I had to go to the toilet, but the bed was warm. I turned, and turned again but couldn’t get back to sleep. I had to go. I eased myself down from the top bunk, missing Tony’s face by inches and opened the door to the landing. The dark was icy cold. Directly ahead was the bathroom. It gave off a dim bluish glow, moonlight on porcelain and blue patterned walls. I walked cautiously, past our parents’ bedroom and stretched for the light switch. A hand touched mine and then quickly withdrew. I jumped ten feet and ran quickly to bed. It was Doris.
Doris was my Dad’s sister, born in 1889 and when we were children, a strange silvery haired old woman. She had once been pretty and according to some stories disappointed in love. Now she was just strange and slightly spooky. She lived by herself in the back bedroom. She didn’t use electric lighting because she believed bulbs emitted harmful rays. And she didn’t come down to share our small kitchen preferring instead to cook in a large iron cauldron over an open hearth fire. The top of the house was full of smoke and shadows, flickering light. In the dark we would sometimes hear her mutter.
I don’t know what exactly went wrong. Our mother was kind, almost to the point of softness but there was no love lost between her and Doris. No blazing rows as I remember, but a sense of distance that was passed on to us. It is pure conjecture as to whether Doris resented our mum for usurping her place at 14 Ribblesdale, the terraced ancestral home of the Keyton family. Maybe she disapproved of her brother marrying a Protestant. Something we’ll never know. What I do know is that our mother had a hard enough time with her husband always at sea and two boys at home that always seemed to be fighting. She didn’t really need a strange old woman living in a dark and dirty room and prone to causing small fires in the middle of the night.
Eventually Doris was committed and taken away frail and confused. No one went to visit her, but it is too easy to regret in hindsight. She died two days after our father.