Emma said, ‘that’s a pretty dolly. What’s her name?’
She was surprised when the child dropped the doll and rushed out of the room. She hadn’t meant to frighten her.
She picked up the doll and gave herself a mental shake. I must remember, things are different now.
Downstairs in the kitchen Julie was busy chopping vegetables.
‘Hello, sweetie,’ she greeted the little whirlwind that was her daughter, Ella. ‘What’s the hurry?’ ‘Mum, there was a lady in my room.’
‘Nonsense, darling. No-one’s been in. Mrs Johnson only comes on Wednesdays.’
‘I know Mrs Johnson, Mum. It was someone else. She’s there now. She’s got on funny clothes.’
‘Stay here.’ Julie ran upstairs and tiptoed to Ella’s room. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open. The room was empty. Molly-Dolly was sitting on the dressing table stool staring into the mirror with her deep blue eyes and impossibly long lashes. Julie went from room to room checking for an intruder. She felt a little foolish as she realised she still had the knife in her hand.
‘You must have been dreaming, Ella,’ she said as she went back into the kitchen. ‘No, Mum, there was a lady. She spoke to me but I didn’t hear her properly.’ ‘Well, there’s no-one there now, Ella, so run along and play. The boys will be home soon.’ Ella ran upstairs to get her doll.
‘Mum, look!’ she skipped back into the kitchen fifteen minutes later. ‘Do you like Molly-Dolly’s new jacket?’
‘It’s lovely. Where did you get it?’
‘The lady put it on. I didn’t have it before.’
‘Now don’t be silly, Ella. There is no lady.’
Emma visited the garden. She approved of the new patio but the lawn was in bad condition. The magnolia tree and the hydrangea had grown well. She stepped through the back door into the huge new kitchen. A young woman was stirring something on the stove and the little girl was watching television, her doll on her lap. She looked up and smiled.
‘Thank you for the jacket, it’s very pretty,’ she said.
‘What did you say, Ella?’ her mother looked up from the saucepan.
‘Nothing, Mum. I was just saying thank you for the jacket.’
‘My pleasure,’ Emma whispered. ‘Goodbye, my dear.’ She was glad there was a nice new family living there. It was their house now and she wouldn’t be back.
Julie went to close the kitchen door. ‘It’s getting cooler,’ she remarked. ‘Summer’s nearly over.’
In autumn the patio was strewn with fallen leaves of gold and brown and winds whistled round the house trying to find a way in through the new well-fitting windows. Peter put aside a whole weekend for renewing the loft insulation. It was high time, as Julie had reminded him, they had
been in the house over a year. He made countless trips to the local tip with stuff people keep just in case they want it again.
He brought a small cardboard box into the kitchen and put it on the counter.
‘Look inside,’ he told Julie.
‘Is that clean, Peter?’ Julie asked. ‘I don’t want… Oh, wow! They’re beautiful!’ Julie gently lifted out a tiny baby’s smock, beautifully embroidered with exquisite stitches, then a pink cardigan, obviously hand- knitted. They reminded her of something - Ella’s doll’s jacket that had appeared so mysteriously a few months ago.
‘Ella,’ she called. ‘Come and look at these!’
Ella bounced into the kitchen with Molly-Dolly under her arm.
‘Oh, there they are!’ she cried. ‘I remember now, the lady said there were some more clothes but I forgot!’
‘There’s more,’ Peter showed Julie an envelope. Inside was a torn off page of a newspaper showing a date some fifty years ago and a photograph of a couple with two boys smiling into the camera. ‘It’s a sort of time-capsule,’ he explained. ‘They must have put it under the insulation when they had the loft done. Maybe we should do the same; sort of carry on the tradition.’
‘There’s no baby girl,’ Julie noticed. ‘Perhaps the photo was taken before she was born. Anyway, Molly-Dolly will be the best dressed doll in town!’
Winter drew in sprinkling diamonds of frost on the lawn then covering the whole garden with a blanket of snow. The children shrieked with excitement as they raced around flinging snowballs at each other. And when they all trooped inside, the old house felt bright and modern, the rooms warm and friendly. There were no ghosts here.