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Behind the Flock

Friday, 27th January 2012

Categories: Moving Stories

Author: Peter Barry

This is one of the twelve shortlisted entries for the Peter Barry Short Story Competition

Written by Kathryn Freeman

“Mum, I’ve got some details of houses that you might be interested in.” I waved a clutch of brochures from the local Estate Agent.  “One looks just perfect.  It’s only round the corner from us.  Nice and handy for babysitting!”

“Thank you, Jane, that’s really kind of you.”  Mum took the details and put them down on the kitchen table without a second glance.  “Have you got time for a cup of tea?  Your father and I were just about to have one.  I know you’re always busy, rushing here and there, but you need to sit down once in a while.”

I was torn, a familiar occurrence when I popped round to my parents.  Much as I longed to relax and chat, I had kids to pick up from school.  For a working mother, it seemed there was never enough time.  “Sorry Mum, I’ve got to go.  Have a look through the houses and let me know if you want to see any of them.  And did you ring up the Estate Agent about putting yours on the market?”  I seemed to be nagging my parents a lot recently.

“Well, I don’t know if there is much point really.”  Dad shook his head slowly, running a hand through his shock of white hair.  “We haven’t seen anything we like yet.”

“Oh Dad!” I exclaimed, exasperation making my reply sharper than I intended.  “We’ve been through this a hundred times.  You will find the ideal place.  Something that doesn’t need decorating, and with a smaller garden that you can potter in, but doesn’t need a degree in horticulture to maintain.  It might even have that conservatory you have always wanted.”  I smiled, trying to take the edge off my words.  “Hopefully it will be in walking distance of your grandchildren.  But it will all be in vain if you don’t sell this house.”

“I know you’re right,” he agreed quietly.  “We just want to click our fingers and it all to be done.”  He looked over at Mum and she nodded, smiling wistfully.


I sighed.  I knew how they felt.  Of course moving was the right thing for them to be doing, but packing up forty years of memories?  That was a daunting prospect. “One step at a time eh?  Let’s see if we can find a buyer for this house first.” 


A couple of weeks later I was back at Mum and Dad’s house, knocking on the faded red front door.  “Oh thank you for coming, Jane.”  Mum opened the door with an anxious look on her face.  “I know it’s silly, but your father and I haven’t shown anyone round a house for over forty years.  We’re not sure where to start.  Besides we thought, as it’s a younger couple who are coming to view, you might do a better job than us.”

“It’s no problem, Mum,” I replied, giving her the hug she looked like she needed.  Stepping into the hallway I tried to put myself in a potential buyer’s shoes.  My parents had clearly made an effort to tidy up, but the hall was far from the “wow” entrance that the television programmes advised.  Sadly it was closer to an “oh dear” moment, with its wildly patterned wallpaper and bottle green carpet.  

“You’ve made a good job of freshening it up, Mum,” I smiled reassuringly, wanting to erase the worry off her face.  “It looks lovely.”

“It looks old and tatty,” she shook her head, “but hopefully they will love it just as we do.”  Just then she peered out of the window.  “They’re here already!”

No time like the present.  “Okay, I’ll let them in.  You go and sit down in the front room with Dad.”  Giving her arm a quick pat I went to open the door to the young couple. 

They were both smartly dressed, probably they’d come straight from work.  They also seemed to want to get this over and done with as quickly as I did.  “Come in,” I said, herding them quickly through the dated hallway.  “I suggest we go upstairs first.”  The TV shows always advised ending on the best room, so I thought I’d get the upstairs over and done with first. 

As we climbed the stairs I tried to look at the familiar walls through the eyes of the young couple.  They would no doubt have noticed that the blue patterned carpet was fraying at the edges, the dated flock wallpaper was peeling in several places, and the paintwork was chipped and yellowed with age.  There had been a time when I had been so proud to live in this big, rambling old house.  When it had been the envy of my school friends.  Now, to my eternal shame, I felt embarrassed to be associated with it. 

     “This is my parents’ house,” I told the couple quickly, feeling like a traitor.  “They’re getting a bit too old to maintain it now so they’re planning on moving to a newer house.  Something smaller.” 

I opened the door to the bedroom where I had once slept.  The flowery pink wallpaper was still on the wall and a selection of my teddy bears still sat on the shelves.  Unconsciously I smiled to myself as I remembered how I’d once wanted red, white and blue walls. 

     The couple looked around in silence, clearly unimpressed.  I began to feel a twitch of irritation.  This was my family home.  It might not be to their taste, but if they couldn’t pretend to like it, at least they could be civil. 

Finally we ended the tour in the lounge, known to our family as the “posh” room.  It was the place unexpected visitors were ushered to.  The one room in the house that was always tidy.  Today it didn’t look so posh.  Instead it looked old fashioned.  With fussy wall paper and ornaments spilling over onto every surface, it was as far removed from the modern minimalist look as it was possible to get.  “Would you like to have a look round by yourselves?” I asked as the couple stood, poker faced, by the fire place.

“No, I think we’ve seen enough,” replied the woman stiffly, glancing over to her husband. 

“Well, what did you think?” Mum stood up from where she’d been sitting, her eyes flickering hesitantly towards the couple.

“No offence, but it’s not to our taste,” the woman replied dismissively, clearly not at all bothered whether she caused offence or not.  “I know you’ve got to look past the décor, but frankly I found that impossible.  We were hoping for something that didn’t need quite so much work.” 

“Oh, well, it would probably suit an older couple more.” Mum spoke the words bravely, but I could tell she was stung by the woman’s remarks. 

     Anxious not to prolong the agony, I hastily saw the couple out.  Closing the door behind them I leant back against it, taking in a deep, steadying breath.  I knew what the woman had meant, but this house was more than just a place to live.  It was a lifetime of memories.  I looked up towards the ceiling, noticing the wonky wall paper.  Suddenly I was a little girl again, holding the ladder as Dad fought with the wet roll of wall paper, desperately trying to secure it onto the wall.

“A blind man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice.”  Dad joined me in the hallway, nodding up at the creased wallpaper with a smile.  They were the very words he had used all those years ago after giving up in his efforts to get the paper smooth.  “Your Mum is in the kitchen.  She’s a bit upset.”

     I nodded.  I wasn’t surprised.  I was, too.  Taking hold of his hand I walked back with him towards the kitchen.  It was then that I slowly began to observe the house through their eyes.  They didn’t see the faded flock wall paper; they saw the scribbles of their children writing on the bare walls underneath, before the new wall paper was put on.  They didn’t see the fraying stairs carpet; they saw me sliding down the stairs in my sleeping bag.  They didn’t see the chipped paintwork; they saw my brother racing his cars down the hallway.

     Mum was making herself a cup of tea, tears streaming down her face.  “I’ve been thinking,” I said as I put my arms around her.  “Why don’t we see how much it would cost to get a decorator in?  Freshen the place up a bit.  And you could get a gardener to help every now and then.  Maybe even get a quote for that conservatory you’ve always wanted.” 

Mum nodded happily.  “I don’t think we’re ready to move just yet.”

Written by Kathryn Freeman

This is one of the twelve shortlisted entries for the Peter Barry Short Story Competition