Short Stories

You can’t go home again

The house wasn’t the same to her any more. The first thing the new owners did was root up the yew hedge. In its place reared a stark, brutal fence so that Amy could no longer see the roses growing up the path. But she’d been able to see enough, peering through the gaps in the slats, to make out that they’d flattened the rockery to put in a basket ball area. Amy’s father had constructed that rockery, and lovingly tended the little succulents. She used to wheel her bike past it every weekday, returning from school, before entering the cool gloom of her father’s study.  Those comfortable week nights relaxing on their cracked leather sofa, watching Danger Mouse and eating slices of her father’s macaroni cheese.

So, she avoided cycling past Primrose Cottage these days, but couldn’t seem to avoid it in her dreams. Nearly every night she found herself at home again. Drifting from room to room, observing the “improvements” of the new owners by the sulphurous orange light of street lamps. They painted over the ancient oak doors with bright gloss emulsion. A few weeks later, amid clouds of dust in the hall, the parquet floor was partially ripped up. Soon after that, a sea of beige, slippery laminate took its place.  Then, a flat screen television appeared on the chimney breast, vast and sleek, clashing with the gnarled beams.

And she watched the two daughters sleeping in her bedroom.

She wondered if they sensed her presence, so real did those dreams seem. She could smell their cloying deodorant, hear their snores and mutters as they dreamed, even pick up the detritus of their lives strewn over the room: lipstick, crisp bags, copies of “OK” magazine. She would lean over them, radiating loathing, and they would stir and mumble.

A burning resentment in her gut often woke her from these dreams, and it would be several minutes before she felt calm again. She just had to accept that, since Dad died, her existence was confined to this poky flat. But her subconscious refused to accept it. It would return to Primrose Cottage.

One night the man of the house was sleeping, slumped on his elephantine sofa. “Come, Get me Out of Dancing” blared from the TV, and several empty cans of Carling lay scattered on the laminate. His cigarette smouldered in an ashtray beside him. On the sofa.

Dangerous, thought Amy.

That could cause a fire.

Before she could hesitate, she flicked the fag with her finger. It rolled onto the the Dralon of the settee and immediately a flame sprang up, whirled along the piping of the seat cushion and up the arm. Swift, silent – and exhilarating.

Amy woke, full of joy. She glanced at her alarm clock. 3:25am. She’d had a wonderful dream, but she couldn’t remember it. Ah, well, that makes a change. She turned over and slept again, dreamlessly.

It was the next morning, on the local news, when she heard that Primrose Cottage had burned down in the night, killing all inside.

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