Lisa Jewell The House We Grew Up In

ISBN 13: 9780099559559

The House We Grew Up In

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9780099559559: The House We Grew Up In

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OUR HOUSE. OUR FAMILY. OUR SECRETS.

Meet the picture-perfect Bird family: pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and towheaded twins Rory and Rhys, one an adventurous troublemaker, the other his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet, gangly man, but it’s their beautiful, free-spirited mother Lorelei who spins at the center. In those early years, Lorelei tries to freeze time by filling their simple brick house with precious mementos. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She hangs all of the children’s art, to her husband’s chagrin.

Then one Easter weekend, a tragedy so devastating occurs that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, while Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband and children and has been living as a recluse. But then something happens that beckons the Bird family back to the house they grew up in—to finally understand the events of that long-ago Easter weekend and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

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About the Author:

Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author of twelve novels, including The House We Grew Up In and The Third Wife. Her latest novel, Then She Was Gone, will be published in April 2018. To find out more, visit Facebook.com/LisaJewellOfficial, or follow her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The House We Grew Up In

1



Tuesday 2nd November 2010

Hi, Jim!

Well, I must say, I didn’t think for a minute you’d be called something earthy like Jim! The Barbour and natty waistcoat in your profile photo make you look more like a Rupert or a Henry, something serious with two syllables, you know! And talking of syllables, and since you asked, no, I’m not really called Rainbowbelle. OF COURSE NOT! I’m called Lorelei and my name has three or four syllables, depending on how you say it. (My parents named us after mythical maidens. My sister is called Pandora. There was an Athena, but she was stillborn, so you know.) Anyway. Lor-a-lay-ee. Or Lor-a-lay. I’m not fussy really.

I’m sixty-five years old and I live in one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds in a big, crazy old house full of what I call TREASURES and what my children call CRAP. We are probably ALL right.

I have four children. Megan is forty, Bethan is thirty-eight and the twins, Rory and Rhys, are thirty-five. Oh, and thanks mainly to the frantic reproduction of my eldest daughter I am a multiple grandmother too! Do you have any children? You didn’t mention them so I assume not? People usually tell you about their children before anything else, right? I don’t see them very much, unfortunately, they’re all so busy, and I’m, well, I suppose you could say insular these days. I lost my partner about four years ago and things kind of unraveled from there, you might say.

Anyway, what can I tell you about me? I love nature, I love the countryside, I love children, I love to swim. I’m fit, for my age. I’ve kept my figure over the years, and am grateful for that. I see some women I’ve known for many years just turn to woolly mammoths once they pass menopause! And, as you can see from my picture, I’ve kept my hair long. Nothing ages a woman faster than a haircut!!

Anyway, that’s enough about me. Tell me more about you! You say you’re a widower. I’m very sorry to hear that. And whereabouts in the North do you live? I can see from your photo that you have a dog. That is a very beautiful retriever. What is it called? We had a dog when the children were growing up, but once they’d all gone, I could never quite see the point of animals.

I will see what I can do about photographs. I’m not really very techy beyond my laptop. But there must be something else I can send you. I’ll check it out.

Well, thank you, Jim, for getting in touch. The Internet really is a marvelous thing, especially for old codgers like us, wouldn’t you say? I’d be lost without it really. I’d love to hear back from you again, but please don’t feel you have to, if you think I sound dreadful!!

Yours with best wishes,

Lorelei Bird

April 2011

The damp heat came as a shock after the chill of the air-­conditioning that had cooled the car for the last two hours. Meg slammed the door behind her, pushed up the sleeves of her cotton top, pulled down her sunglasses and stared at the house.

“Jesus Christ.”

Molly joined her on the pavement, and gawped from behind lime-green Ray-Bans. “Oh, my God.”

They stood together for a moment, side by side, the same height as each other now. Molly had caught up last summer, much to her delight. They now both stood at five foot eight. Molly long and lean as a fashion drawing, tanned legs in denim hot pants, honey-dusted hair bundled on top of her head in an artful pile, white Havaianas, a chambray shirt over a pink tank top, tiny ankles and wrists layered in friendship circlets and rubber bands. Meg, on the other hand, solid as a quarterback, sensible in three-quarter-length navy chinos and a Breton-­striped long-sleeved top, a pair of silver-sequined FitFlops and a last-minute pedicure her only concession to the unseasonal heat wave. Mother and only daughter, in the late stages of a nightmarish, clichéd teenage disaster that had lasted more than three years. Almost friends now. Almost. Someone had once told Meg that you get your daughter back when she’s nineteen. Only four more years to wait.

