We came back from holiday, and my heart sank.
I thought I understood, but I could not be certain - until I have verified my suspicions.
The opportunity to do this presented itself a few days later, when I encountered one of my neighbours, who can be relied on to know all that there is to know about matters local.
"I notice the house down the road is up for sale, has the lady who lived there gone into sheltered accommodation?" I enquired.
"Oh no, she went into hospital and she died. 105 I think she was…"
105! Of course, I remember being told that she was over 90 when we moved in in the early days of the century.
I never really had the opportunity to get to know this neighbour, she was elderly and frail when we moved in. I only remember seeing her a few times. I calculated that she would have been roughly the same age as my maternal grandparents, who died in 1977 and 1984. The majority of the houses in our street were built after the first world war. I wonder if she and her husband bought their house when they got married and what memories still remain within those floral patterned rooms.
Despite living a mainly reclusive life in her later years, I was reminded of her presence every afternoon when she lit her coal fire regardless of the weather, and the sharp scent of smoke drifted over the garden fences, like a familiar friend paying a visit. Old bones feel the cold and the house had no central heating. When I saw her house up for sale, I tried to recall when I had last smelt the smoke, and I honestly don't know, but it wasn't that long ago. No doubt the new owner will install central heating, but they may keep an open fire. I wonder if there will be a time when I will again smell the familiar scent of a coal fire.
This evening as I go out to hang out my washing, I find myself sniffing the evening air, trying to detect some lingering fragrance, but there is none. For there will be no smoke until a heart beats within those walls once more.