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The Last Trip

“What shall we do with the strawberry bucket?” I ask Amber, looking down at the grey dusty dirt that is shrinking away from the sides of the metal bucket. 

“Bring it! Bring it!” She sings from the front seat of the car. 

I never have had much luck with growing things, it’s a miracle I’ve managed to keep three children alive all these years. This particular bucket is a ‘grow your own’ kit, I bought it on a whim from the supermarket last year. We actually got teeny tiny strawberries sprouting there last summer, which was exhilarating for someone who can kill a cactus in a week, but they didn’t grow after that they just shriveled and died. I left the bucket outside for the winter and we were pleasantly surprised when green shoots and strawberry leaves started reaching up out of the mummified earth again this spring. 

I grab the bucket and slot it neatly in the boot beside the last box. This is the last trip. 

The tangle of door keys is warm in my palm, I leave the boot open for another moment to keep the air flowing to the small people strapped in the car, ready to leave. 

“Anything else?” My daughter asks as I step up beside her open window. 

I swallow against the dryness that has suddenly flooded my mouth, “I’ll have one last look.” 

Stepping into the flat is surreal, it is empty now, hollow. Everything that made it home has been stripped away. It feels lighter, somehow, the shadows are gone.

The cliché arrives, and suddenly I am remembering the first time I ever stepped in here when it was as hollow as this when this place was a new beginning itself. I remember that I sat here in this room, with no furniture or belongings, waiting for the carpet men to come. I made calls and changed addresses on my phone while I waited, full of hope and elation at this fresh start in this new home.

I step into the kid’s bedroom and look out into the empty back garden. I stood here eight years ago as a mother of one sweet little three-year-old boy, feeling excited at the opportunity this place would bring him, thinking of all the outdoor toys we could get, and all of the space that he would have in his very own bedroom. 

I stand here now as a mother of three, bitterly regretting the decisions that I made and the harm that I allowed to befall us all here. Tears spit into my eyes hot and fast. I promise myself that I won’t let them down again, I promise to protect them and bring them joy instead of pain. 

The paradox is that if I hadn’t stayed with their abusive father as long as I did then I wouldn’t have all three children to love and nurture. They exist because he existed. Everybody says, “oh but look what you got out of it; three beautiful children”. Nobody wants to talk about the roiling insanity of loving them and being grateful for their existence, while at the same time actively and savagely regretting the decisions that led to them being here. Both feelings are real, and both feelings are valid. 

From there I step back into the hallway and through the open door, I can see the wall where my three-year-old Aaron first helped with the painting when we were preparing to move in. He was desperate to help, and his little smile when we gave him a roller and a paintbrush is imprinted in my memory forever.

I can’t bring myself to take one last look at the master bedroom. The ghosts in there are better left undisturbed. 

Until now, all I have felt was a relief, excitement, and the chaos of organising the move. I did not expect this sudden weight, this sadness. Where does it come from, this sadness, I wonder? It feels mournful. There is a sense of loss beneath the tears. It surprises me. People don’t tend to miss their prisons. I remind myself that my prison was my home for eight years, and while every memory is tainted, not every memory is a bad one. 

I set down the handful of keys on the kitchen side, keeping hold of one front door key. I look down the length of the room and smile, I have hated this room since the day I first laid eyes on it, it was almost a deal-breaker for accepting the flat in the first place. Hideous old thing. My hand grazes the familiar side; this was my leaning spot, from here I could huddle with my cup of warm tea and watch the children in the other room while also feeling like I was having a bit of a break from them. Here is where small people have stood on step stools, and we have baked and decorated lots of yummy things together. 

Here is where he snatched the cupboard door out of my hands, stepped forward, and towered over me with hate-filled eyes, blazing with rage and violence. Here is where I felt scared, where I was threatened and screamed at. 

Here is where I called the police. 

This place was my prison, but it is also the place where I found freedom. I found strength here amongst my weakness. I grew bigger than my shell and it’s time to cast it off.

It’s time to go.

I step outside and lock the door for the very last time. That last key goes in the coded key box on the wall. I shut the boot and climb back into the car beside Amber. 

“Are we never going to come here again?” She asks me quietly. 

“Someone else is going to live there now,” I tell her. 

She curls her whole body away from me in raw sadness and my instinct is to reach out and pull her into a hug, but I won’t force her. 

“It’s okay to be happy and excited about our new house, and also to be sad and miss the old house,” I say slowly. I want to reassure her; I want to acknowledge her sadness because it’s just as important as the wonderful new beginning we’re about to have. “I have lots of big feelings right now,” I tell her.

“I have big feelings, too.” She says. 

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

She shakes her head, but her body starts to turn. She reaches out to me for comfort, and I scoop her into my arms, grateful for her trust and I am full of so much love for her I feel I might burst. “Maybe when you are ready, we can talk about our favourite memories from the old house,” I suggest. 

She nods into my shoulder, and we have one last squeeze before we strap ourselves in and begin our journey to our new home. I can’t wait to show her the new baby strawberries that I spotted sprouting in the crusty old bucket.

© Emma Stead

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