UKArchive ID: 31837thegeeza
Originally published on November 25, 2013 in Fiction
It's hard to let go. 1,808 words.
It’s so hard to keep the ornaments in the right place. Space them out carefully. Make sure the figurines are facing the right angle. Check the picture frames with a level. Ensure the thermostat is set at 22. Adjust the blinds as the day progresses. Eat supper at the same time, followed by something sweet. Watch television with a cup of coffee and two biscuits – always two. Let the dog out into the garden at the right time. Watch the kitchen clock tick down the allotted fifteen minutes, open door and settle dog down for the night. Watch the newspaper review on television, drink cocoa and then to bed. Don’t forget to kiss the wife. Repeat Ad infinitum.
Mrs Jones makes a noise and so Mr Jones ruffles his newspaper, eyeing his wife with suspicion as she moves around the lounge with a duster.
‘Be careful with that,’ he says.
She smiles at the photo of their two children, polishes the shelf and puts the photo frame back.
‘That’s not right,’ he says.
She turns the photo slightly. He returns to the newspaper.
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ she says.
‘In twenty minutes.’
She goes to the kitchen and turns on the kettle.
‘I’m not ready for tea,’ he shouts from the lounge.
She prepares two mugs, throws in teabags and carefully measures Mr Jones’ one and a half teaspoons of sugar.
‘Turn off the kettle,’ he calls out. ‘You’re wasting electricity.’
She pauses before switching it off.
Closing the back door carefully, Mrs Jones walks around the corner of the house. The day is cold, the dark grey sky meets the hedgerow, standing tall all around the garden. Water has penetrated everything, turning it to the darkest green. The branches heave one way and then another, conducted in waves by an invisible wind master.
She pulls a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and lights one. Her disgusting and filthy habit. The unforgivable betrayal. Her dark secret drifting up into the air where the smoke is carried away, swirling and dancing up, up and away. She looks at her fingernails, painted bright red – his favourite colour. She puts her hands into her apron, away from the cold and the smell of tobacco.
‘Are you out there?’ he calls from the doorway.
She throws the cigarette into his rose bushes. ‘Yes, I’m here.’
‘What on earth are you doing?’
‘Just getting some air.’
‘There’s air inside,’ he says. ‘It’s too cold to be outside.’
‘I’ll be in, in a minute,’ she says.
She waves her hand around at the wisps of smoke, hanging around, taunting, threatening to expose her.
‘Well,’ he says, out of sight, ‘make sure it’s no more than a minute. You’ll catch your death.’
She counts down the minute on her watch and goes back to the kitchen. He’s there, inspecting the tea cups and the warmth of the kettle with the back of his hand. He looks at his watch.
‘Have you had enough air?’ he asks.
Her blood runs cold as she passes him and he leans into her wake and inhales.
‘Your knife is the wrong way around,’ he says, as she puts her cutlery onto her dinner plate.
She turns it over.
‘The sharp side should face inwards.’
‘It doesn’t make any difference,’ she says.
He frowns. ‘Why not just do it right, it doesn’t need much effort, does it?’
‘Maybe doing something a bit wrong might be … exciting,’ she says, through a tired smile.
‘I think that air you took earlier went to your head,’ he says. ‘Perhaps you need to lay down?’
She stands. ‘Lemon cheesecake.’
‘Cheesecake on a Wednesday? How strange.’
Her will bends one way and then the other before it splinters, cracks and then snaps. ‘A little irregular.’
She shakes her head, ‘no.’
Mr Jones considers the situation. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘I’m a bit taken aback. I have to have dessert so I will have to accept the cheesecake.’
Retiring to the lounge after coffee, Mr Jones stands by the fireplace and watches as his wife comes in, smiles and sits down. She looks at the television, which is still switched off. She frowns. Mr Jones turns to the mantel and a statue of a Victorian child chimney sweep that is not pointed in the right direction. He pushes it one way then another, twists it, turns it.
‘There’s something wrong with this,’ he tells his wife. She does not answer. ‘Does that look right?’ he says.
He is a stranger in the room. She wonders where her real husband has gone and who this is, the creature that replaced him. The man that taught her son and daughter how to ride a bicycle, danced like a fool at weddings, the one who carried her across the threshold, he whom she had been proud to introduce to her parents as “the one”. Taken.
‘It’s fine,’ she says, ‘just leave it like that.’
He shakes his head, his actions more urgent with every small movement.
‘She’ll be here in a minute,’ says Mrs Jones.
‘What are you going to say to her?’ she asks.
He blows out hard. ‘Wednesday is not right for cheesecake.’
‘Don’t lose your daughter as well.’
He picks up the statue and turns it in his hand. ‘You must have moved this earlier today,’ he says. ‘Now it won’t go back properly. I can’t put it back.’
‘I’ll take it outside for some air,’ he says.
‘John, don’t, it’s dark.’
She’s alone. She stands and walks to the space where the figurine should be. She picks up a photograph of her son and traces his outline with her finger. He smiles back, large as life. The love between them still strong, crossing the five years in five seconds. Five years since he was snatched away from her, from his loving mother and father by two men with a knife. He had taken a shortcut on his way home. His father had always told him to come home the long way, where there was plenty of street lighting and activity but he wanted to be on time for the family Sunday roast. It was their one tradition, a family stipulation, to eat together to end the week. The police told her that he struggled before they stabbed him in the neck. He had dragged himself to the kerbside and died right there on the pavement. His father had been the one to find him later that evening. She remembered when he walked into the lounge, his hands and shirt impossibly red, so much so that she could not understand what she was looking at. John’s own blood had washed down the sink with his son’s, leaving behind only a husk.
