I was fifteen when we moved to Penzance. My sister had arrived by then. Aged four, she tore around the house as if possessed, a miniature destruction machine. Blonde haired blue eyed, gap-toothed, the angel face hid a pixie like streak for mischief. We needed somewhere bigger, somewhere with a garden. By then, we had all realised London was not for us. It was too loud, too large, too busy.
We didn't know where we wanted to go at first. We looked at places all over the country, but they were too isolated or too ugly or there was something wrong with the houses themselves; a missing ceiling in the dining room, half the tiles gone from the roof, in one place the previous miserly occupants had had the central heating removed to save money.
From the moment we first entered Penzance I could feel the sea's influence. The air was laced with a salt tang and the mournful cries of wheeling seagulls and swooping kittiwakes. Inside me, something stirred. The white sailed ship of long ago felt the wind change direction and swung with it. It was coming back, along with my dreams of adventures on the high seas, storms and whales and hidden treasures.
I saw the house without really seeing it. I knew what was there, but it wasn't important. I could tell you it was white concrete and looked fresh under a fresh blue Cornish sky. I could have told you about the light, airy modern interiors, the meticulously kept garden, a swathe of green grass dusted with daisies and clover. I could of told you about the quiet, pretty street, overshadowed next to the house by a green leafed silver birch.
If I'd looked properly, I probably would have said I liked it, that I hoped to move there. My parents did. I wasn't really looking. I already knew, I wouldn't have cared if it was worse than all the others, if it was draughty and cold and ghosts lived in the attic. The sea was near, calling where it lapped against the harbour walls only streets away.
When we'd seen the house, when the estate agent had told us all the rooms that were too small were deceptively big and that the kitchen appliances were trusty and reliable, so there was no need to change them even if they were out of date, we walked away from the house with smiles on our faces. We wandered slowly down the street in the silence and enjoyed the sound of our footfalls on the pavement. Footfalls. I couldn't imagine hearing your own footsteps in London, a city of cars and trains and businessmen on mobile phones. The air smelled of the sea, untainted by smog. It wasn't that no cars passed us, that there weren't other people, besides us, there were. There just weren't nearly as many as we were used to.
We came to the harbour in the twilight. Small yachts were moored at the wall. We perched on the top and watched them bob gently up and down with the gentle motion of the grey green waves. We felt the breeze, listened to the birds, and mentally snapped photos of a sky painted scarlet, apricot and gold by the sun setting far away, out on the water.
We went back to London and the traffic noise gave us headaches, the blocks of flats made our eyes hurt as they broke the sky too fogged with light pollution to let us see stars. We thought of Cornwall and counted the days until we could go back. It took us five minutes back home to confirm we wanted to go back. To stay. My parents wanted that house, that garden. I wanted the sea.
There were times when we thought we weren't going to get it. There was another bidder, seemingly equally keen. The price just kept going up. There were arguments with the bank manager over taking out a bigger mortgage, a mortgage we had to have, which just kept getting bigger. I lay in bed at night listening to may parents whisper downstairs through that same hole in the ceiling.
"It's too much." They said. "We'll never get it back. If the price goes up again, we'll have to drop out." I bit my nails in the dark and crossed my fingers.
Then, just as we were giving up and resigning ourselves once more to noise and cramped spaces and petrol fumes, the other buyer pulled out. He'd found somewhere better, he said. I didn't see how he could have done. I was glad though, so glad. I lay in bed smiling the night we heard.
The move was chaotic. We lived among piles of boxes, ate takeaways or at the houses of friends, slept on the floor in sleeping bags on thin rubber mats. Workmen tramped in and out in dirty boots, leaving muddy marks on the floor, but we didn't care. The house wasn't going to be ours for much longer. We could leave it to the new owners to clear up.
In the midst of it all, my sister Megan tore around like a mad thing as always. She used the stacks of boxes as new play equipment, put there especially for her. She climbed them, re-arranged them and ran through them as if they were a maze, emptied the contents out onto the floor so she could hide in the empty box and pretend it was a tiny house or a den, just for her. She was a nuisance to everyone, but we loved her for it. She brightened up the day when the removal men had damaged a prized piece of furniture or made our heads throb with the loud, low quality music they played relentlessly and without mercy from small portable radios.
It became a game of my dad and I to try and steal the offending machines when they were left in-attended and place them somewhere they wouldn't be found for a while, so gaining a few minutes of peace and quiet. My mum pretended not to approve, hiding her smile behind her hand.
