The poor light and the thick net curtains in the sitting room’s bay window submerge the house in a gloom that, even though I have not set foot here for almost fifteen years, threatens to drown me. The tiles on the fireplace are faded and in the corners the wallpaper is peeling. There is a damp smell coming from the old sofa against the back wall and for a moment I almost catch a whiff of my father’s pipe coming in from the kitchen. For a minute I imagine he is there, newspaper in hand, kettle on the boil, but he departed this house long before I did. If he hadn’t died I might have stayed longer.

The room is crammed with furniture and ornaments, large display cases filled with porcelain children, porcelain babies, hundreds of small smiling faces staring out from behind glass doors. On the walls are photographs of cousins, nieces and nephews, all the children of the family. I search the frames for images of myself as a child in vain. She took them down long ago and I should know better than to imagine her finally relenting and returning them to their places. After all, I couldn’t find it in myself to forgive her, to expect her to have forgiven me in her final years would be hypocrisy of the highest order.

I move upstairs, my thoughts full of the one room I really want to see, stepping carefully over the stained carpets for fear of treading in something unpleasant. The animals are gone now, but mother’s menagerie still haunts these rooms, as if at any moment the air might fill with the cries of the multitude of animals she allowed to overwhelm her home. I lost track of the names and the species long before I left her alone in this house. My mother’s abundant affection for those beasts only served to highlight its absence for me.

I stand and stare at her bedroom door for a full ten minutes before I am able to move closer to it. The one room in the house I was forbidden to enter. She caught me trespassing when I was fourteen, before I had chance to steal a glimpse inside the locked heavy oak wardrobe. Entering now, I half expect her to materialise behind me as she did then, her pale face cadaverous long before her death, but I only glimpse myself in the mirror of her dilapidated vanity stand. I look more and more like her as the years pass.

The wardrobe is as tall and imposing to me as it was as a child, looming like a villain from a black and white movie, casting shadows for monstrous things to hide in. I pull the screw-driver from my handbag and quickly pry open the old lock, splitting the wood around the fitting with a crack. Inside is a collection of my mother’s faded dresses and tucked in at the base of the wardrobe are two boxes. The first is the worn packaging from a child’s doll, the other a blue toy chest. I hesitate, unsure of which to open first.