For Sale Sign by Colette Coen

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I don’t believe in Fate, yet there it is. Just when we were looking to move. The flat, our flat, with a For Sale sign in the window.

We told ourselves that we were only looking out of nosiness, not with any real intention to buy. The fireplace, which had consumed hours as battleship grey had been stripped and the wood carefully oiled to bring out the warmth, is now white gloss. 

The storage cupboards in the hall and lounge have been knocked together to make an internal kitchen, freeing the larger room at the back to become a bedroom, but fundamentally it is the same. Jack had hidden a dozen red roses in the hall cupboard; pulled me in during a Hogmanay party; kissed me like the world would end if he stopped.

Every inch of the floor had felt our newly-married passion. In this room, in that corner. It’s how I remember us, here, happy.

We’d wanted a family, though, and being two up with only one bedroom was a consideration. Then there was the coldest winter on record, frozen pipes and a neighbour who had gone off on a Caribbean cruise without turning off their water.

It didn’t take long to sell, not with the double aspect of the lounge, a bay sweeping around the corner with another window to one side, just in case there wasn’t enough light already. Murder for buying curtains though.

I take in the view, the way I did all those years ago, wanting to fix it in my memory to last a lifetime. A couple come out of the close opposite, dressed in Jacobite costume, and I think for a moment that I’m having a flashback, surely not the start of dementia, but then I look harder. They have aged, not the twenty-somethings off to their re-enactments anymore, but now in their fifties, sixties even. 

The woman looks up, catches my eye and I wonder if she feels the same déjà vu.

I am no longer the skinny girl who used to look out of this window and try to dream my future into being. My long black hair has been cropped many times and is now steely grey. I always thought that the Clans folk were older than us, but now they look younger. Maybe they were more settled, not preparing for a life of striving for bigger, for better. Maybe they didn’t spend all these years feeling that they had somehow failed.

‘I’m moving in with my boyfriend: we’re getting married soon,’ the current owner says, trying to engage me. It would have been a ridiculous thing to say when we were last here, and it is only because I am in the past that I even take note of his words.

‘I was thinking about renting this place out, but we are saving for a house, so it’s probably better to sell.’

‘Clarkston is nice,’ I say. ‘Good for the schools.’ Then we both blush and I realise that I have turned into an interfering biddy.

The kitchen window, or what once was the kitchen, overlooks the back court and the gardens of the houses in the next street. I had imagined sitting out there in the evenings, but it was something we never did. Jack stayed at work late into the evening; and I sprawled out on the couch with a coffee and a book after an exhausting day, too tired to trudge down the back, where there was always the risk of socialising. 

We had a fax machine by the kitchen door, where now there is a chest of drawers, and second-hand appliances where the king size bed is. The room seems smaller, and it takes a moment to realise that what was our dining area has been boarded up and added to the new kitchen.

We sat at his granny’s table with our paperwork. Jack planning our finances while I did my corrections. All we had to worry about, back then, was where we would eat that night, if we couldn’t face another Findus Crispy Pancake.

I learned how to cook eventually; we both did. We stewed apples; mushed bananas and whizzed up nutrition for our kids. But not here, not now. I couldn’t have imagined that all the careful parenting in the world wouldn’t save us from the troubles that lay ahead. The nights sleeping on camp beds in Children’s Wards. We’d seen them through three different hospitals, five procedures, two bouts of chemo. 

Later, I would drive down to the nightclub near here to pick them off the ground. At least their friends were sensible enough to phone us and we couldn’t bring ourselves to be too angry that they were enjoying lives we thought they might not have. 

I can almost hear the laughter at our failed attempts at Delia. We didn’t know then how many heartbreaks we would go through before we could breathe a short sigh of relief. I close my eyes. Listen to the past.

