By Mandy Fouracre
Mandy says: I have scribbled on and off for years as a means of expressing ideas, thoughts and characters that bubble away in my imagination. This is the first time I have entered a writing competition and am delighted to discover that people find my scribblings readable!
A mid grey wash of cloud hung low over the garden. Seven coloured pegs clung to the rotating washing line. One for every day of the week. Monday’s washing day. The lyric leapt out of her memory and she sang it silently, absentmindedly as she gazed out of the window into the murky evening sky.
Tuesday’s soup. Wednesday’s roaster beef, Thursday’s shepherd’s pie. Today was Thursday and, in accord with the rhyme, shepherds’ pie was in the oven. Shepherd’s pie prepared as instructed.
Sarah’s gaze quickly flicked around the room in a well-practised appraisal of the standard of tidiness and cleanliness. Everything clean, surfaces wiped, no clutter, coats hung in the cupboard, outdoor shoes on the shoe rack, children’s toys in the box.
Carrots cut in uniform sticks, not circles, broccoli florets in equal sizes, parsley ready to be chopped on the chopping board. The steamer at the ready on the hob, kettle boiled and olive oil ready to be drizzled. Table laid.
The children sat at one end of the table, their heads almost touching as they leant over their colouring and sticking books. Their hair shone golden and silky under the pendant lamp.
Beautiful, healthy, innocent. Perfect. Love for them, in a dart, pierced her heart.
She glanced at the timer on the oven. Her mouth felt dry. She poured a glass of filtered water and drank it, unconsciously wiping the spout of the chrome water filter until it shone, reflecting a distorted image of her face.
‘Fly me to the moon’ was playing quietly on the radio in the background as she washed and dried the glass.
At the end of the song a time check was given by the presenter in a fun, chatty, ordinary way. It was 5.30pm. Thousands of people in the kitchens of homes around the country would be hearing the same time check.
It chimed exactly with the sound of the key in the front door followed by the door opening and closing. The keys were thrown into the wooden bowl on the narrow window sill to the left of the front door.
Sarah knew then, simply by practised listening, that he was not in a good mood.
Today it was Mr Nasty who had arrived home although it was Mr Nice she had met and dated and married.
Mr Nice, through constant endeavour, gained an exemplary status in the workplace and amongst his work colleagues. At home Mr Nasty was Mr Nice stripped bare.
Footsteps up the stairs. He was going to shower and change. He showered before going to work and again when he came home. Sometimes, at other times during the day too.
The children looked up from their colouring books.
“Is daddy home mummy?” they asked in unison. Sarah nodded and suggested that they wait for him to shower and change before going in to the sitting room to say hello.
She had learned that on days like today, the safest strategy was to keep out of the way until he decided to join them.
About 15 minutes later he came into the kitchen and took a cold beer from the fridge, checking and rechecking the bottle with his hand to ensure that it was the correct drinking temperature.
He looked across at the children and said, “Hello kids”.
They ran over on cue and hugged him in a well-controlled display of practised affection. They had learned to please him.
As he took his beer into the sitting room Sarah said that dinner would be about 15 minutes if that suited.
“I’ll let you know when I’m ready to eat,” he replied and as he closed the door he shouted that she should turn the radio down.
Sarah stared at the radio. It was barely audible even to her as she stood less than two feet away from it. The door was closed from the kitchen into the hall and again into the sitting room, it couldn’t possibly disturb him. She didn’t turn it down.
The voice of the cheerful radio presenter provided a tenuous link to an ordinary every-dayness which other people were experiencing in their homes and which, through the medium of listening she could share. For a while at least it provided a comforting normality.
Three minutes later he shouted, “I thought I said to turn that radio down.”
Sarah resignedly leant towards the radio and with an unsteady hand her fingers slipped on the volume control. She had turned it up instead of down. Instantly the volume increased.
Sarah froze and waited. Mouth dry again, her body emptied of all energy.
His footsteps were the first indication of the degree of his anger. The stamping weight of his 13 stone body in every step. That, and the way he slammed the sitting room door. The children looked at Sarah and then at the door, struck mute.
They had all taken their positions in a bizarre family tableau.
He burst into the kitchen, turned the radio off and stood in front of Sarah facing her squarely. His eyes were shining with venomous hatred.
He pointed his finger directly towards her face almost touching her nose.
“You bitch. You fucking ugly bitch. Don’t you appreciate the fact that I’ve been working all day. When I come home I want quiet, QUIET! Do you hear me?” he shouted.
Sarah knew he wasn’t going to stop there. This was just the beginning. She waited.
“I don’t know why I married you. You fat, ugly bitch. Look at you – so bloody ugly. I’m ashamed of you. What a fool I was to marry you, you ugly fat bitch.”
He grabbed hold of her hair and pulled her face towards the wooden mirror on the wall which had two hearts on either side. He twisted her head round so that she could see her reflection.
“Look at that ugly mug. That’s you, my wife, and I’m stuck with you. STUCK WITH YOU – you fucking bitch.”
He pulled her body upright by her hair and flung her away. She landed against the cooker. He walked across slowly like a boxer coming out of his corner for round two. Seconds away.
Standing facing her again, bending down, he spat as he said, “Why don’t you just take yourself off and go and die somewhere? That would be the best thing you could do for everyone. Yep – go and die somewhere, you hateful ugly bitch.”
He grabbed her ears and shook her, “I’ve thought over and over again so many times how to get rid of you, bitch.”
He flung her this time against the work surface. The chopping board on which the carrots and broccoli were so perfectly prepared, bounced, as did the oil.
Her hand fumbled behind her back trying to grab on to something to steady herself. The chopping board tumbled onto the floor.
The immaculately clean floor became a serving platter for the vegetable medley. Olive oil streaked visibly and invisibly making its own quiet, meandering, liquid pattern.
Sarah braced herself for round 3. Seconds away.
“You stupid fucking ugly bitch; nobody else would want you,” he yelled, rushing at her, stopping only to pick up the steamer which he raised above her head.
He paused, allowing himself to luxuriate in the power of the moment.
The children screamed, “Daddy, NO!”
It sounded as though they were in an echo chamber because the NO went on and on.
He turned his body towards them and as he did so he slipped on the olive oil.
Time slowed at that point. His arms clutched at the air in a desperate attempt to right his balance. His feet slithered and slipped, he looked surprised at the turn of events. He fell to the floor as if in slow motion. The awkwardness of falling in such a small space meant that there was not enough room for the whole of his body.
His head hit the corner of the cooker on the way down and again as he landed. It was an awkward landing. He lay motionless, part of the steamer still in his hand.
The children ran towards her. They all hugged. And hugged again more tightly. And then they cried in a collective release of suspended fear and tension.
Slowly they turned to look at the body on the floor. There was no sign of blood, no bloody gash on the side of his head in spite of the fact that his head had struck the cooker, twice.
Sarah crept nearer to him. She couldn’t see his chest rising and falling. She couldn’t hear his breath inhaling or exhaling.
He was quiet and very, very still, almost peaceful.
The atmosphere was still and peaceful.
Sarah asked the children to fetch her phone from the kitchen table and she rang 9-9-9.