Last night I had a nightmare again. I had stolen a key and sneaked into the house in Nunhead, crept upstairs to my old bedroom, and hid in the wardrobe. At some point, the real occupants of the house came home from work, and they knew something was wrong, and I had to wait there in the dark, sweating and panicking over my stupidity, knowing that they would swing open the doors at any moment and see me cowering beneath someone else’s clothes.
I didn’t jump awake. My eyes opened like old blinds. Above, darkness. I was somewhere else, in another bedroom a bus ride away from Nunhead—twenty minutes with traffic, ten by car. Not much of a distance, but sentimentally it felt galaxies away. My chest felt hollow, I turned on my side, and tried to forget the Nunhead House, but as the hours ticked on, more memories invaded my head. At some point I probably went to the kitchen, had some tea, and sat down on the sofa.
In the corner of the living room I’ve erected a tattered shrine of childhood affection. Creased Pokemon cards and dusty Gameboys rest against a tangled rainbow slinky. Shaun the Sheep reigns on the top shelf, the paint on his eyes long since rubbed away with use, so that two ivory orbs stare frantically back at me in the dark. His once-creamy wool is flat and grey, peppered with bobbles. The velvet black of his legs is worn and frayed. His dishevelment denotes days off sick from school, Christmas mornings, rainy days, fitful nights; chubby brown arms strangling him half to death, and as I got far too old to sleep with a stuffed animal, he would nestle against my chest, smothered by my breasts, at which point he must have truly died—a pleasant asphyxiation. I would never throw him away, even as he descended into grotesquery, and scared anyone who looked at him, and garnered disgusted expressions from my sister, who always wondered when’s the last time he had been washed. I love Shaun.
I remember when I first got him. It was sometime in the ‘90s, and my mum took us to Woolworths. I got a few things: a Slyvanian Families set, an extra home for my Polly Pocket—and Shaun the Sheep. I liked A Close Shave, even with the weird penguins, and I hadn’t had a stuffed toy to sleep with before. I was probably six years old, and since then, we have been inseparable. Later that day, I played with him, gorged on a Pick ‘n’ Mix bag, and watched Blockbuster videos for the rest of the afternoon in my mum’s room. It was so sunny that day. The light streamed through yellowing net curtains and cast kaleidoscope patterns on a carpet that, looking back, was a health and safety hazard and should have been pulled up and incinerated half a decade before. But the carpet was just another childhood memento mori. I sighed.
Sometimes, on my way home, I feel daring, and I drive past my old childhood road in Nunhead. I think about the time I slapped Dominic in the face, or when Mr and Mrs Thomas threatened my friends and me during a game of knock-down-ginger gone too far, or when Sarah’s dad painted the front fence of their house with little egg-head characters, and everyone stood around to watch and discuss them, or when Sarah and I found a dying bee beneath the tree outside old man Cliff’s house, and we stuck her in a shoe box and put her in a Slyvanian Family bed and cried when we found her dead the next day, or when Rebecca and I played with her brother’s skateboard, and it magically flipped upwards and busted my lip, and then, and then.
Every December, me and my sister made a Christmas Plan. She would draw a crude map of the house on an old sheet of A4 paper and mark out which bedroom we would knock on upon awakening, and on the day itself, the house would swim in the scent of fried plantain and spicy beans and fried kidneys and the biggest turkey anyone had ever seen, and we would stuff ourselves until we couldn’t walk, and I would play beneath the tree, making stories in my head about angels, or a child who got lost in the forest, narrating it to myself using new Barbie and Bratz dolls, shoving them between faux pine needles, making them fall dramatically from the top, accidentally breaking a bulb which would then douse the whole tree in blackness. And then, and then.
Everyone has left Nunhead now. Rebecca was the first to go, moving to somewhere near Kent. Sarah and her family went somewhere expensive. Dominic and Liam left ages before that to somewhere cheaper. Frances was barely ever there anyway; her family’s dysfunction was so legendary, it was as if she had never truly existed. At one point, only I and Ishmael remained, and then my parents split and I left him there alone. When I returned, during the months when the house was up for sale, I saw that Ishmael and his family had gone. And so had everyone else. The colour had drained from my road, and all the houses had been sold or awaiting purchase. Everything was white, from the fences to the plantation shutters behind double-glazed sash windows, to the people, to the money. The cars were different. No more spectrum of rusted can to new money pimpery. Everything was understated: we don’t show wealth this way, it said.
I can't remember my last day in that house, but I remember the first time I drove past it after it had been sold. The door was white.