Flash fiction – 496 words

Now and Then

Photo by Peter Herrmann on Unsplash
Photo by Peter Herrmann on Unsplash

“I’ll start at the top,” I said.

“I’ll wait outside,” he said.

I remember clambering up the magical stairs on cold wet days as wind rattled the roof and water trickled down the windows. Today I’m more careful.

The attic feels big now. When we were small, the maze of trunks and boxes was like a Japanese garden, where you can never see everything at once. Now, in the empty space, my footsteps echo off the memories.

A lone blowfly bumps repeatedly on the window, above the bodies of its dead comrades. It tries to reach the outside that it can see but not touch. Much as I did before I left. I open the window and the fly buzzes in place, heavy and bloated, before lumbering out, realising it’s now free.

From here I see the back fence and the forest edge. The blackened wood testament to the fire that came so close. I can still smell the smoke, hear the unnatural roar of nature bearing down, threatening an apocalypse that never quite arrived. With stinging eyes, we urgently stuffed boxes into the car. Things we thought important at the time.

I close the magical stairs for the very last time.

This next room was our parent’s bedroom. Even now, I’m reluctant to enter this taboo space. In all the years I lived here, I only remember being in here a handful of times. I remember clothes all over the floor and wondering why I wasn’t allowed to do that.

Dents in the worn blue carpet show where the bed used to rest, where the dressing-table stood. The secret underlay of the carpet lies exposed in the doorway, worn down by feet going in, going out, year after year.

I walk into my sanctuary. This was my own space. Faded rectangles on the green walls, tell-tale signs of boy bands held up by sticky tape even though it wasn’t allowed. The wardrobe, once overflowing with clothing, is now vacant and weary.

My sister’s bedroom is equally devoid of anything but memories. The lemon walls have pinholes. She thought tacks would be more acceptable than tape. She was wrong.

Down the stairs. The living room. A place of merriment, movies, and late nights. The bloodstain on the floorboard where I fell off the couch and broke my nose. The texta marks on the wall where we measured our heights, trying to outgrow each other.

The kitchen is sad, with empty cupboards and spaces where appliances used to be. The dining room equally so. How many meals did we eat here, kicking each other under the table?

Lastly, the laundry. Once a place of warmth and lint, now the taps wait for a machine that’s long gone.

I sigh and close the door, locking in the memories of the past.

I stand on the front porch and close my eyes, smelling the rich earthy smell of the overgrown garden.

“All done?” he asked.

“All done,” I said.