Here we are. Here it is.
This the house we have come to. This the house we have left to find. Beached up on the side of the North York Moors, only just out of the sea. Our lips puckered and wrinkled from licking crisp salt, limbs heavy, wrought with growing pains. The boiling-hot steering wheel, the glare off the road. It has been hours since we left, buried in the back seat. Mum said, getting into the car, Let’s make it before night. And then nothing else for a long time. We imagine what she might say: This is your fault, or, We would never have had to leave if you hadn’t done what you did. And what she means, of course, is if we hadn’t been born. If we hadn’t been born at all.
I squeeze my hands together. Not being able to tell yet what the fear is of, only that it is enormous. The house is here. Squatting like a child by the small slate wall, the empty sheep field behind pitted with old excrement, thorn bushes tall as a person. The suck of stale air meeting new as I push the door open. The smell of manure. The hedges overgrown, the grass and weeds forcing their way through the concrete, the front garden narrow and gnarled up with odds and ends, ancient spade heads, plastic bags, shattered plant pots and their almost-living root balls. September up on the uneven garden wall, balancing, teeth clenched in what might or might not be a grin. The windows shuttered with the reflection of her body and of my face beyond, eyeholes like caverns and, beyond that, our mum leaning exhausted against the bonnet.
We imagine what she might say: This is your fault, or, We would never have had to leave if you hadn’t done what you did.
The white walls of the house are streaked with mud handprints and sag from their wrinkled middles, the top floor sunk down onto the bottom like a hand curved over a fist. Scaffolding heaped against one wall, broken tiles from the roof shattered on the road. I reach for September’s arm wondering if I might push my teeth down into the skin to see if I can tell, by the contact, what she is thinking. Sometimes I can. Not with great certainty but with a numb buzz of realisation. Like when Mum turns on the radios in different rooms and the timing is off just a little and you can stand in the corridor in between and hear them echoing; but she whirls away out of reach, cackling like a magpie.
I dig for a tissue in the end of my pocket, blow my nose. The sun is just starting to drop but still it burns on my bare shoulders. There are cough sweets in my pocket, soft with fuzz. I suck one into my cheek.
On the wall of the house there is a sign, covered in grime. I wipe it with my tissue until I can read the words:
THE SETTLE HOUSE.