Duncan's House

Even Duncan’s empty house made Amy nervous. Bulky, just like him, leaning back with its mates, windows peering down at her like sardonic eyes. She opened the gate and walked up the path, battling the buddleia that lurched out in front of her.

At the front door she felt the familiar anxiety wash over her. Even now, it felt like all the times when they were growing up and she was sent to fetch him home for his tea. His friends would jeer and push and laugh until, finally, after much pleading, he came away with her. It was Amy who’d be in trouble if they were late.

He wasn’t unkind, exactly, just older; part of that boyish world where affection was a punch on the arm and calling each other ‘cunt’ meant you were best friends. Far from her Sylvanian families and tea parties.

Amy forced the door open against the tide of junk mail and stepped inside.His house was a state. She’d expected that, a man living alone. Where Amy was taught to be neat and clean, Duncan was left to grow wild, like the buddleia, while mum washed his pants and tidied his things. Until he’d left home, finally, at thirty.

And he’d only done that because Uncle Jack had left him a bloody house. No house for Amy, who could look after herself. Duncan, the screw up, got everything handed to him on a plate.

Inside the air was stale and Amy found half-drunk cups of tea growing ecosystems abandoned about the place. The things the solicitor would need were in the study, so she waded across to the heavy wooden door and let herself in.

The rug looked odd. Perfectly aligned with the wall in a room where papers teetered in stacks and furniture stood at odds with the walls, it stood out among the chaos.

Amy shifted it with her foot and saw scratch marks around the edges of the floorboard beneath. She scrabbled at it for a moment then prised it up with her fingernails.

The box rested among the dust and balled up credit card receipts and Amy’s heart sank. What valuable object or wadge of cash had Duncan been given and hidden under the floorboards? Never mind Amy’s bills piling up, despite her two jobs, everyone had to make sure that Duncan wouldn’t starve, surviving on his giro cheque, poor lamb.

Impatiently, she opened the lid, eyes already pricking with tears of frustration, but it was full of old junk. A shell, a postcard with a canal boat on it, some crayon scribbles.

A small Sylvanian Families rabbit.

Amy stopped. She had given this to Duncan, the memory surged to life; he’d spent a rare afternoon with her. Not pulling her plaits or teasing, but asking questions and drinking imaginary tea. She’d forgotten. She’d given him the rabbit to make friends, but when she asked about it later, he said he’d lost it. She’d cried at that. But it was here all the time, among his treasures.

And suddenly it hit her that her big brother was gone - really gone; that she’d never really talked to him, and now she never would. This link to her childhood was gone forever and, for the first time, Amy began to cry.