Funny how the mind can play tricks. Time, light and space converging in one to disorientate and undermine what you think you know. But why today? And why in this place? They’d never been here together. She’d never even been here on her own. She’d been in the final room when she’d become aware of the time and realised she was taking much longer than she’d said she would.
Peter wasn’t interested in historic houses. He said they were never really authentic because the carpets and furnishings, and even the wall hangings, were reproductions brought in to make them look like they might have looked hundreds of years ago when people actually lived in them. She didn’t think that mattered. She enjoyed imagining what life would have been like for those people, putting herself in their shoes, as it were. Even better when she could put herself in their minds. That took a bit of effort. It required more than the information relayed by a tour guide. In fact she didn’t enjoy being part of a tour. You could tell that the other people – the tourists – were only there because it was something to do, or to have it to say that they’d been to such and such a stately home, as if they’d been invited there.
Vicky thought of herself as a seeker of experiences rather than a tourist. She needed time to absorb the atmosphere of a house. It didn’t matter if it was a humble thatched cottage or a great mansion. It didn’t even matter that it had been renovated as long as enough of the original structure remained. That’s where the memories were – in the stone of the walls, in the containment of rooms, in the entrapment of roofs and ceilings.
A long time ago, even before her grandfather was born, her great-grandfather and some friends helped a neighbour build his own house. They wrote all their names on a piece of paper and sealed the paper inside a milk bottle. Then they built the bottle into the wall of the house. She knew the house was still standing. She’d been to visit it on an ancestry pilgrimage and was thrilled to think that the bottle was still in there, like a secret message from the past, linking her to the house and its history. It made her feel part of something greater than herself – a continuum of energy and coherence.
This one – the house she had chosen today – she classed as a minor mansion. It had been the ancestral home of a 19th century politician who had made a name for himself as a social reformer and, since there were no other visitors, she was allowed to wander around the rooms and read the information panels undisturbed.
In the study she pictured the great man at his desk drafting legislation and corresponding with his fellow MPs and was disappointed that the blinds had been pulled down preventing her from seeing the view that he would have gazed out on as he paused to find the most apt phrase or the most precise word. It was here too where he would have written to his wife who, having discovered the ease of city life, refused to return with him to rural, rain-soaked Ireland during parliamentary recesses.
She entered the dining room and could almost hear the raucous chatter of hunting party guests as they enjoyed their host’s renowned hospitality. In the drawing room she read that his wife bore him twelve children and revised her previous hypothesis about the wife’s desire to remain alone and unhusbanded in the capital.
It was while she was admiring the workmanship in an ornately carved table (surely the original) that she experienced an awareness of her own husband waiting outside. But it wasn’t an awareness of him as a physical presence. It was more a sensation of him – the emotional rather than material essence of him. A disturbing realisation spread through her. This man she was conjuring was not Peter. The personality that was now invading her mind was that of her first husband, Davy. Why? She hadn’t seen him in years - hadn’t thought of him even. They’d married almost as soon as they’d left their teens and parted around mid- twenties. No children therefore no need to keep in touch. So why was her brain telling her that the man who was expecting her to emerge from the house at any minute was a man she’d left behind over twenty years ago? The sensation was not unpleasant. It gave her a different, half-forgotten sense of herself. Could she risk exploring it, allowing it to develop? Could she stop it? Apparently not. Her mind’s eye was already recreating the physical Davy. She could clearly picture his gangly body, his flop of blonde hair, his jeans, trainers and nylon bomber jacket, and his loping, couldn’t-care-less stride.
The blinds were down in this room too giving it a warm, beige ambience. A card had been placed on each chair saying “Do Not Sit”. She didn’t. Instead she stood perfectly still between the ornate table and the door and tried to remember what Peter looked like. What clothes was he wearing today? What colour were his eyes, his hair? She had no idea. If she went out now would she recognise him? And if she did, would she be able to relate to him as his forty-eight year-old mature, sensible wife, or had she somehow reverted to her giddy, care-free twenty-something self? Either way she couldn’t stay in here suspended. She needed a clue to bring her back to the present. She took her mobile phone from her pocket and tapped into photos.
She saw him sitting on a bench opposite the exit door looking just as he did in the numerous images on her phone and was relieved that he hadn’t minded the wait. She still had no concept of who he really was but she agreed to a bite of lunch and a stroll on the beach after and hoped that somehow she would recover herself along the way.