My shoes crackle on the gravel path that leads up to the front porch. This sound soothes me every night, part of the ritual of leaving my work behind and getting ready for whatever awaits inside. I stamp and scrape my feet on the doormat, and little pocks of gravel spill onto the pristine tiles.
The key slides into the lock and turns with the familiarity of an old friend, but when I step into the hall, I’m greeted by an unfamiliar silence and the faint wafting smell of exhaust fumes.
I take a couple of steps into the hallway, then a few more. Each foot-fall is as quiet as I can make it, but still seems like the pounding of a drum, echoing around in the thick silence. I put my briefcase down, and strain to hear any sign of life above the quickening throb of my pulse.
Standing still is not going to change what I find, so I advance slowly towards the bedrooms.
Amy’s room is first, and I poke my head in, leaving my feet firmly on the ground in the hall. Her teddy bears are collected together in their usual place in the corner, although they seem to be cowering there, sporting the windswept look you get from riding pillion on a Harley.
Max’s room is next, and I stride into it with a rising sense of panic. There is a perfect parabolic arc of small Lego pieces impregnated in the plasterboard under the window. A small Lego-man head peers at me at a jaunty angle from below his raised eyebrows.
“Don’t ask me!” he seems to say, unable to move.
Right beside him is a small red square piece – I pick it out of the wall with what’s left of my fingernails, to look at it closely, and sure enough it is exactly what Max has been looking for this week to complete his model Ferrari. The model itself is nowhere to be seen.
Holding the red square in my hand, I run to the living room, pushed along by what is now a tsunami of dread, flooding towards the back of the house.
The large picture window at the end of the room is shattered, the safety glass screaming in pain from a large central impact point. Just below it, laying on its side where it landed, is the leaf blower Claire and I gave each other last Christmas.
I’m not even sure whose idea it was. It might have been mine, but I didn’t push it. Money’s been tight, we don’t really need much, and the garden had been looking shambolic ever since our first autumn in the new house, when we drowned under the leaves from the trees we love so much.
“We can both use it.”
“It will be great to see the garden looking good.”
“We couldn’t really afford it otherwise.”
I hadn’t put her through a joint shopping trip to the hardware warehouse to make the purchase. This was no engagement ring or heirloom dining suite after all.
It had sat under the Christmas tree for two weeks, drawing “oohs” and “ahhs” from visitors and kids alike. “Who is THAT enormous present for?”
Now it just sits there under the window, sad and rough and dirty. Some oily fuel is leaking out onto the floor, and the stain is slowly spreading in the carpet. An alien object in a hostile environment, its life blood draining away. I feel the same.
A couple of smudgy footprints lead outside. The washing that must have been on the drying line earlier is perched just out of reach in several trees. Underpants look ridiculous at the best of times, and a row of them three metres up in a cyprus hedge looks a bit like a row of flags outside the UN on a still night.
I’m standing in the middle of the lawn, waiting for a bunch of friends to explode from the tool shed yelling “SURPRISE!”, even though it’s not my birthday. I take a few steps towards the tool shed, and the door is slightly ajar.
All that’s exploding from the darkness is the sound of someone holding their breath.
[BLOW was my entry to the Selected Shorts Short Story Competition in 2012. The theme was “Objects of Desire”]