What May Come


WHAT MAY COME


If memories were dust, a lifetime lies strewn across this floor.


Soft footprints remain. The ghosts of where I have been, what I have achieved, and what I have lost.


Here in this room, on the last day of judgement, I close my eyes and breathe deeply. Faint hints of mildew on damp wood give way to something warmer. The rich scent of pine needles amidst the heady intoxication of glühwein. I can’t help but smile as wrapping paper crackles like kindling on the fire.


“What is it?” he asks me.


“Open it and find out.”


“I’m trying. You use too much Sellotape.”


“Do you want the scissors?”


“No, I’ve got it.”


I watch, breath caught in my throat, awaiting his verdict. Will he like it – or will the black cap of disapproval adorn his brow?


“Wow! Mum! That’s amazing!” he grins. “Where did you find this?”


“Santa Clause,” I quip.


He holds aloft the mint condition Sex Pistols vinyl, tentatively framing it with his fingers. “Seriously – wow!”


After a moment of silent appreciation, he slides it back between the protective folds of card, brushing a strand of fringe from his eyes. The fire cracks, spitting a scorching ember towards the carpet. It falls short, smouldering out against the tiles.


I open my eyes.

A draft rattles the board that I have taped across the chimney. Outside, a gale blusters. The thought of braving its icy rain depresses me.  


Soft mewling causes me to turn. Next door’s calico cat presses her paw against the glass. She calls again.


“I’m here,” she’s saying. “Reward me.”


It’s my own fault. I’m forever offering her scraps from the fridge. My personal, four-legged disposal unit.


“Oh kitty,” I sigh. “What will you do now?”


She senses that I am not about to feed her. With a disdainful flick of her tail she wanders off to see whether number forty-two will ease the deficit.


I press the ball of my palm to my forehead, staring down at the bare boards. I haven’t sat cross-legged since school, yet it feels so natural. I had a childhood once, did it run away from me like the years?


Trailing the tips of my fingers against the stale wood, I can feel soft carpet bobble up beneath them. That new smell left behind by the fitters, the one that takes weeks to fully dissipate.


“I’m not sure, darling. Do you think we spent too much?”


My husband frowns as he scratches his rough, neglected chin. Since we moved in, he’s taken to shaving less and less. I think he’s trying for ‘rugged,’ but right now I’d class it somewhere around ‘hobo.’ Sexy hobo.


“Feels good to me,” he shrugs.


“Yeah, it feels good. But isn’t it a little,” I struggle for the word. “Frivolous?”


He kneels down and places his hand next to mine, absorbing the warm quality of our purchase.


“Feels good to you?”


“Yes,” I smile.


“Does it?”


“Yes,” I laugh.


“As good as this?” He leans in and kisses me.


“Hmm, not sure.” I rub my hand across it one more time.


“Would you choose me or the carpet?”


Pausing playfully, I allowing suspense to build.

“Can’t I have both?”


I screech as he leans me back against our fawn-coloured floor.


Wincing, I pull a splinter from the side of my nail. It would take a miracle to polish these wooden planks into one of those gloriously smooth showrooms from the brochures. So much varnish you could floss your teeth in the reflection.


God Keith, if only you could see this place now. The bare bones of our once cosy nest. This is ridiculous, just sitting here. I should get up. The van left half an hour ago. If I don’t move they’ll arrive without me – all the boxes will end up in the wrong rooms.


I catch sight of a chip in the perfectly vertical line of the doorframe. Almost imperceptible, unless you know where to look. What a night that had been.


“Then leave, you gutless piece of-”


“You’re not listening to me-”


“Too right, I’m not listening. Get out!”


Fine fragments of porcelain as the plate hits the wall. My anger colliding with his guilt. A thousand words exploding in one, definitive act.


I stare down at my fingers again. They are silky with filth from the floor. A faint white sheen which I almost imagine to contain miniscule moments of that argument. Obstinate, un-hooverable memories.


It would have been easier if he’d had an affair. I could have accepted such, given time and enough to drink. But that – that was beyond me. You can’t forgive someone who won’t forgive themselves.


Slowly, I pull myself to my feet. Time for one last look around. I have to make sure that I’ve got absolutely everything. I can’t come back once that front door closes.


As I turn towards the kitchen, I hear the phone ring.


“Yes?” I ask the air around me.


“Mrs. Brooke?”


“Yes.”


“I’m calling from Saint Joseph’s hospital…”


I cover my ears.


With the tip of my pointed toe, I draw a big smiley face in the dust.


“Cuf it. In der.”


“Cut it? Here?”


“Yeth.”


I slice into the potato – once, twice, three times. When I finish, I show him.


“What’s that then, huh?”


“Star!” The room lights up with little-boy laughter.


“Which colour?”


“Yewow.”


I allow him to grasp the brutalised vegetable, guiding his hand towards a splodge of yellow paint on the plate; desperately trying to minimize the mess.


How silly that seems now.

Had I known then what his life would become, I would have helped him to paint the very walls in yellow stars.


But the walls are cold, and blue, and peeling.


Calm realisation dawns. The laughter and the love. It isn’t here. Those beautiful moments travel with me, inside of me, wherever I go. All that I am truly leaving behind is a chipped piece of plaster, which marked the end of something that was once important.


There is nothing in the kitchen. I knew that even before I stood to look. I’m simply stalling now.


As I cross the room to the entrance, a floorboard creeks beneath my feet  like the first time I opened the door to him.


“WD40,” he smiles.


“I’m not so good at DIY,” I say, attempting an ill-practiced smile. “Keith was always the one who did that.”


There’s a moment’s awkward silence before I step back, inviting him in.


“Smells wonderful.”


“It’s just shepherd’s pie, nothing fancy.”


“Red okay?” he asks, revealing a bottle of Sauvignon.


“Perfect.”


Isn’t it different, the way we court as adults? After graduating from the school of hard knocks and bitter regret. Less of the wildfire of youth, more of a cautious slow-burn. I wanted to come into the warmth, though. I think very few of us are destined to live our lives completely alone.


Car keys – where did I put them? Cursing under my breath, I pat my pockets. They’re right where they ought to be. I roll my eyes and look out of the window. Headlights dazzle me, causing flakes of snow to dance and settle.


“You’re such a big kid.”


“Come on,” he says, taking my hand.


“It’s freezing out here.”


“It’ll just take a moment.”


I resign myself to the ridicule of the neighbours, and follow my new beau out onto the Arctic tundra of the front lawn.


“Here,” he says, pulling a carrot from his pocket. “You finish it.”


I feel completely foolish, but the girl in me is secretly delighted. I push the nose firmly into place beneath the snowman’s sooty stare.


“Oh. I think he wants to thank you,” Craig says, nodding to its sloe-branch arms.


“What?”


“Just there,” he points.


A diamond sparkles in the morning light.


Snow melts away to reveal an overcast, windblown day. One into which I must shortly march, shoulders back, head high.


It is time. And time, as we know, moves swiftly.


“I’m going now,” I say to myself.


“Are you ready?” asks a memory.


“I’m ready.”


Fishing the keys from my pocket, I walk to the doorway.

Pausing to run my fingers across the sharp edges of the chip, I turn back.


“Are you coming?”


“Always.”


I smile.


 

©Marion Grace Woolley 2012