He climbs the ladders into the mouth of the attic, flicking the switch for the light he installed one lukewarm summer, some years ago.
Back then, he held the intention of turning the attic into a space for his daughter to play with Barbies and plush bears. He made countless promises to his wife that he would lay new floorboards, cover the exposed brick, and install proper safety gates.
Maybe paint rainbows on the beams. Stars too.
He’s not sure it matters much, that he never got around to it.
The bulb blinks and blinks and blinks before it bumbles to life, illuminating the piles of his daughter’s puzzles and plastic toys and folders of pictures drawn in crayon, pencil, and felt-tip.
He keeps one of her creations in his wallet. A drawing of the three of them. His wife has purple hair, and he has grass green. The sun is an uneven circle of yellow and the sky is a shock of bright blue.
He removes it, sometimes. Unfolds it and holds it until it his arms sag with the memory.
He steers clear of the slouching pyramids of plastic bags pushed against the lower edges, today. His counsellor says it might be healing to try sorting through them, but his hands seize at the thought of revealing the faded blue baby grows, tiny toddler trousers and the shoes so small they barely cover the width of his open palm.
How is it possible a human can be so tiny?
In the very dark recesses, where the roof slopes and the light fades, are the suitcases stuffed full of his wife’s old sun hats, summer dresses, shorts, and t-shirts. She took her favourite clothes with her when she left. Took everything else too.
Well, everything that she wanted.
He doesn’t know how she spends her days anymore. What it’s like not to live below this museum.
He used to escape to the attic when his daughter was a baby. He’d carry up a cup of coffee and a car magazine and unfold one of his old camping chairs and revel in the silence while his wife changed a nappy or heated a bottle. Did the things he didn’t.
The magazines spill from a collection of tatty cardboard boxes now. The pages are dog eared and marked with pink highlighter where he would circle what car he’d buy should he ever have the money.
A lucky dip on a lottery card got him enough to get an old BMW Z3 just before his daughter’s fifth birthday. He bought her a matching diecast model to play with and she’d run it up and down his arms, screeching as she made it twist and turn in the crooks of his elbows and dips of his collarbone.
What would have happened, that black day, if he spent less time thinking about how fast the car could go, or how well it might handle on the tight country lanes?
Would he have watched the oncoming traffic more closely, or checked the car seat that his daughter was strapped in?
He knows he cannot change the past. It’s an immovable object. A fixed point in his continuum.
The bulb above him blinks again. Once. Twice. Before popping and fizzling out.
He crouches down and rolls on his haunches until he’s flat upon his back. His hair catches in the thin gaps between the floorboards. The dust beneath him becomes restless.
Fibres of it swirl, dancing and twirling over him.
Emily uses writing as an escape from reality and doesn’t drink enough water. She has had work published with Barren Magazine, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Storgy, The Molotov Cocktail and Retreat West to name a few. She can be found on Twitter at @emily__harrison