Stories, like songs, are seldom autobiographical and my small sorrows would drown easily in a half full glass. The heroine here doesn’t feel so lucky.
The wind breathes through gaps around the warped door. Its frame edges up to wallpaper that was once gently fashionable and against it lean two small cases. A heap of stuffed toys has been stomped into the corner.
They never did get around to changing the staircase. She looks over at the thickly painted plywood, wonders whether there are rails under there or just empty space as he’d insisted. They had been happy then to pass over the stairs; all else too soon forgotten.
A week should be as long as she needs.
* * * * *
Last night’s insomnia thickens her thoughts. She releases two paracetamol from the stockpile and her shoulders tighten as a howl of protest reverberates. The script is familiar; only the victor changes. There is a clump as something flies down stairs, hitting the mirror.
“Mummy.” The shout reaches her but it isn’t a question; more the demand for an audience. “Mummy.”
She makes no response and edges onto a chair by the table. The fan whirrs on her laptop, stars race towards her. Space collapses in as she moves the mouse and a message confirms the successful completion of the process. The words speak of money and her minds slips away a little more. A second reading makes certain.
There is another, heavier thump as something reaches the wall this time and screaming as both girls contest each step in the race to the bottom.
She loses herself in watching them. Their eyes are shadow lined with late nights and over excitement. Never for them though the cooing of this one or that one looks like Daddy for the four of them always looked so similar. Scrawny and short; quick with life. Invisible irritation roughens her own eyes whilst she thinks.
“Have you got Bluey?” she calls and her youngest looks up, surprised by the useful thought. Kicking her sister in preventative revenge she departs upstairs.
* * * * *
A click and then a thud as the front door swings open, the handle meeting the loose part of the plaster. Bastard she thinks. She can feel the energy shift towards him as the girls register his entrance. The Daddy chorus begins but she won’t look up at him yet.
He picks up the junk mail that she has ignored. It holds only reckless promises sold by the universal blond. To take such emptiness and create something; in this she finds sweetness.
Then the girls descend and he swats them away in play as they search his pockets for sweets. In triumph they squeal and depart. The television lurches into life with explosive cheer as they settle out of the way.
His laughter is long absent from this home they shared. He stands opposite her at the table. Holding the letters in the air he makes to put them down, flicks through them.
Her workspace occupies one half of the surface. Silver wire and sheet, half-formed pieces waiting for finishing. A single finished item; a simple ring in a soft tartan box; waiting for collection. She may see some profit from it. Breakfast things, half hemmed trousers, last month’s dust and play-doh hold him off. From a space beside the screen the cat rises and picks it way out. He drops the post in the gap.
“You’re still using my name” he says.
She looks at him.
“Not the only thing round here to be used.”
His raised hand forms the beginning of some expression that fails. Turning away he drops his keys heavily to the table. They are tangled with miniature stuffed toys, novelty shoes and scuffed plastic cased photos. They take their rightful place in the mess.
“I’ll see if they’re ready” he says. That they and the world move on without her seems a mixed blessing.
* * * * *
In the bathroom a moth rests having survived the improbable electric moon. Pale browns are the camouflage of its struggle. Her hands are sore from working; soft palms reddish pink like the play-doh pattern. But one iron blank from the set she had prepared now carries her accurate plan.
This sixth silent morning measures the magnitude of their absence. These days have had no other map. The radio plays an unmoving noise as she strips for the shower. Acrid shower gel inflames the tool cut on her thumb and serves as shampoo. Short hair is easier to neglect in these full or empty days.
Her damp flesh offers no resistance to clothes that have become too big. Downstairs a shapeless jacket from the cupboard hides any remaining form. Into dusty pockets she drops a little cash, the new shiny key and a grey cap.
* * * * *
Her house looks weary against the new homes that line the start of this walk. These windows were once views over wasteland but now reveal barren hours of colour co-ordination and out of town shopping. She puts the cap on, seeming to be another body bound for the early shift. Her legs find their usual stride as the houses hold themselves taller, gather together. They allow a little sun past their stature forming bright sunlit spotlights. This half grand centre was once their night time pleasure; with a circle of friends; high and distant enough to be anonymous. The journey seems longer now she is alone.
He had decided that his future lay here and the threshold of his basement flat marks the end of her world. Inside her pocket the metal of the key she has shaped reveals her rasp marks in its nature. She places it to the lock and unfettered the catch falls.
Inside there is a stale abandoned smell and she moves freely. Disguised amongst the junk mail lies the two part answer she planned. Separated by a day or two of post there is a plastic card of universal dimensions and a blank envelope containing its cipher; the personal identification number.
The cap hides her still as she leaves; each quiet step still audible in the stillness. Silence marks her path to edge of the high street giving way there to the hum of the early day. Thick metal headed screws mark the stopped up gate where she rests just long enough to get the PIN by heart. With a fresh breath she turns and moves away.
The jacket seems large against her now and her heart beats the tension in her mind. The wooden door kicks a sprung brass bell. A scent of old perfume and polish greets her. Tiles on the floor show the larger site of some older counter. She murmurs a half greeting and passes the deposit receipt to the shop assistant as she appears. The new card reaches the card reader to pay the balance without either of them looking up. They wait. Neither of them moves.
“Thanks Mr Prince. That’s fine,” the shop assistant confirms.
The bell sounds another clatter as she leaves. Her hand reaches the gentle fabric of the jacket in the bag, imagines how splendid it will feel. She chose its extravagant lines to suit her style waiting for this day.
Wearing it she will be ready to deny her usual assertion that no-one pays fairly for work done from home.