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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life Stories

The Bathroom Tried To Swallow Me Whole.
Christopher Williams

Fifteen Coventry Road, Ilford is a large detached Victorian town house about half a mile from Valentines Park and was for many years my paternal grandparent’s home. It needed to be large as my grandmother had nine children in all of which eight survived, and to be fair by the end of WW2 some had married and moved away, some were doing National Service and some, including me were living in this huge sanctuary.

Entering through the front door led into a long corridor which kinked round the staircase and ran past the dark space where the coat hangers were into the morning room and the kitchen beyond that. Off the morning room and tucked just out of sight was the door down to the three rooms that made up the cellar with its obligatorily coal-hole in the path which ran down the side of the property. In the days of my childhood the coal man would drive his horse drawn wagon and deliver so many bags of coal down the coal-hole straight into the cellar. My job would be to stand there and count the number of bags, twenty to a ton and tell my mother how many he delivered. Later my father had a huge pile of horse manure delivered to the back garden and carried it load by load down into trays he had made in the cellar to grow mushrooms. I still remember the thrill of seeing the pure white caps poke up through the black soil and of watching my mother pick them and take them down the road to sell at the local green grocer.

The kitchen opened out into the conservatory which overlooked the back lawn, the vegetable patch and the long garden shed which took almost the whole width of the property. It was in here that my cousin and I tried to ignite a bullet by cramping it in my grandfather’s vice and hitting the end with a hammer.

The shed rested up against the communal wall which ran the full length of the street and separated our back garden from the back gardens of the next street over and by way of a bonus provided me and my cousins with a wall top path to every bodies back garden. For some reason my grandparent’s garden also had an extra wall along the right-hand side; this wall was taller than the communal wall and must have been built to grow the pear trees against.

The house had three floors if you include the attic, four if you include the cellar. I liked the attic rooms and they gave one a view of the whole street, I liked it so much that at age two I crawled out onto the window ledge for a better view, some of my aunts still remember this episode. Down from the attic rooms was the big bedroom I shared with my parent and across the landing and down a short flight of steps was a second smaller landing with the bathroom of to one side, linen cupboards opposite that and my grandparent’s small bedroom at the end. Down from here was the main staircase to the ground floor and the front door.

The bathroom had a toilet and a bathtub with a huge old fashioned gas heater for the bath water hanging precariously over the end of the bath. Under the hand basin was a gas meter into which one had to put coins to pay for the gas. For a bathroom it was a cold and sinister place, even with the gas boiler and hot water running it had a dank and dark feel to it. It was in the bathroom when, at the age of three, the house tried to swallow me whole. I was being all grown up and had gone to the toilet and needed to flush the loo. Being some what short at that age I climbed up onto the porcelain rim and stood up to reach the chain but it was still just out of reach. I leaned further over and grabbed it with both hands as my feet slipped off the rim and down into the U-bend of the toilet. I can still feel the cold water flushing over my legs and trying to suck me down round the bend. I knew they would never find me and total terror possessed me as I clung on for dear life. What made the terror even worse was the fact that the chain is designed to drop down when flushed but that was of no comfort at all as the water swirled around me.

When I got down stairs to the kitchen and ran to my mother to tell her what the monster in the bathroom had tried to do to me they all laughed but I got my hug and used the back garden thereafter.
© Christopher Williams November 2009

Christopher is studying for his Masters in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University

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