The girl at the top of the stairs

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Disturbed by a noise, he woke and stretched down from the cosiness of his bed to see a shadow cross the threshold of light beneath the door. He was just strong enough to turn the doorknob cautiously, his curiosity overcoming his timidity to open it, a crack.

The creature he saw had stepped from the future to be starkly at odds with the council house surroundings. A slim young woman in flared burgundy cords, paisley shirt, beads and stylish short hair that oozed 60s cool. Even her tortoiseshell glasses, the only thing that might have lessened the effect, were fab. The spell she effortlessly wove around herself enticed him onto the landing to see her properly, only to be dispersed by his mother’s voice as she came upstairs, alerted by his tattle-tale floorboards.

This is Rayma. She’ll be staying with us for a while.

Raime? Reimar? Reh-ma? The name formed by his mother may have shifted over time but his memory of the apparition hid itself away in a dark corner, undiluted until disturbed by a catalyst that brought it all back into focus many years later.

She’ll be staying with us for a while? No-one ever stayed. It was just him, his mother, his father and the dog. Those were the certainties of home. Now this Georgie Girl, this Michelle-My-Belle, had stopped her flying like a bird in the sky-y-y and descended from her Nimble Balloon to bring discord to his life.

The landing with its creepy attic hatch and the magnolia painted woodwork and fifties wallpaper was in jarring contrast to the colourful textures she wore. It formed a blurred halo around her as if she was aglow and out of synch. She smelled musky sweet as she bent down to say hello but she seemed sad and nervous, traits that seemed strange in a grown up. She’d been crying too.

Right, back to bed with you, come on, his mum tucked him in. Tight.

Despite the troubling encounter and the muffled voices that continued from downstairs, he was soon sound asleep.

She was still there the next day, less brilliant in daylight and in dowdier clothes of brown and russet. She was nice but quiet. Her unpredictable presence in his predictable home made him uncomfortable though, so he went into the pantry to look at the Barnardos ‘Sunny Smiles’ his mother stuck on the back of the door, then hung around until he got on her nerves and was sent outside to play in the frozen, grey garden.

His mother put his duffel coat and his itchy brown balaclava on him and pushed his feet into welly boots from the gloomy shoe cupboard where a long dead cat had once scratched angry furrows in the linoleum.

He liked to look at the milk bottles on days like this, the cream frozen into a lid busting tower or burgled by the pecking of bluetits. He imagined them flying about with funny milk moustaches on their beaks.

He went up between the shed and the rockery with it’s jolly red plastic gnomes, wandered about on the slippery crazy paving, hitting the stiff-as-a-board towels that had been left on the washing line. They scrunched satisfyingly under his bunched little fists. He puffed out some dragon breath and marvelled at how red and pimply his knees were getting under his shorts in the cutting wind. Like all small boys he knew his knees well.

A scattering of sparrows flew up from the breadcrumbs his mum had thrown out last night as he got to the end of the path. He tipped over a flowerpot of dormant mint looking for snails to crunch and got all dirty struggling to pick it up again. Then he braved the cold to have a steaming pee under the hawthorn behind the greenhouse like his dad did when he was gardening.

Bored, he looked for the bow he’d won at the fair throwing ping pong balls into goldfish bowls. It was a little flat bamboo one with a fluffy grip taped around the middle in red white and blue. The string was a bit loose and it took him a while to find some dead dog daisy stems to use as arrows. You could strip off the leaves and put a knotch in the end with your thumbnail to fit the string, his dad had showed him. He’d soon lost the dowelling and rubber suction arrows that came with the bow after a shoot out with Tracy Thomas.

He’d like to aim at rhubarb leaves but there weren’t any now so he shot at the dark green cabbage instead but the arrow bounced off the lumpy, frosty earth. Just as well, or his dad wouldn’t have been too happy, although he’d have probably blamed the bloody caterpillars.

Come and have your egg. You can watch Playschool.

Rayma helped him eat his scrambly egg while Brian Cant sang black and white nursery rhymes. After lunch she played with him for a while with his Action Man, helping him scale the staircase on a mission and then they built a Lego house. She put a red fence around the edge of the base board with a little hinged gate in the middle.

His father came home from work and his mother made faggots and peas for tea and there was apple tart for afters. Rayma read him a story before bed, she was good at doing all the voices, but she was distant.

This was the first time he’d encountered someone as different from his experience of the people in his small circle. Her presence pushed his boundaries, altered his space. He felt the need to construct a story that explained her alien presence in his mundane world.

Much later it occurred to him that she might have had the Rolling Stones or the Doors playing in her head while he’d only heard Yellow Submarine a couple of times on Jimmy Young. She’d been in cars, maybe on trains to London, he’d only been on the bus to Ammanford with his mother. He’d bet she’d been allowed to stay up to watch the Moon Landing that he missed in bed.

So why was she sad? Why was she even there?

It was grown up stuff, so he never found out, and the next day she was gone and soon after so was his wondering about her.

His parents never mentioned her again and years later, when he found her glasses, they’d gone too.

No-one else had ever been to stay.

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All this, and Welsh too.

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