You know the minute you walk up the stairs that something is wrong.
The air is different, it feels different on your skin. The smell you don’t immediately recognise but lives somewhere in your memory is nothing but a sliver of energy in front you, not yet fully formed. Your subconscious recognises it: danger.
You pause at the top step, no reason to, just that your feet slow to a stop of their own accord. The door is ajar and your brain struggles to process that. You know that door slams unless you grab out at it, trapping your fingers as gently as you can (never gentle enough) between the heavy fire and smoke proof material and the metal doorjam.
But here it is, slightly open, and here you are, on the step, staring.
Afterwards you wonder what would have happened if you’d turned and walked straight back down the stairs, back down past the off licence, its doorway stained with vomit. Past the indian take away with the food that bakes all day under the warm lights, back down to the bus stop in the cool purple twilight.
But you don’t.
You stand there.
Finally, you walk toward the door, because it is expected of you. By whom? You don’t know, but it is what you do every day. Is the entire point of you being here. You always walk up three flights of curved stairs, pitted and worn by the innumerable who passed here before you, and enter number 15, your home. So that is what you do.
You place your hand flat against the door and consider its weight for a moment, is there a reason its open? There is of course, but right now you’re not to know that, how could you?
Afterwards, when you tell the story (and there will be so much retelling) you say you pushed hard, after all, why wouldn’t you? but you don’t. Not really.
You press gently, timidly, afraid of what you are about to find.
You pause on the threshold, don’t call out like you normally would.
Finally, you enter, and it is all as it should be and yet it is not. You look around, you know this room, this flat, this home. See the vase on the side table, see the photos you so carefully framed, see the man with his back to you, standing in the hallway.
He turns and your eyes lock.
You are held in place by the expression on his face, tight with anxiety. His voice, when it speaks, is stilted and formal, like he’s reading words from a page.
“There you are.” A statement, like he’s been waiting for you for years, aged a decade while waiting.
Suddenly you know, and his words follow the realisation that freezes your skin, chills your bones, stands your hair on end.
“Mother has popped in to make us dinner” he says.
The door slams shut behind you.