Surveying the silent living room, I yearned for the warmth and noise of a long distant childhood. Now there was nothing but a steady clock tick and the memories of happier times. I ran my hand over the worn leather of my father’s old chair and willed him once more not to be gone. After a time, the clatter of keys in the front door pulled me back to the present and I took a seat, silently urging myself to stay calm.
‘Here,’ I called.
The door opened with a groan. He entered, acknowledging me reluctantly as he did so.
‘It’s good to see you Aidan,’ I said, loath to move.
‘Is it?’ he said flatly.
Hands planted firmly in his coat pockets he gave the room a casual onceover.
‘Well I couldn’t really ignore you anymore. My voicemail was full to bursting.’
‘Yeah sorry. I was anxious to...’, I faltered.
‘Well I just thought we could talk. I haven’t seen you since the solicitors. Will you not sit down?’ I asked, gesturing to the seat opposite.
He looked at me impassively and remained standing.
‘There’s not really a whole lot to talk about Sarah. You’re now the sole proprietor of our childhood home and that’s pretty much it.'
‘Please what? It’s the truth or did I misunderstand all that legal jargon?’ he asked.
‘No. You didn’t misunderstand but we can at least talk about it surely?’
‘As I said already Sarah there’s nothing to talk about and why you would bring me here of all places to discuss anything is beyond me. An opportunity to rub my nose in it I suppose,’ he said bitterly.
He knew me better than that, but I let it go.
Standing up I moved towards him adopting as measured a tone as I could.
‘I suggested it because it’s our home Aidan. It’s where we grew up. Why wouldn’t we meet here?’
‘It’s your home now Sarah. It’s nothing to do with me anymore,’ he said, exasperated.
‘Of course it has,' I said, trying to stay calm.
‘This is your home too. It will always be you...’
‘But it’s not Sarah,’ he yelled suddenly, cutting across me.
‘Are you stupid or something?’ he went on angrily. ‘It was spelled out in black and white in the bloody solicitors. Enough with the softly-softly bullshit. It’s just embarrassing at this point. You won, and you got everything. End of story.’
His vehemence caught me off-guard but it sparked me to retaliate.
‘It’s not the end of the story though is it Aidan?’ I said, my voice firmer now. ‘You think that I somehow engineered all of this. That I’m some scheming bitch who swooped in to steal a house from her dying father.’
‘Well If the cap fits...,’ he said matter-of-factly.
‘Jesus Christ,’ I muttered, pushing past him to get out of the room. As I reached the door I turned back.
‘I’m going to assume for now that you being a complete prick is just another crappy side effect of losing Dad. I get that you’re suffering Aidan, but you don’t have the monopoly on it. You’d want to sort yourself out.’
Without waiting for his response, I turned on my heel. I went to the kitchen and set to making tea or coffee or anything that would distract. My mind swirled as I tried to fathom how the once solid familiarity of this house and this family had become so twisted. The last few months had been excruciating, full of tears and exhaustion. I felt the loss of my one remaining parent acutely and now Aidan. At a time when I would have cleaved to him most, he had reacted in the worst way possible to Dad’s last wishes. I couldn’t blame him. In truth I had been as shocked as he was that day in the solicitor’s. Growing up my parents had always been so careful to treat us equally but now they had bequeathed us a situation that, judging by the recent showdown, was going to threaten our dynamic irrevocably. In the intervening weeks since we had found out, I found myself increasingly angry at what they had done.
As the hum of the kettle increased, I heard the back door open. Aidan walked out into the morning sunshine. He stood for a time, his breaths rising in the cool morning air. As he began a slow loop of the garden, I watched his progress through the kitchen window. He looked a shadow of himself. My first instinct had always been to protect him, but he made it so difficult sometimes. The bitterness had come even before Dad had passed away. 'The dutiful daughter,' he had spat at me a couple of times when I had sat up all night at Dad’s bedside. As he passed under the old treehouse, I recalled the many hours he had spent up there as a child. I would smuggle him treats from the biscuit tin on my study breaks and would climb up and take some respite. For a few minutes I would absorb everything his busy little mind was saying and doing. Sometimes he would rest in the crook of my arm eating his biscuits and they were always good days.
Wiping my eyes for the millionth time in a month I took a solid breath to gather myself. Opening the back door with my elbow I carried two cups out into the winter sun. Aidan was now seated at the patio table. The wood had started to seize in the cold, unused to being outside this time of year. Another domestic chore that had fallen by the wayside in those final months. I placed the coffee in front of him saying nothing. We sat at an angle to each other and he took the cup in his hands hugging it for warmth.
After a moment he looked down at his cup and said in a gentler tone than before: ‘The way I just spoke to you was...’
He struggled for words but could only shake his head resignedly.
‘I’d have to agree with you there,’ I interjected.
‘I didn’t mean it. Of course I didn’t mean it. You know that.’
‘Do I? To be honest Aidan, it’s felt like I’ve been a bit of a punchbag for your best shots these last few months.’
He looked over at me meekly.
‘I know that. I’m just... I’m all over the place. You always seem to cope better with things like this.’
‘Don’t assume anything,’ I said, holding his gaze for a moment.
We sat for a time in silence.
‘We’re orphans now,’ he said.
‘At 35 and 50 respectively I don’t think we’re classified as orphans,’ I said with a wry smile.
‘Ok maybe not. Maybe there should be some word for this though,’ he said, his voice catching.
I leaned over and put my hand on his shoulder. Nobody understood Aidan like my Dad and he was floundering now that recognition and connection was gone.
‘Do you honestly think I talked him into it? Into to giving me this house?’ I asked.
He brushed a tear away and exhaled, appearing more tired than bitter now.
‘I don’t know Sarah. I...’
I put a hand up to stop him talking and looked at him straight.
‘I promise you that at no point did I ever discuss the house with Mam or Dad. I don’t know why they did it Aidan. I honestly don’t.’
‘They obviously wanted you to have it Sarah. That’s why.’
‘But...’ I went on.
It was his turn to stop me now.
‘Look it doesn’t matter. I don’t even know why I was so surprised really. You’ve always been a better daughter than I’ve been a son. Maybe this reminded me of that fact.’
‘It wasn’t a competition Aidan.’
‘You were though,’ he said resignedly. ‘You were always around Mam and Dad you know? Always close to home. Always helping them out or driving them places. Sometimes I felt guilty for just going off and living.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I don’t know. I mean we were both given opportunities. You could have left. Gone travelling maybe. Sowed your wild oats. All of it. You were always here though. Even in college you’d be home early most evenings. You knew my bedtime stories off by heart you were home so much! During my college years I was lucky to make it home by morning,' he said, grinning.
I smiled back but shifted slightly in my seat.
‘I liked helping them out. I just felt I owed it to them Aidan. That’s all. I owe them a lot. We were all happy to see you go off and live your life. You should never have felt guilty about that.’
‘What about your life though?’ he went on. ‘It was like you were hiding behind responsibility because you were too afraid to get out there yourself.’
I looked at him defeatedly.
‘I wasn’t afraid Aidan. I was fine. It was all fine.’
‘It wasn’t though Sarah. You missed out on so much. I mean we both owe them a lot but I didn’t … .’
‘I owe them more,’ I said quickly, cutting him off.
He looked taken aback by my abruptness. I cursed myself for having spoken so but in the still frost I began, finally, to understand my parents’ intentions. They had instigated the conversation we might otherwise never have had. Aidan and I had never been equals. One last time I felt their hands on my shoulders supporting me to say the words. My pulse quickened as I pushed off from shore.
'I owe them more Aidan because they let me keep you.’