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The House We Grew Up In
Lisa Jewell

1

Tuesday 2nd November 2010

Hi, Jim!

Well, I must say, I didn’t think for a minute you’d be called something earthy like Jim! The Barbour and natty waistcoat in your profile photo make you look more like a Rupert or a Henry, something serious with two syllables, you know! And talking of syllables, and since you asked, no, I’m not really called Rainbowbelle. OF COURSE NOT! I’m called Lorelei and my name has three or four syllables, depending on how you say it. (My parents named us after mythical maidens. My sister is called Pandora. There was an Athena, but she was stillborn, so you know.) Anyway. Lor-a-lay-ee. Or Lor-a-lay. I’m not fussy really.

I’m sixty-five years old and I live in one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds in a big, crazy old house full of what I call TREASURES and what my children call CRAP. We are probably ALL right.

I have four children. Megan is forty, Bethan is thirty-eight and the twins, Rory and Rhys, are thirty-five. Oh, and thanks mainly to the frantic reproduction of my eldest daughter I am a multiple grandmother too! Do you have any children? You didn’t mention them so I assume not? People usually tell you about their children before anything else, right? I don’t see them very much, unfortunately, they’re all so busy, and I’m, well, I suppose you could say insular, these days. I lost my partner about four years ago and things kind of unravelled from there, you might say.

Anyway, what can I tell you about me? I love nature, I love the countryside, I love children, I love to swim. I’m fit, for my age. I’ve kept my figure over the years, and am grateful for that. I see some women I’ve known for many years just turn to woolly mammoths once they passed menopause! And, as you can see from my picture, I’ve kept my hair long. Nothing ages a woman faster than a haircut!!

Anyway, that’s enough about me. Tell me more about you! You say you’re a widower. I’m very sorry to hear that. And whereabouts in the North do you live? I can see from your photo that you have a dog. That is a very beautiful retriever. What is it called? We had a dog when the children were growing up, but once they’d all gone, I could never quite see the point of animals.

I will see what I can do about photographs. I’m not really very techy beyond my laptop. But there must be something else I can send you. I’ll check it out.

Well, thank you, Jim, for getting in touch. The Internet really is a marvellous thing, especially for old codgers like us, wouldn’t you say? I’d be lost without it really. I’d love to hear back from you again, but please don’t feel you have to, if you think I sound dreadful!!

Yours with best wishes,

Lorelei Bird

April 2011

The damp heat came as a shock after the chill of the air conditioning that had cooled the car for the last two hours. Meg slammed the door behind her, pushed up the sleeves of her cotton top, pulled down her sunglasses and stared at the house.

‘Jesus Christ.’

Molly joined her on the pavement, and gawped from behind lime-green Ray-Bans. ‘Oh, my God.’

They stood together for a moment, side by side, the same height as each other now. Molly had caught up last summer, much to her delight. They now both stood at five foot eight. Molly long and lean as a fashion drawing, tanned legs in denim hot pants, honey-dusted hair bundled on top of her head in an artful pile, white Havaianas, a chambray shirt over a pink vest, tiny ankles and wrists layered in friendship circlets and rubber bands. Meg, on the other hand, solid as a quarterback, sensible in three-quarter-length navy chinos and a Breton-striped long-sleeved top, a pair of silver-sequinned FitFlops and a last-minute pedicure her only concession to the unseasonal heatwave. Mother and only daughter, in the late stages of a nightmarish, clichéd teenage disaster that had lasted more than three years. Almost friends now. Almost. Someone had once told Meg that you get your daughter back when she’s nineteen. Only four more years to wait.

‘This is worse than I thought. I mean, so much worse.’ Meg shook her head and took a tentative step towards the house. There it stood, brick for brick, exactly as it had been the day she was born, forty years earlier. Three low windows facing out on to the street, four windows above, two front doors, one at either end, on the right by the side entrance a plaque, made by a long-dead local craftsman, an oval with the words The Bird House painted on it and a pair of lovebirds with their beaks entwined. The green-painted gate to the left of the house that opened up on to a gravelled path to the back door, the stickers in the windows declaring membership of Neighbourhood Watch (whatever happened to Neighbourhood Watch? Meg wondered idly), allegiance to the RSPB and an intolerance towards people selling door to door.

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