The weeks passed. School started. The children loved coming back from their days at school to their new home. We each found our own favourite spots. Mine was the kitchen. The Aga in the corner kept the room toasty warm, and the huge old table was a perfect space for me to spread out all the papers and files that constituted my work. And with the biscuits and kettle within reaching distance.
Liam's was his room. He made a whole world of imagination up there. Using the many cardboard boxes left over from moving house, we built a fort there one weekend. A fort that covered almost half of his substantial-sized room. We also extended it up the secret passage to one side of the loft, so that he had a mini town of carboard houses spreading over a full corner of the house. I bought him packets of oversized marker pens, and he decorated the cardboard walls with dragons and aliens, cityscapes and mountains. There was even a Tardis hidden down one cardboard street.
"What about Melanie?" my mother asked me. "Where does she like to spend her time? I imagine that Liam doesn't always appreciate having his little sister getting in the way of his games in his City." She smiled fondly out of her living room window, where Liam was kicking a football against the garage wall, often missing the white goalposts painted on it. "She likes the stairs, strangely." Mother took a sip of her tea. "The stairs? What an odd place to get attatched to."
"Mmm." I brushed some cake crumbs off my lap. They peppered the green carpet, and Mother's songbird flew down from its perch to peck them up. "We painted her room together last weekend. In pink and yellow, of course. And we set up her toys and belongings on shelves that I put on the walls at her height. But she has a habit of moving her games into the hallway, to sit at the top of the stairs and spread down the steps.
I tried to discourage her. The amount of toys that were left to trip people up and generally cause havoc was ridiculous. But nothing I said or did would change her mind. In the end, it's nice to have her there. She's learned how to tidy up after herself now. And I can hear her playing from the kitchen when I work."
"Stairs are dangerous, Catherine. Little children should not be allowed to play on them." Mother put her cup down on its saucer and looked reprovingly at me. "You should really put a stop to it." I nodded in halfhearted agreement. "How is she otherwise though? Is she settled in?"
"She's quiet." I stood up, and went to the window. Mel was squatted on the grass, poking bits of stick into the dirt to make a circle of wooden pieces, then laying brightly coloured flowers picked from the flowerbeds in the middle of the circle. "She's quieter than usual. I think maybe she hasn't properly settled in just yet. Sometimes when she's playing on the stairs and I'm working in the kitchen, it goes all quiet. When I look over at her, she's sitting completely still on the stairs. Aways the same place, exactly halfway up. Not making a noise. When I get up to go and talk to her, she starts, and looks at me as if I've appeared out of nowhere. All shocked and surprised. It's odd."
Mother rattled her cup in its saucer. "Well I know a good child psychiatrist if you think it's necessary, Catherine."
"Mother!" The shock registered in my voice, and Mother looked at me crossly. "Well, you never know, dear! Moving house can be very unsettling to a child, and after your divorce..."
"Mel does not need a psychiatrist, Mother. She just needs more time." As I left the room, I heard Mother sigh. "Poor Melanie. I never did like those stairs."