By Jenn Ashworth
Hannah has to stir her tea without letting the spoon touch the sides of the cup. She has to turn the volume up on the radio in increments of five, or not at all. Hannah sits and stirs and thinks, ‘this boy I have, he is rubbish because he never buys me flowers.’ They haven’t lived together long.
He is struggling through the door. Every time he is half way through it, it swings back. She has a thought about their new house wanting to spit him out and this being an omen, but she won’t talk about that.
‘I want flowers,’ she says, as the wind catches the door and throws it in his face again.
‘We’ve no money,’ he says, ‘we bought new towels and a coffee maker and a three pack of heavy duty floor cloths.’ As he says ‘cloths’, he gets in through the door, walking funny because he’s carrying something. Hannah is still sitting in her brown chair. She’s watching the steam curl off the top of her tea.
‘Cloths,’ she says, ‘who needs cloths?’
He is carrying two bin liners. They are packed full and crinkling. They look like big shiny bean-bags. He puts them against the wall in their living room. They don’t have a television. If they did have one, they’d probably put it against the wall where the bin-bags are now.
He sits down and lets all the air out of his lungs in one big whoosh. He’s breathed that air in outside, and breathed it out inside. His breath smells like Heineken and air pollution.
‘Lets eBay the cloths and go on holiday,’ Hannah says.
That boy stares at the bags. He stands and rearranges them slightly. He leaves the room. Hannah can hear the fridge open and close. She can hear his feet heavy on the stairs. There’s a computer game he plays in his bedroom. She can hear that too. It has got to the point where she can tell how well he is doing. There are different kinds of beeps. There’s a beep for killing, and a beep for being killed. It is easy enough to keep a tally.
‘I never wanted a coffee maker anyway,’ she shouts it up the stairs. There’s no answer. ‘Coffee irritates my bowels,’ she says. ‘Who drinks coffee in this house? Not me, that’s who.’
While he is upstairs commanding armies Hannah sit and stares at the bags and makes plans for moving out. She’ll have a car boot sale. She’ll sell the towel set and the coffee maker and the pack of three heavy duty floor cloths. She’ll go through his personal things when he is at work and she’ll sell his computer game console and his camera and his selection of hardback books. She will sell his first edition Alice in Wonderland and use the money to buy something cheap, disposable and forgettable. She will buy so many flowers there won’t be room in the house for her furniture.
Days go past, further into autumn. The leaves fall off the trees and stick to the bonnets of cars. It rains a lot. Whenever the wind blows, more leaves fall. And there’s a smell in the front room. They accuse each other of causing it, and carve suggestions into the soap. Dovebar says You Stink. Hannah washes her knees, wears the insult away and thinks about going missing and making him sorry. She will spend the rest of her life in Cleveleys drinking cocktails and nodding at bingo callers.
During the night Hannah nudges him to the wall side of the bed and hangs her face over the edge of the mattress. She sniffs. The smell is always there: heavy and scary and nothing to do with her.
‘It’s the bin-bags, isn’t it?’ he says one night while they are sitting playing chicken with the silence. He sounds like he’s been caught stealing from the stationary cupboard. He’s been bringing two or three bags home every day after work. Sometimes Hannah has to move them so she can get to her brown chair.
If she thinks anything about it, it’s only that she doesn’t want to be involved in whatever he’s up to. When they sit on the settee and eat their tea together every movement of their elbows starts the bags crinkling and toppling. Hannah has to make an effort to ignore them.
‘What bags?’ she says, and looks out of the window. He huffs next to her. Now his breath is like garlic and red wine and popping candy. ‘I thought it was you. You should have a wash. You’re disgusting.’
He puts down his microwave lasagne. The fork falls off the plate and there is a small spot of tomato sauce on the side of the couch.
‘Listen to me,’ he says, and then says nothing, but starts to unknot the top of one of the bags.
Such a smell comes out, a black smell that is half way to being the good smell of soil, but isn’t there yet. Hannah thinks, corpses, road kill, and then he puts his hands into the bag and shows her. There are leaf skeletons in there. When he lifts the bag to tip it out, there is a brown puddle on the carpet. The shape of the puddle is suggestive of other things, but they don’t laugh.
‘I liked those leaves,’ he says. He carries on opening the bags, searching for leaves that haven’t started to rot.
‘Look,’ he says, and pushes her towards the bag. There they are. He’s caught them while they’re still red and orange. If Hannah looks into the bag quickly the leaves are a pattern on a pair of vintage curtains. All the colours are in there, and the front room is packed with the bags and soon there will be no room for anything else.
‘I’m looking,’ Hannah says, ‘I see.’
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