It was hard to pinpoint the exact day his words first clotted into one congealed mess of noise, like radio static. There was a time at the fag-end of July while insects buzzed fat across the weed-shattered concrete when she’d thought she could still identify some individual sounds, the ow in what might have been If that stupid mongrel cat of yours don’t stop yowling I’ll pull its chicken-shit head off; a hard ck that was probably a subset of I know you overcooked that fucking fill-ay steak to fuck with me, you stupid fucking whore. By the time August had turned the neighbourhood into a foetid sauna, stinking of fast food and overflowing garbage, there was no more telling any of it apart; the sounds coming out of his mouth ran together indistinguishable as the reasons for his rage, melded into one in the smog-haloed heat of the suburb.

She knew there would be consequences to it. He couldn’t stand it when the kids mixed the modelling clay into one purplish, bruised lump; would smash his plate against the tiled floor if accidentally presented with mashed potatoes blended with gravy, pasta for which the sauce had not been served separately; would scream in the pale face of their eldest daughter if she failed to form the letters of her homework separately and distinctly. Life should be under his control, noises and dinners and who she spoke to and how the words were said, and there was no room in his ordered mind for fuzziness or the greying of boundaries. Her inability to distinguish between clothes that were nice and clothes that were what a fucking stripper would wear (who was she trying to show off to?) was a cause of frequent explosions of words—machine-gun staccato runs of them, all of them very specific.

And at first, his crackling was a firestorm. It raged through the house, destroying pictures and photograph albums, clothing, the Elvis statuette her sister gave her in its heat. By late September, though, he seemed to have lost energy. He slowed down, burned lower in the mornings and started spending hours in the afternoon on his back, basking in the sun by the patio doors.

By the time it came to Halloween he had quieted. He no longer moved from his spot in the failing sunlight. Barely a sound came from him aside from an occasional high, faint keening, sometimes audible when the sports news came on, which could have been the pipes whistling in the walls. His outline had grown shrivelled and pale, though he still occupied a place in her field of vision, catching like the shade of a bad dream in the corner of her eye; and there was a twitch about his hands that recalled a memory of something threatening.

The third day of November brought an early snow, dense and constant in the dawn half-light so that earth and sky were made up into one blind mass of shifting white. His shape on the rug by the sliding doors was still, now; the dazzle of reflected light moving across it draining it of the last remnants of colour.

She stepped over the obstacle, threw back the deadbolt and put her shoulder to the edge of the sliding doors, the opening of which had never been permitted to her. Forbidden air swarmed in, stinging her flesh as the gap widened. Icy, invasive, delicious.

She dug the tip of her boot under his husk; it moved easily. Rolled it out over the threshold into obliterating white. It was a marvel how little he weighed, in the end; almost nothing at all.

Helen Rye

Helen Rye

Helen Rye lives in Norwich, UK. Her stories have won the Bath Flash Award and the Reflex Fiction contest, and been nominated for Best Small Fictions. They can be found online and in print in a few places.
Helen Rye

Latest posts by Helen Rye (see all)