by Ian Denning
He carries the tray out of the kitchen and onto the patio. The air is still, carrying snatches of Sunday morning conversation from open windows, gardens, the terraced streets. A cockerel up the valley calls and is answered from further down. He stands for a moment in his dressing gown and breathes deeply, taking in the sounds, the honeysuckle smells, the liquid sunlight. There’s a conversation in Welsh coming from the radio on the window ledge.
She comes out with a tub of spread, a fruit knife and a jar. “Do we have to have the radio on now?”
“You know we do.”
“Every minute though…”
“You know we do,” he says. “Smell this honeysuckle. Like aromatherapy.”
“I need more than aromatherapy.”
He sits and picks up the jar, holding it high like an exhibit. Sonorous, theatrical, he announces “Bonne Maman is the best farquing jam that money can buy.”
They laugh together quietly at the familiar line from another breakfast, eight, ten years ago: a garden in Cardiff, close to Roath Park; young, smiling people emerging, hungover, to the makeshift table; jugs of juice, toast; the exhilaration and intimacy of last night glowing again in the sunlight and the wash of languages – French, Welsh, English, Australian; What d’you call jam in Welsh, mate?
“Except it’s not jam it’s your mother’s marmalade and it tastes like earwax.”
“Harsh, that’s very harsh.” He pours the coffee, smiling. There’s a pause. The sounds from other gardens seem to bubble through the sunlight. “Will you do what we said then?”
“Oh for God’s sake, can’t we leave it for one morning? Can’t we just eat breakfast once without going over it, over it, over it? It’s bad enough having that twat on the radio with us every minute of the day.” She clatters her knife onto the plate and leans back, eyes closed, the pulse hectic at her throat. The sun is on her face.
“I know. I’m sorry. But we’ve got to make sure we know what to do. Won’t be any time once it all starts.”
“So let’s make sure the time we’ve got left is spoiled, is it?”
Then suddenly, simultaneously, they break off, both searching a different layer of sound. Their eyes find each other as they identify the beating of helicopter rotor blades, their distant, battering noise swirling against the valley sides, fading and breaking.
“Could be nothing love. Eat your toast.”
“Yes. And drink my coffee and smell the honeysuckle. Because it’s a beautiful morning in summer and everything is lovely, lovely, lovely. I’m sick of it. Sick to my stomach. And you, you bastard, you’re enjoying it like it’s a fuckin game…”
“Shhh! Listen to the…Shut up!” He barks at her, staring at the radio on the ledge.
The voice on the radio is repeating an announcement in Welsh.
“Boneddigion a boneddigesaith…” It’s what they say in the theatre to get people to their seats: “Ladies and gentlemen, this evening’s performance is about to begin…”
She watches him react. Three steps to the water butt. He reaches in and heaves out two parcels wrapped in polythene. He strips and she hands him the fruit knife. He slices through the gaffer tape and wet polythene of the smaller parcel, pulling out combat trousers, boots, a camouflage jacket. While he dresses she cuts the heavy rucksack free of its wrappings and heaves it onto the patio table, balancing its weight. He stands hunched with his back to her. She hears the click and slide as of the magazine and the hollow leather sound as he holsters the pistol. When he turns to her his face is white.
“I’m not. I’m not enjoying this,” he says.
“I know. You need to go.” The insistent, battering rotor blades thicken the air around them. He stands without moving. She is still holding the rucksack, poised on the table.
“Maybe it’s a drill…”
“Get this on. You need to go.” She puts her palm on his shoulder and turns him into the rucksack, guiding his arms through the straps. Like dressing a child. “We’ll do like we said. Go.”
He walks through the house and she hears the front door close behind him. She picks up the breakfast tray with the coffee pot and the jar. Not really a word for jam in Welsh. Or for ethnic cleansing.
Other doors are slamming in the terraced streets as the dense smell of the honeysuckle breaks over her in waves; in sickening, sickening waves.
Ian Denning lives in Rhondda, South Wales, with his wife and two teenagers.