by Joy Hardiman
My probable eighth attempt at this story. I hope I stick with this one.
|There was mould growing on the ceiling. It was that greeny-brown colour that only mould managed to be and was drenched in rainfall that’d slipped in through the hole in the ceiling. In the darkness, its size was a mystery but the smell coming from it was repugnant.
Ansa tried to take her eyes away from it. She had two fingers tightly clenched around her nostrils, but despite herself, she couldn’t stop staring at it.
The ceiling used to be white, an immaculate colour to match a spotless kitchen. The only mould in this kitchen had been cheese and the only cobwebs had been victims of Cook’s broom. The only insects fled in terror at the blinding electric light and would never dare come near the fridge. The tiles had neat, green and white chequered squares instead of crumbled and dusty rocks.
Now though, everything was different. Mould seemed to grow wherever Ansa looked, insects had devoured whatever was left of food and the electric lights had died days ago. Thankfully, sunlight sometimes streamed inside through broken windows.
Ansa was sitting at the table, trying not to cry. Back when Ma and Pa were at home, she’d never visited the kitchen often. Now though, it was the only place she could feel brave.
Tears started welling up in her eyes. Ma and Pa. Why’d she thought of them?
Ansa felt tears falling down her face, and then snot coming out of her nose. She moaned to herself, quietly, still hoping her older brother wouldn’t hear. It was foolish of her to cry, it wouldn’t change anything, but she found it so hard not to.
“Ansa?” It was his voice. Jani. Brother.
She tried to keep her face away from him; maybe he wouldn’t see the tears.
“Yes… yes, Jani?” She said slowly.
Jani walked across the room, till he was standing directly under the mould on the ceiling. He made a disgusted noise and walked back to the other side of the room, pulling a chair from the table. He now sat, directly opposite to his sister.
“I heard crying,” He said, “Do… do you want something?”
Ansa didn’t move. She took a deep breathe, “No… I… I… I’m just…”
Jani touched her hand, affectionately. Her hand quivered lightly in his grasp. He released it and looked his sister directly in the eye.
Ansa met his gaze, feeling shame once more. She must’ve looked like such a mess. Jani was always handsome, at least to his sister. He was long and tall, and impossibly fragile-looking. His grey eyes were wise, graceful and loving. His long and wispy black hair, always curled neatly into place. He was 17, but looked younger. Three years older than Ansa. Ansa was 14, short and had constantly blood-shot blue eyes.
Now, the differences seemed greater than ever as his grey eyes seemed to be talking to her blue ones. Saying things, so softly that no-one could hear.
“Sister,” He finally said, “I…” Jani was trying to say something, Ansa could tell.
She rubbed her eyes and smiled, or attempted to. “I’ll be fine,” She promised.
“Jani, do you think Ma and Pa will come home soon?” She asked suddenly.
He twisted his fingers, stabbing his own hands with his nails, “Yes,” He said.
Ansa nodded, solemn as she so rarely was. She stood up and walked away, leaving the kitchen. There was no food, anyway. She entered the dining room, where cobwebs and spiders crawled over the silver candlesticks and cutlery. The next room was the parlour, at least the heater still worked in there.
She opened the door and was immediately suffocated in overwhelming heat. It was pleasant, but at the same time overly pleasant. She wondered briefly about going into the kitchen again, but didn’t want to worry her brother anymore.
Ansa took her seat on the settee and closed her eyes, trying to fall asleep. Sleep meant she wouldn’t think, even if her dreams tended to upset her.
Suddenly though, there was a knock at the door.
Ansa’s eyes snapped open, immediately awake. Could she have imagined it, she wondered? Was it possible that Ma and Pa were finally home? Was this...?
Hope stirred within her and she was immediately racing towards the hall where the wooden Mahogany doors stood, still locked as they had been since that day so many weeks ago when Ma and Pa had first left. Jan was already waiting for her, shaking slightly.
She smiled at him; tears were waiting in his eyes, willing his parents’ to come and save them both.
“Ready?” He asked her.
They reached for the handle together and swung it open, ready for the beautiful sight of Ma and Pa. Ma’s laughter echoing through the street as she embraced her children; Pa’s voice telling them something calming, that they’d never forgotten their children, that everything would…. Be… alright…
But nothing was alright.
Three adults stood before the siblings.
The first was a man. He had olive skin, dark brown hair and even darker eyes. He seemed awkward, unfortunate and unsure of where he was. The other two were women. One had bright yellow hair, troubled blue eyes and the look of someone who was permanently melancholy. The final woman was the opposite; she was beautiful, cold and charismatic. Her features were sharply drawn in her face and she seemed so harsh, that she scared Ansa and Jani.
The siblings’ fingers tightened around each other’s hands. Their expressions changed from hope to fear, anxieties summoning and crawling up and down their bodies.
“Hello,” The yellow-haired woman said, “Are you Jankin and Ansa Voss?”
“You have to come with us,” She said solemnly, “I’m sorry.”
They stood together, saying nothing and doing nothing.
The second, harsher woman took over, “Your parents are dead,” She said, “You must vacate this property immediately.”
Ansa felt Jan release her hand. She wondered if she should cry. She wondered if she should scream. She wondered what someone would do. Most of all though, she knew she was falling.
Jan said nothing. He was stone-faced, as always.
“We have come to take you to your new home,” The man said, awkwardly, “You will now live with your Grandparents on the coast.”
The words meant nothing to Ansa. She heard them. They were sentences, vowels, adjectives, whatever. They were meaningless. It meant…
The yellow haired woman spoke again, “I’m sorry.”