He’s turned our bedroom into a gym, with a bike and weights. A cream blind nestles in the slit of a window. I had made voluminous curtains for the alcove in the weeks before our wedding. I took out all my frustrations on the Aztec print: the misprint in the Order of Service, the bakery who had lost our order. The curtains were disgusting when I finished. Clashing with the wallpaper I thought they would so beautifully match. We left them behind and moved into houses with similar mistakes.

We learned how to love here, in this room, in frantic nights, in quiet days. Planned our future in whispered tones: giving voice to them; making them real. We were going to take over the world, or at least our little part of it. Full of energy and ambition, ready to make the most of the gifts we had been given. 

We moved away: moved on. There was no time to look back what with difficult pregnancies and post-natal depression. No time after diagnoses came from every direction. No time as we stood in hospital car parks, trying to figure out where we were going, what we were doing. How could we have known, lying here in this room, just how strong our love would need to be.

I can see the bathroom fine from where I am: there is no need to go in. Fresh white replacing the avocado. A square toilet seat for our un-square bottoms.

Jack was on a stag weekend when I flushed the blob down the loo. I had stopped cramping and crying by the time he came back, and there didn’t seem any point in mentioning it. It would only make him sad.

The first fight we ever had was in this hall, and I would have slammed the door if I wasn’t worried that the Edwardian glass would smash. He’d forgotten we were going out and if my taxi had turned up on time, I wouldn’t have even been here to fight with. As it was, we hurled our disappointments at each other; caught them; crumpled them up for later; but by the time we remembered to look for them, they had disintegrated, like a hankie in the washing machine.

Jack shakes hands the flat’s owner and says that if we want to pursue things, we will get in touch with the agent. The owner is polite, but I can see he is planning to be disappointed by us.

I run my hand down the bannister that I had polished with the pride of someone who still felt like she was playing at houses. ‘Do you remember the guy who left his rubbish bags in the close?’ 

‘Wanted the smell out of his flat. I slit one open: told him it must have been rats.’

‘I didn’t know that.’

‘He flitted not long after that. Manky bastard.’

‘And the old boy up the stairs: flushing the toilet all through the night.’

‘That’s us now, with the nocturnal peeing.’

Our family grew: filled one house, moved, then another. Now the fourth bedroom we so desperately needed for an office is as redundant as the other two. Only the Master remains occupied. The same bedframe we bought when we got married, though the mattress has been changed with every decade anniversary,

‘We’ll get a new bed when we move,’ Jack said the last time he had to tighten the screws.

We don’t have much money to make unnecessary purchases, what with university lodgings and the years abroad we had to pay for. The pine is timeless, beautifully honeyed, but maybe it is time for a change. I think of my mum’s G-Plan, so dated once, and now the height of fashion fifty years after its purchase, maybe our bed will last a while longer. 

The waste ground at the end of the street is occupied with new flats, and the parking certainly hasn’t improved. I learned how to squeeze into the smallest of spaces; missing bumpers by centimetres, sometimes just a small nudge; but we would be on a good bus route here, with no need for two cars. 

There used to be a hardware shop around the corner and an independent wallpaper shop. Both have gone, replaced by a hairdresser’s and yet another vaping place. But the Italian café is still there, with its Best Ice Cream in Scotland sign. The claim is hardly unique, but I think here it might be justified.

‘Are we seriously thinking about this?’ Jack asks, as he wipes the raspberry sauce from his chin.

‘I don’t know, are we?’

We finish our ice cream, pay at the counter and take another wander around the area. We pass what used to be the Blockbuster Video shop, now a tanning studio and I am lost in my thoughts. We had just started dating when he bought the place. And it took a long time before it lost the name Jack’s Flat and became Ours. Thursday nights we’d pick three videos to keep us entertained over the weekend; buy some chips on the way home; kiss on each turn of the stair.

‘So, what do you think, Jack says. ‘The area hasn’t changed that much, and we’d not be too far from our friends.’

I think of us again, in our flat, the couple we were and who we are now. ‘Let’s take another walk around the block,’ I say, and I take his hand in mine, almost like it’s the first time.

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