Suddenly, it was over. The last van had left, the rooms were bare. All traces of us were gone, ten years wiped away. The house was a blank slate, left for someone else to write on until they too left and wiped it clean, for the whole process to be repeated again.
Perhaps I should have been sad. After all, I had never lived anywhere else. This was where I had learned to walk, talk, read, made my first friends. I should have been sad to go. I wasn't. I waved goodbye with a cheery smile when we left. I never wanted to come back. I could already smell the sea air, exhilaration ran through my blood and made me shiver in excitement.
It was late when we arrived. Dusk had fallen. We stepped out onto the street as quietly as we could to avoid waking the neighbours. The only other sound was the wind making the leaves of the silver birch stir. We had to clamp a hand over Megan's mouth to mute her excited squeals.
As the others crept quietly inside, I took a moment to look up at the cloudless night sky. No light pollution. I could sea the stars, bright eyes in the inky black. I put my hand on the door, newly painted for us in sky blue only a day previously. The paint was still slightly wet. I pulled my hand away and giggled at my blue stained fingers.
Inside, a battle was already raging. Megan's face was screwed up in that familiar stubborn expression I remembered so well pulling myself. Her cheeks were already turning scarlet, her arms beginning to flap.
"I won't" she screamed. My mother swooped down behind her and wrapped her arms firmly around Megan's middle, reaching out a hand which she pressed firmly over her mouth.
"You're going to wake the neighbours. Megan sweetie, you're tired, let's get you to bed. You can look around tomorrow, alright?" Megan was immovable. She was once again screwing her face up to scream when my dad stepped in. He crouched down next to her and took her small, clenched fist.
"Meggie?" He said. "If you go to bed right now, I'll buy you some chocolate tomorrow, how's that? The wrinkled nose began to smooth out. "And," my father added in a conspiratorial whisper, "I won't get any for Nathalie. Only for you." A small smile began to play around her lips.
"Promise?" She asked in a small voice.
"Promise." He confirmed. "The quicker you go, the more chocolate you get." Before we knew it, she had darted from the room in a blur. From the hallway, we heard two small creaks as her feet brushed the steps, then a sudden thump and a wail. Glancing round at each other we rushed into the hallway.
Megan lay in a crumpled heap on the steps. Small sobs issued from where her head wa buried in her arms.
"Meggie?" My mother asked.
"Knee hurts." Keened her plaintive voice. We exhaled in relief.
"Right." My mother sighed. Come on, let's get you a plaster." She thought for a moment. "Anyone know which box the plasters are in?" She looked desperately at my father and I. We just shook our heads. Megan began to sob again. She was still at the stage where she believed a plaster cured everything and a lack of one meant certain death.
"Well I'll tell you what." My mother said hurriedly. "Mummy will kiss it better." She paused. "Actually, on second thoughts, Daddy will. Definitely Daddy."
"Oh no." He countered quickly. "That's Mummy's job. Definitely Mummy's job." My mother flashed me a pleading look.
"Perhaps big sister." I shook my head decisively.
"No. No. Mummy will look after you Megan. Don't worry. Leave it all to Mummy." My father and I ran into the new kitchen before we could be appealed to a second time, our shoulders shaking.
"How long do you think before she gets to sleep?" My dad asked. I sucked air through my teeth.
"Without a plaster?" I asked. "Ooh, at least an hour. At least."
"It's alright though." My dad laughed. "Mum will look after her."
"Yes." I giggled. "For at least an hour." The two of us collapsed in laughter. I clutched my sides and grinned, his shaggy brown hair fell into his face unchecked as he bent almost double.. We didn't stop until it triggered a coughing fit in me and my dad had to slap me on the back.
"Know where the coffee machine is?" He asked.
"Still in a box I expect." I replied. Above us, a couple of Megan's sobs drifted through the floor.
"Everything's still in boxes." My dad groaned.
"Not the furniture." I pointed out. "All our old things, it's almost as if we never moved."
"Yes." Said my dad. "Except..." His voice trailed off.
"What?" I asked. "What?"
He held a finger to his lips. "Shhh." It took a moment for me to realise what he was talking about. No sound, or very little. A slight trickle of distant traffic noise and one car passing in the street, no more. The sound of the wind in the silver birch. The clock ticking. Was it my imagination, or could I hear the sea pushing at the walls of the harbour. The sounds of a quiet town. A town that slept at night. No students and drunks to keep you awake. Quiet. Peace. The sea.
It was a good first night.