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Published On: Sat, Sep 9th, 2017

A Family Home by Sarah Ward


The house magazine suggested infusing the air with the smell of freshly made bread but Susan had never baked a loaf in her life. Until recently, the town had its own baker where her children had demanded squidgy jam doughnuts that set their teeth on edge.

Then, over the years the baker closed, the fish van stopped visiting on Thursdays and the newsagent survived only by doubling up as a post office. 

“What time are they coming?” Tim looked over his glasses. “I’ll make sure I’m back in the garden when they arrive.”

Susan arranged the flowers her husband had picked in a vase. The scent of chrysanthemums filled the room, dark and spicy. No need for baking bread. She looked anxiously out of the window. “They should be here any minute now.”

A family. Not the first but, if she was very lucky, possibly the last. As Tim disappeared through the back door into his garden, Susan gave the coffee table a final dust and set the vase on the windowsill.

The estate agent with the impossibly high leopard-print heels had zoomed up the drive in her tomato-red Mini. She smiled at the living room with its period fireplace, neutrally inspected the garden in full bloom and frowned when she entered the kitchen. 

“Too small for a family.” 

Susan was shocked. She’d brought up her own two boys here. Simple meals of shepherd’s pie or toad-in-the-hole before they’d pushed off into the garden to kick a football or throw basketballs in the hoop that still hung over the garage.

“Families want a kitchen as a hub.” The woman was firm. She inspected a wall and her frown lessened a fraction. “I suppose they could knock through,” she conceded and wrote in her notepad.

“What about the garden? It’s perfect for children.”

“It’s a bit big. Families want something smaller these days. 

Easy to maintain. Less flowers and more grass.”

And it seemed the agent was right. They’d had 12 viewings. Only an elderly couple had come to see the house again and decided it was too big. People with children came. And went. During one visit, Susan overheard a woman look around the kitchen and hiss to her husband “too small.”

A loud bang brought Susan out of her gloom and she hurried to the front door. A small blonde child with a gap-toothed smile grinned up at her.

“Jack! I told you to wait for us. You didn’t knock really hard, did you?”

At the sight of the woman, Susan’s heart fell. She was immaculately dressed, wearing the same patterned shoes as the estate agent. The father looked glum and was carrying a younger child whose raw face bore the signs of a recent tantrum. As she ushered them into the living room, Jack rushed over to the French windows and pressed his face against the newly cleaned glass.

“Football.”

Susan looked around in surprise and spotted a souvenir from her granddaughter’s visit lying in the flowerbed. A pale pink Barbie ball. 

“Do you want to go outside?” She looked around for the mother who had wandered out of the room towards the kitchen. The father looked relieved. 

“I think they could do with a run about. I’ll go out with them while Jo looks around, if that’s OK.”

Jack shot out of the door while his brother took a few tentative steps on the newly mown grass. Susan watched for a moment as Jack retrieved the football and began to dribble it around the garden, then went to look for their mother.

They careered into each other as Jo was coming out of the kitchen. “Can I have a look upstairs?”

Susan led the way as Jo inspected the four good-sized bedrooms and family bathroom. 

“No en suite,” the estate agent had commented. Jo lingered in the bedroom at the back, looking out on to the garden.

Tim had stopped pretending to deadhead the roses and had the smallest child in his arms.

“It reminds me of the house I grew up in.”

Susan smiled as her heart sank. “You’re probably the age of my kids. It’s time to move on, but it’s a wonderful family home.”

“It’s virtually the same layout as my parents’ house. Funny.”

Susan turned away so the woman wouldn’t see her face. “Is there anything else you’d like to look at?”

“I think I’ll check out the kitchen again, if that’s all right with you.”

“The dining room’s next door. 

It’s where we used to congregate. 

It was the… hub.” She tried the word for size and hated it.

The woman descended the stairs and glanced at the kitchen once more. “I think I’d better retrieve my children and let Paul have a look around.”

Her husband was quick. Barely two minutes later, Susan was waving the family off.

“Well, what do you think?” Tim took off his gardening hat and sank into the sofa.

“Hopeless. She asked to see the kitchen twice.”

He groaned. “I’m tired of people traipsing through the house. Will it never end?”

Susan was waiting for the cheese on toast to grill when a bang reverberated around the house. Opening the door with a sense of déjà vu, Susan stared down at Jack’s grinning face while Jo and the others stood next to him looking apologetic. 

“We were going to phone the estate agent for a second viewing, but you seem so nice so we thought we’d just call back again. Can we come in for another look?”

Susan stood aside as Jack marched past her towards the open French doors. She couldn’t help herself. “What about the kitchen? You don’t think it’s too small?”

“Mum can’t cook,” Jack bellowed as he disappeared into the garden. 

Jo smiled after him. “It’s true. My least favourite room in the house. Can I have a proper look around the garden this time?” 

Sarah Ward’s new novel A Patient Fury (Faber, £12.99) is out now. See Express Bookshop at expressbookshop.co.uk.



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