Memory is a powerful thing. It is a mental journey back into the past where we are able to recall people and places that have inspired us. Our memories can keep a family member who has died close to our heart. Bitter-sweet friendships may have ceased to be a part of our life, but they can live on in our heart and mind. We remember those cities that we have visited whilst on holidays, and although the holiday may have taken place years ago, it continues to creates vivid thought patterns.
We spend our days storing up countless memories, both positive and negative, unaware of their importance as reminders of the passing of time, the fragile transitory nature of our existence. Memory teaches us that we should learn from our mistakes, savour each moment, and hopefully move on with hope into the future.
A surge of emotion rushes through me as I stand outside the black wrought iron double gates and look up at the house where I grew up: from my childhood to my early twenties. The dull cream Fibro panelling, the cracked brickwork of the supporting walls, and the overgrown lawn gives the property a dilapidated look, and the dirty window panes surrounded by the peeling white paint of the facades look like eyes that gaze mournfully down at me, as if the house can feel the sadness in my heart.
As I walk up the cracked and worn stone steps, they creak under my feet, and I hesitate in fear of the insecure foundations. But on I climb until I reach the top, where I am suddenly greeted by a toddler with wispy blonde hair that is tied up in a fountain-like pony tail. She is learning to walk, and her chubby face is wreathed in smiles as she wavers on unsteady feet, while her mother, with pride shining in her eyes, stands behind and leans over her daughter, her strong hands firmly gripping the child’s tiny dimpled hands. They fade away and once more the landing is empty.
The tall Jacaranda tree that grows on the other side of the patio, its mauve tubular flowers gently falling and littering the ground, sways slightly, and the slim form of a teenage girl appears over the side of the waist high black metal fence that surrounds the patio. She lets go of the sturdy but gnarled tree branch and alights safely onto the concrete. Her pale face is sprinkled with freckles, and she pushes back her short tousled dark blonde hair to reveal mischievous grey eyes. She grins and winks at me boldly, and then dashes past me to run down the steps.
With a deep breath I unlock the front door, and as I push it open a musty smell of dust assaults my senses. The forlorn stillness embraces me from rooms that are empty and barren. The mahogany mantelpiece that used to display countless family photographs of smiling faces is now laid bare. The once vibrant kitchen where my parents used to do battle for the stove is now deathly quiet. As I close my eyes I can smell the marmalade and mulberry jam that used to bubble away in large saucepans, filled with fruit that was sourced directly from our orchard and mulberry tree. The memory of the hustle and bustle that had taken place in the heart of the house has been quickly covered by new paint and tiled floor.
Creaking floorboards echo my footsteps as I enter my bedroom where hopes and dreams were born and cherished. In the corner of the room a fresh faced child curls up against multiple plump pink and white satiny pillows in a snug warm bed, and is surrounded by an array of golden brown and yellow teddy bears and other cuddly toys. Her face is illuminated by the soft warm glow of the lamp on the bed-side table, and her eyes shine as she reads thrilling tales of adventure: dashing princes who rescue beautiful damsels in distress, a detective with remarkable skills of detection, and stories of the macabre and mysterious. But as night slips into day the child fades and in her place a Rapunzel-haired girl sits at a dressing table, the gilded mirror boasts a girlish visage with eyes bright, but superimposed with a maturing face and grey-blue eyes that show flickering shadows.
Through the window I see a young girl playing in the long backyard. I am lost in reverie as I watch her as she soars gleefully higher and higher on a swing. A multitude of voices laughing and playfully taunting one another fills my ears, along with the exuberant splashing of water from the above ground pool that was once shared with friends on many a long blisteringly hot Australian summer.
Tears prick at my eyes as a small black and white dog races madly around the yard, and then returns to frolic at a young girl’s feet. She laughs and leans over to pat the wriggling body, while the dog’s wagging tail thumps against the ground in a frenzy.
My tryst with the past leads me back to the family room where ghosts greet me.
Clothed in a white an innocent child twists and twirls like a ballerina under a grandiose sparkling chandelier. Faster and faster she spins until she is dizzy and collapses in a gurgle of giggles on the thick red carpet.
In the corner of the living room, a gaudily decorated Christmas tree with red, green and silver tinsel and gold and blue baubles reflect the twinkling fairy lights that pulse in time with serenading Christmas carols.
The sweet fruity aroma of my Grandma’s famous Christmas cake floods the room as she enters the family room and proudly places the cake on a large dining table that is almost invisible under a banquet of festive food.
As quickly as they came, these bright and happy images vanish, and in their place a growing darkness starts to spread throughout the house like black smoke from a raging fire. In dismay I stagger backwards and rush in blind panic to the front door, seeking to escape that growing fear that is like a slow creeping coldness moving throughout my body. My teeth chatter and my fingers tremble as I fumble at the door handle, but it refuses to respond to my touch. I turn my head to look back towards the living room. Hazy figures crowd the room, some are grey and shift in and out of focus, while others are solid and their blackness is so deep and dense, they are like black holes in space. Some of the figures are small and cluster together, and others stand alone and they are so tall their heads touch the ceiling. I want to desperately leave behind those phantoms of my whimsical fantasies, but I cannot.
Horror and manic terror causes my body to shake uncontrollably as a rising cacophony of groaning that sounds like a multitude of souls in torment shakes the house. As they reach out for me to draw me in, I shrink back, but the vile stench of their breath is on my face, making me gag, and their ice cold slimy fingers brush against my goose-flesh skin on my arms.
Once more I frantically shake the door handle willing the door to open, to let the pure air in so that it can clear away the smell of decay and eradicate the sense of despair. With a final tug of the knob the door springs open and I stagger outside. Fresh and fragrant air fills my lungs like a cathartic cleansing of my soul. Turning, I slam the door shut!
I hope that I can trap those spectres; imprints of a kaleidoscopic past within these familial spaces.
A rumble of discontent like a rising storm emanates from the bowels of the house as I race down the stairs. I do not look back for fear of what may be pursuing me. Laughing hysterically, and mentally berating myself for my unfounded fears, I arrive safely outside in the street. I shut and lock the gates. The final click! of the key signals closure. For the last time I gaze up at the house that can no longer be my home.
Those images of the past that I had encountered within the walls of my family home are now safely confined to the realm of memory.