“This is worse than I thought. I mean, so much worse.” Meg shook her head and took a tentative step towards the house. There it stood, brick for brick, exactly as it had been the day she was born, forty years earlier. Three low windows facing out onto the street; four windows above; two front doors, one at either end; on the right by the side entrance a plaque, made by a long-dead local craftsman, an oval with the words The Bird House painted on it and a pair of lovebirds with their beaks entwined. The green-painted gate to the left of the house that opened up onto a graveled path to the back door, the stickers in the windows declaring membership of Neighborhood Watch (whatever happened to Neighborhood Watch? Meg wondered idly), allegiance to the RSPB and an intolerance towards people selling door-to-door.

All there, just as it had been forever and ever.

Except . . .

“This is the worst house I’ve ever seen,” said Molly. “It’s worse than the ones on the TV shows.”

“We haven’t even been inside yet, Moll, hold that thought.”

“And my nose too, right?”

“Yes, probably.” She sighed.

The windows, which to her recollection had never been cleaned, were now so thick with grime that they were fully opaque. In fact, they were black. The pastel-yellow Gloucester brick was discolored and damaged. The green gate was hanging off its post by one solitary nail and the graveled pathway was piled high with random objects: two old pushchairs, a rusty bike, a dead Christmas tree in a broken pot, a box of magazines swollen and waterlogged to twice their original size.

The flat-fronted style of the house meant that it held most of its personality within and behind, but even on such scant display, it was clear that this house had a disease. The village had grown more and more gentrified over the decades, all the old houses scrubbed to a gleaming yellow, doors and window frames Farrow-&-Balled to the nth degree, and there, lodged between them, like a rotten tooth, sat the Bird House.

“God, it’s so embarrassing,” said Molly, pushing her Ray-Bans into her hair and wrinkling her tiny nose. “What must everyone think?”

Meg raised her eyebrows. “Hmm,” she said, “I’d say that judging by our local reputation this is probably no more than anyone in the village would expect. Come on then”—she smiled at her daughter, nervously—“let’s go in, shall we? Get it over with?”

Molly smiled back grimly and nodded.

April 1981

Megan pulled back the ivy and pushed her fingertips inside a small crevice in the wall.

“Got another one!” she shouted out to Bethan and the twins.

“Oh, well done, Meggy!” her mother called from the back step, where she stood in her strawberry-print apron watching proceedings with a contented smile. “Bravo!”

Megan pulled out the small foil-wrapped egg and dropped it into her basket. “It’s pink!” she said pointedly to her younger sister.

“Don’t care,” said Bethan. “I’ve got three pink ones already.”

Megan looked up at the sky; it was cloudless, densely blue, hot as July. Mum had said they needed to find their eggs quickly, otherwise they might melt. Her eyes scanned the gardens. She’d found all the eggs in the woodpile, gingerly plucking them from next to rubbery woodlice. There’d been more in the beds of daffodils and hyacinths that lined the pathways around the greenhouse and she’d come across a big gold one sitting in the branches of the cherry tree outside the kitchen door. She counted up her eggs and found she had twelve. Bethan and the twins were still searching close to the house, but Megan suspected that the top garden had been all but stripped of its eggy assets, so she skipped down the slate-covered steps to the lower garden. Suddenly the sounds of her siblings and her mother faded to a murmur. It was warmer down here, soft and hazy. The grass had stripes in it, from where Dad had mown it yesterday, this way and that, and little piles of shaggy grass trimmings already turning pale in the burning sun. A camellia bush, confused by the early summer, had already bloomed and spilled its fat blossoms onto the lawn, where they lay browning and sated, halfway to ugly. Megan headed to the lichen-spotted sundial in the middle of the lawn. Three more foil-wrapped eggs sat on top of it and she brushed them into her basket with the side of her hand.

She heard Bethan tripping down the steps behind her in her flamenco shoes. Megan turned and smiled. Sometimes when she looked at her little sister she felt overcome with love. Her worst enemy and her best friend.

Meg and Beth looked identical. They both had what her mother called the “Bird face.” It was the same as her dad’s and the same as her auntie Lorna’s and the same as Granny Bird’s. Apple cheeks, high foreheads, wide smiles. The only difference was that Megan’s hair was brown and curly like Mum’s, and Bethan’s was straight and black like Dad’s. Rory and Rhys, the twins, looked like their mum. They had “Douglas faces.” Low foreheads, long noses, neat bee-stung lips, and narrow blue eyes peering curiously from behind curtains of long blond hair.

People always said, “Oh, such lovely-looking children.” They said, “You must be so proud, Mrs. Bird.” They said, “What perfect angels.”

And Mum would say, “You should see them when they’re at home,” and roll her eyes, with one hand running through ­Rory’s hair, the other wrapped around Rhys’s hand and her voice full of love.

“How many have you got?” Meg called out to her sister.

“Eleven. How about you?”

“Fifteen.”

