by Jonathan Firth
I’m standing at the front door. I can see the scene clearly in my mind, through the half-glazed window that separates me from the street where I grew up, wide and lined with shallow gardens. Three paces down the crazy-paving path, cars are parked nose-to-tail on the damaged tarmac where football was once played, before the other kids left. And here I am still; things never turn out the way you would expect.
Lise will return in an hour. She’ll scrabble in her handbag for her key, and then give up and ring. Then she will see the note which I have sellotaped to the glass, saying that it’s open, and that I have left for good. And after that, my vision ends.
This was my parents’ house. It was built in 1883, at a time when most of this suburb was constructed, grand town houses for grand young urban dreams, founded on grey concrete which anchored them to their duties. They bought it fifty years later in ambition and love, and it has remained in the family ever since, a sandstone monument to stoicism.
Sometimes I harbour childish obsessions, and when I saw her marble skin and long straight brows, I wanted her. Early on, Lise said that I was flighty. I laughed and then tried to look solemn and respectable, but she knew me better. It was me who suggested she move in, and now it’s my idea to go. The whole thing is filling my head in the moment – I’m trying to keep it there, so that her quick words and common sense don’t flush it out. I’m jealously cradling the idea, like a kid with a polished stone.
Outside a young messy-haired man briefly bumps heads with a young messy-haired woman as they walk past, elbows interlinked, and they laugh. My heart is sore and lazy these days. All of my innards are slow to react. I should have thought quicker at the start, when I realised she wasn’t single. There were always going to be complications. The couple move out of sight to my left; I put one hand on the glass, and twist the carved obsidian doorknob with the other. I walk out and swing it shut behind me, convincing myself that this is a positive change. A way to get back to being myself – to stop compromising.
From the path I see another pair of passers by, a small child and its mother making their way up the road. As she reaches the gravel edging of the garden, she stumbles and then disappears from view. It takes me a moment to realise that she has fallen. I don’t change my mind straight away.
It’s a small, sickening thump. My legs feel too heavy to run, but I urge them to hurry round to the pavement. The child looks up at me, his face as complex as a sketch, lined and jagged. He is breathing more than speaking.
I put one palm onto his cheek with some chucking noises, then lean down towards the mother. She’s dazed but moving, blood everywhere. She gets up onto her knees, holding her head with both hands. I clutch her upper arm, pulling her up a bit roughly. And then I help her into the house to clean up, the kid trailing behind. It was my parents’ house; I know where to find the first aid.
My stony cold fingers pull off and crumple the note as I push open the front door. The woman will feel better in a minute. There’s always time and space in a house like this – that’s something Lise might say.
Jonathan Firth is a writer of flash fiction, poetry and non-fiction. He works as a teacher in Scotland, and blogs here.