The back door. Blue paint peeling reveals dull grey wood beneath. Concrete steps, two of them, where I sit and peel the spuds on the warmer evenings. I don’t want to go back inside. When I close the door behind me, I feel like a rat trapped in a cage.
If I stand here for long enough, they’ll all come home. The kids will run in, breathless from the school day. They’ll sling their bags onto the kitchen table and charge out onto the lawn. If I stand still enough they may not even see me, they’ll just kick the football around me like a stray goalpost.
Then he’ll arrive, the sharp smell of sweat around him, carrying the mood of his day into the house.
When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a movie star like those smooth haired beauties in the sepia photographs my Uncle Marv had pinned on his garage wall. He used to go in there to secretly smoke his roll-ups while Aunt Sadie was out doing the shopping.
I sit down on the lawn, trail my fingers through the soft green blades of grass. If I reach down to the base of their stems, I can feel where they connect with the cool earth, sinking down into their dark and secret hidden world.
As I lie down, I imagine my apron extending, growing into a large cotton covered quilt. I am ten years old again, curled up in my mother’s bed. Only I can’t hear her muffled sobs from the bathroom or his heavy footsteps leaving the house. No, my mother and father are lying on either side of the bed with their arms closed around me.
Back on the grass, the green, earthy scent beneath me takes me to a wooded glen where the rain has just fallen and the birds are singing. It is a fresh, damp smell, untouched by humans.
I am afraid that I will never leave, will never say no, will never see myself in the mirror and feel no shame. I am afraid that I may never get up from here, may never rouse myself into wakefulness again. That I might be left here fossilised for a thousand years. Yet perhaps that is what I want the most.
But somehow, I do rouse myself. I sit back on the concrete steps where I left the plate of toast and the half finished cup of tea. They are both cold now. The toast is dry and its rough texture grazes my palette. It tastes of nothing, cardboard. I chew it slowly, moistening it with sips of tepid, sweet, milky tea.
I can hear a violin concerto playing on next door’s radio. It reminds me of my granddad who would sit me on his armchair, my feet swinging above the floorboards and play classical records on the gramophone.
‘You’re my little piccolo,’ he’d say. I didn’t know what a piccolo was until I was eighteen.
Her from next door comes up to the fence.
‘Morning,’ she nods at me. Her voice is like a cracked tin with sharp edges. Her smile thin and insincere. I can see she wants something but I only nod.
‘What time will your Harry be back tonight?’ she asks, as if he doesn’t come home at the same time every weekday evening.
‘He’s not coming back,’ I say, my voice flat and seamless. She knows I am teasing her. She flicks a hair away from her narrowed eye with a sharp whip of her hand. ‘Well,’ she says shortly, ‘I was going to ask what you are all doing for the weekend but-‘
‘I’m taking the children away on holiday,’ I interrupt her. I am staring ahead into the green of the garden, chewing on the last morsel of toast, washed down with dregs of cold tea.
‘Oh for goodness sake, Angie, stop messing me around. I am trying to be a good neighbour here,’ she cries.
I turn towards her now with the fullness of my face and, as I do, her pointed expression falls into a pitiful, soft look. ‘Oh Angie,’ her voice drops, ‘He hasn’t done it again.’ I can feel her eyeing the cherry red and plum purple bruising around my eye socket, the gash on my right cheek.
I say nothing, only stare back at the leafy garden and think about the roots of the grass, where they reach down into the inky safety of the soil.