Julia appears in the doorway. ‘Mum?’
Mrs Jones stands to embrace her daughter. She stands back. ‘How are you, my darling?’
‘I’m good,’ she says. She puts her key where the missing statue had been, patting it. Her boyfriend slips into the lounge, nervously smiling, seeking out the master of the house. A giant hulk of a man, a shock of black hair, clothes all of the same hue, shiny boots, pale chalky skin. Julia is the same, her beautiful red hair turned jet black, piercings on her eyebrows, nose, around her ear lobe and on her tongue. ‘Where’s Dad?’
‘He’s… gone outside… to think.’
‘Outside?’ she says. ‘It’s raining.’
She finds him at the end of the garden, looking at the bushes. ‘Dad?’
‘Hello, Julia,’ he says, not turning.
She sees that he is holding the statue to his chest. ‘What are you doing out here in the cold and the wet?’
‘Getting some air,’ he says. ‘Do you know that your mother served lemon cheesecake tonight? It’s Wednesday today. Lemon cheesecake on a Wednesday. It’s a strange day.’
‘Gary is loading the car,’ she tells him.
‘If you do everything at the right time and in the right order,’ he says, ‘nothing can go wrong. Don’t change anything.’
The wind picks up and large drops fall around them, playing percussion on the sodden grass. He reaches out and massages a leaf, feeling the waxy texture between his fingers.
‘I’m going, Dad,’ she tells him, ‘I’m leaving. I’m going with Gary.’
‘These bushes all need trimming. If you don’t keep them in check, they go wild.’
The branches broadcast the sounds of the sea all around them. They stand alone on their own island, silent, breathing in the cold air, drinking the cool raindrops.
‘I’m leaving home, Dad,’ she says, ‘aren’t you going to say goodbye?’
‘Perhaps I should cut them all down,’ he says. ‘You can’t go wrong, there, can you?’
‘I love Gary,’ she says, ‘he’s a good man, be happy for us.’ She puts a hand on his shoulder. ‘I know you’re disappointed in me.’
‘If you water your plants, they should grow up big and strong. Sometimes, they just don’t bloom like they should. We never find out why.’
‘Julia! We’re all packed up and ready to go!’ shouts Gary, walking half way to meet them, unable to convince his legs to carry him any nearer.
‘I’m very proud of my roses,’ says Mr Jones. ‘Roses are roses but when you’ve spent time pruning them, feeding them, tying them up, there’s nothing more beautiful, nothing that smells better. Perhaps it’s your mother’s cigarette ends that do it. Fertilizer.’
‘Dad, I have to go.’
‘Roses come in all shapes and colours.’
‘Come inside, it’s raining, you’re wet.’
‘There’s beauty in all colours. It doesn’t matter what colour they are, you might expect them to be red but they could turn out purple.’
‘I need to say goodbye. I have to go.’
‘Sometimes they’re supposed to be yellow but they come out orange.’
Julia steps forward and puts her arms around her father. ‘I love you, Dad.’ She leaves. Not taken but lost.
He had not properly spoken to his beautiful Julia in years. Following the murder, he had tried to hold her tight, to keep her safe but his butterfly had escaped up towards the stars, twinkling and alluring against their black velvet canvas. She had danced around them, like Mrs Jones’ cigarette smoke did, outside his bedroom window every Sunday morning. The only thing left in his collection book is Mrs Jones, pressed and paralysed, bound by cellophane.
Mr Jones drops to his knees and reaches as far under a bush as he can. He grinds the statue into the ground so it can stand by itself. Getting to his feet, he can’t see it or where it is pointed but he knows it is there. He’ll check it from time to time, do his best to keep it upright. It is all he can do, all he has left.
Archived comments for Statues
OldPeculier on 25-11-2013
Excellent. You capture the mood of despair perfectly.
Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
Andrea on 25-11-2013
Really enjoyed it - and where have you been for the last 5 years?!
Glad you enjoyed it, Andrea. I've been writing this short story for 5 years ...! Been busy and time has just flown by. Hope all okay with you.
deadpoet on 25-11-2013
A very emotional read despite the statue like parent. A good story.
Have you really been away for 5 years? Welcome back...
I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
I haven't been away, I've been quiet...
Nomenklatura on 26-11-2013
This is really good, the showing via the dialogue is absolutely first class. I hope you don't disappear for another five years, I shouldn't like to wait so long for another as good as this.
Ewan - many thanks for reading/commenting. Glad you liked it.
Mikeverdi on 26-11-2013
I found this superb, the story touched every feeling I have. There are so many fantastic lines...'If you water you're plants etc...' so evocative. The feeling of loss so strong. A simply stunning work. Mike
Mike - thanks for reading/commenting - glad you liked it. Steve.
Rab on 26-11-2013
Wow! A really powerful story, beautifully told. You could feel the shared despair, for the living and the dead.
Ross - many thanks for taking the time to read/comment. Glad you liked it.
bo_duke99 on 26-11-2013
really top, top work - Greg
Greg - glad you liked it - thanks for reading/commenting. Steve.
Kipper on 26-11-2013
A fine well told story. Quietly understated and yet the drama was strong. The sense of loss and resignation that each character felt was was gradually and skilfully portrayed.
Michael - many thanks for reading/commenting. Glad you liked it.