CREATIVE Rosey Brown

NWR Issue 122


Empty Houses

The next week it is stormy; the week after, it snows, but the week after that, Clover is ready to show me the abandoned houses where we can look for books.

‘I’m surprised you haven’t done it before,’ she says. ‘You don’t go anywhere, do you?’

After this bravado, the first three houses Clover takes me to are all thoroughly empty – no food in the cupboards, nothing useful in the drawers like tin foil or forks. Many are resolutely boarded up, and we try, weakly, to pry at the wood covering the windows and doors. Our arms are thin as sticks: we have little success. The only books we find are pulpy wet, or covered in mould.

In the fourth house, we find a rotating cupboard which has stuck – we force it round, and at the back, find a waiting tin of spaghetti hoops, some hard, dried-up raisins and – best of all – half a bag of sugar. We lick our fingers, dip them into the bag, lick them again. We lick and lick, first with urgency, then with a more leisurely appreciation. We marvel at how white the crystals are, how they shine a little in the light, coating our fingers like snow, sticking under our nails.

‘Still no books.’

‘Hmm,’ Clover says between licks, ‘there’s one house I’ve been avoiding.’

We walk a little way out of the main part of the village and come to another, fairly standard pebbledashed semi-detached.

‘This is Miriam’s house. I haven’t seen her in ages,’ Clover says, and the tone of her voice makes it clear what she is warning. The door opens and there is a terrible stench – the dark red carpet of the hallway is dotted with dog turds. We pick our way through, and when we get into the living room, we see her – sunken into her chair as if she is starting to melt. It is very hard to look at her but also very hard not to.

I realise that I have seen this woman before: even I – who walks only between school and home – have seen her walking around the village on a few occasions. I can tell by looking at her shoes – old red zip-ons, with a plastic bag lining one of them, a dark blue ESCO sticking out by her ankle. I had noticed them then, too, a couple of years ago, when she made her way into our garden and started picking the mint. When Dad yelled out of the window she turned to look at him, as if totally confused, but I noticed that her left hand still slowly put the leaves into her cardigan pocket.

‘Miriam?’ Dad shouted. ‘Is that you?

But if it was her, she pretended not to know him, turning around and stumbling away. And now she is dead in this armchair.

‘Why hasn’t anybody come?’

Rosey Brown lives in Cardiff, where she works as a coordinator of community arts and education projects. She makes zines, sometimes makes music in bands, and has performed with and written for experimental music ensemble NewCelf. She is also part of Sull, a new collective of eleven artists who are running a new arts space/studio in the Capitol Centre. She was part of the Hay Festival Writers at Work scheme in 2016 and 2017. Her entry, ‘Adrift’, from which we publish extracts here, was runner-up in this summer’s New Welsh Writing Awards 2019: Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella, awarded at Hay Festival.

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