Their mother appeared at the bottom of the steps with the twins in tow. “The boys have got nine each, I think we’re almost there,” she said. “Think yellow,” she added with an exaggerated wink. The boys let go of her hands and ran towards the slide at the bottom of the garden that had yellow handles. Bethan ran towards an upturned bucket that was actually orange. But Megan knew exactly where her mother meant. The Saint-John’s-wort bush right in front of them. She walked towards it and let her eyes roam over the clouds of yellow flowers abuzz with fat bumblebees before they came to rest on a row of terra-cotta pots underneath, overflowing with eggs and small yellow puffball chicks with glued-on eyes. She was about to scoop up the eggs and chicks when her mother touched her on her shoulder, her soft dry hands firm against Meg’s sun-freckled skin. “Share them,” she whispered softly, “with the little ones. Make it fair.”

Meg was about to complain but then she took a deep breath and nodded. “Here!” she called out to her siblings. “Look! There’s millions.”

All three hurtled to the Saint-John’s-wort bush and their mother divided up the remaining eggs into four piles and handed them to each child in turn. “Already starting to melt,” she said, licking some chocolate from the edge of her thumb, “better get them indoors.”

The cool of the house was shocking after the heat outside. It draped itself over Meg’s bare skin like a cold flannel. Dad was pouring juice into beakers at the kitchen table. The dog was dozing on the window seat. The yellow walls of the kitchen were entirely covered over with the children’s art. Megan ran her finger along the edges of a drawing that she’d done when she was four. It always amazed her to think it had been stuck to the wall there, in the very same place, with the very same piece of Sellotape, for six whole years. She could barely remember being four. She certainly could not remember sitting and drawing this portrait entitled megn and mumy, composed of two string-legged people with crazy hair, split-in-half smiles and hands twice the size of their bodies, suspended in a gravity-free world of spiky blue trees and floating animals. The wall of art was a conversation piece for anyone coming into the house; it spanned all three walls, spread itself over cupboard doors, over door frames, around corners and even into the pantry. Dad would try and take some down occasionally, to “update the wall” as he’d put it. But Mum would just smile her naughty-little-girl smile and say, “Over my dead body.” If Dad ever saw one of his children producing a piece of art he’d snatch it away the moment it was shown to him and say, “That is so very beautiful that I shall have to put it in my special folder,” and spirit it away somewhere (occasionally tucked inside his clothes) before Mum saw it and stuck it to the wall.

“Now,” she said, pulling her tangly hair back into a ponytail and removing her apron, “you can eat all the eggs you like as long as you promise you’ll still have room for lunch. And remember, keep the foils for the craft box!”

The “craft box” was another bugbear of Dad’s. It had once been a small plastic toolbox neatly filled with sequins and pipe cleaners and sheets of gold leaf. Over the years it had expanded into an ever-growing family of giant plastic crates that lived in a big cupboard in the hall, filled with an impossible tangle of old string lengths, knots of wool, empty sweet wrappers, toilet-roll middles, old underwear cut into rags, packing chips and used wrapping paper. Megan didn’t really do crafts anymore—she was nearly eleven now—and Bethan had never been as creative as her sister, while the boys of course would rather be roaming the gardens or charging about the house than sitting with a tube of Pritt and a handful of old ice-lolly sticks. No one really used the craft box anymore, but that didn’t stop Lorelei constantly topping it up with all sorts of old junk.

She pulled the egg foils eagerly from the children now as they discarded them, smoothing them flat with her fingertips into delicate slivers, her face shining with satisfaction. “So pretty,” she said, piling them together, “like little slices of rainbow. And of course, they will always make me think of today. This perfect day with my lovely children when the sun shone and shone and all was right with the world.”

She looked at each child in turn and smiled her smile. She ran a hand over Rhys’s hair and stroked it from his eyes. “My lovely children,” she said again, her words encompassing all four of them, but her loving gaze fixed firmly upon her last-born child.

Rhys had been the smallest of all of Lorelei’s babies. Megan and Bethan had both weighed over nine pounds. Rory had been the first twin out, weighing in at a healthy six pounds and fifteen ounces. And then, as her mother often recounted, out popped poor Rhys like a plucked quail, a little under four pounds, blue and wrinkled and just about able to breathe on his own. They’d put him under lights—or “lightly toasted him,” as Lorelei also often recounted—and declared him fit to go home only after three long days.

Lorelei still worried about him more than the other three. At just six years old he was smaller than Rory, smaller than most of the children in his class, with a pale complexion and a tendency to catch colds and tummy bugs. He clung to his mother whenever they were out in public, wailed like a baby when he got hurt and, unlike his brother, didn’t like playing with other children. He seemed happy only when he was here, at home, brother on one side, mother on the other. Megan didn’t know what to make of him. Sometimes she wished he’d never been born. Sometimes she really thought they’d be better off without him. ...

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