AN. Fandom Gives Back piece written for the fabulous Mauralee88 who spent her hard earned pennies on a slice of my soul. Beta'ing carried out by JaspersDestiny - who rocks my world and my grammar hard.
This is different from anything I've put out so far, so don't expect TLM - welcome to Team Angst.
Inspired by Disgrace, by Carol Ann Duffy
But one day we woke to disgrace; our house
a coldness of rooms, each nursing
a thickening cyst of dust and gloom.
We had not been home in our hearts for months.
And how our words changed. Dead flies in a web.
How they stiffened and blackened. Cherished italics
suddenly sour on our tongues, obscenities
spraying themselves on the wall in my head.
Woke to your clothes like a corpse on the floor,
the small deaths of lightbulbs pining all day
in my ears, their echoes audible tears;
nothing we would not do to make it worse
and worse. Into the night with the wrong language,
waving and pointing, the shadows of hands
huge in the bedroom. Dreamed of a naked crawl
from a dead place over the other; both of us. Woke.
Woke to the absence of grace; the still-life
of a meal. untouched, wine-bottle, empty, ashtray,
full. In our sullen kitchen, the fridge
hardened its cool heart, selfish as art, hummed.
To a bowl of apples rotten to the core. Lame shoes
empty in the hall where our voices asked
for a message after the tone, the telephone
pressing its ear to distant, invisible lips.
And our garden bowing its head, vulnerable flowers
unseen in the dusk as we shouted in silhouette.
Woke to the screaming alarm, the banging door,
the house-plants trembling in their brittle soil. Total.
disgrace. Up in the dark to stand at the window,
counting the years to arrive there, faithless,
unpenitent. Woke to the meaningless stars, you
and me both, lost. Inconsolable vowels from the next room.
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The scene opens on a woman standing alone at an upstairs window. A single cardboard box sits at her feet. The walls of the room are empty, the floor bare, only light streaming through the window illuminates the room.
Outside in the garden two children dart between falling leaves in the smoky autumn sunlight, their breath small wisps of candy floss caught in the swirling air. On the driveway two men struggle to put up a for sale sign in the flower beds, daffodils lay trampled into the rich soil at their feet.
I don't think I've ever seen the place look as beautiful as it does now in the autumn; the leaves are in a celebration of colour, almost as though they're declaring my departure to the world; a final fanfare of farewell. Painted tears streaming into the wind, blurring the golden horizon into a haze of fire.
From up here it looks so normal; so quiet and peaceful, like we had always wanted it to.
The Perfect Package.
We had it all - the new house, the right area, the right partner, perfect friends, the Ideal Life.
Now that dream is in tatters. The house is cold and empty, devoid of laughter; each room stripped down to its bones, naked and vulnerable.
Warmth is a recollection long past forgotten in here, regardless of the many layers that shield me.
The echoes of cold silences that lasted long into the night bring an inescapable coldness to my heart that cannot be thawed.
The silence is so infinite and complete…sometimes I myself look back, trying to remember where it all went wrong, but that brings bitter salty tears that burn at the eyes and stir up ghosts of the past who make lies of forgotten times.
It's all here, the whole story . . . I can feel it in the walls and doors we had so carefully chosen because they had felt so soft and smooth to the touch,
damn the price!
Arguments, moments of clarity, tears, angry words, exclamations constructed to cut deep like knives. They've seeped in, muting the pure white on the walls to a stagnant, rotten magnolia.
The fairytale castle is now a macabre haunted house filled with demons.
And every second longer I stay in here, I feel more tainted, spoiled, and hardened by it.
Even the terracotta and sunny lemon meringue walls, whose fancy italicised names were like sweets to be savoured on the tongue, chosen for their vibrant colour and warmth now only radiate cool indifference and malice. They hold secrets and past memories, records of dark things that should be erased and shut away in boxes to be forgotten about, suppressed deeper and deeper into the furthest corner of ignorance.
How strange it is to think how we were . . . at the beginning . . . innocent some may say, naive is how I'd put it. Children, who had not yet learned the rules of life, tumbling blindly down the rabbit hole of society, always eager to please but never to share.
Ready to play the roles we had aspired to for so long.
I sometimes wonder if it ever existed, a time when we were truly happy, that is; not just faking it for the friends and colleagues we gathered, who stole jealous looks at something they believed to be so perfect and unattainable.
Now they hide malevolence behind pity behind friendship. They know the truth. Tinkling laughter resounds behind kind eyes when they knowingly ask me to decline another invitation for Mr. and Mrs. Dysfunctional Couple Who Are Publicly Falling Apart. The excuses as false as the hurt looks they give in response whilst chalking up another point in their heads.
"We must have you and your charming husband around soon, darhling! Tell me, where is he?"
It was never a question but a statement.
I spar back.
"Work, work, work! New contracts, you know what they're like." The reality is that I don't know, but I will never admit it. He hasn't been home in days.
Stale clothes in the washing basket and the full ashtray were the only presence in the house.
Daddy is on a business trip, sweethearts. He'll be back before you know it!
I hate that you made me spin lies to the children.
We became the topic of lunches, coffee mornings, and social gatherings. Cut up and analysed; every detail, every movement, every utterance, dissected and swallowed instead of the canapés from Fortnum and Mason that litter the tables and remain on display untouched, only there for the name and status.
"How cruel - I'm on a diet, you know!" They screech as they wash down slivers of gossip with vintage 1976 Dom Pérignon. The bottle fits with the table arrangements.
I used to wait for you for hours at this window to see the headlights coming up the drive, and then creep, rejected, back into bed as the hours and moon continued to move by. No matter how quiet you tried to be, I was always awake when you slipped back beneath the covers, never an explanation given, always the same perfume lingering on your skin.
With your back turned against me, all I had to look at were captured moments of something that died a long time ago, entombed forever in glass. From the wall, images of you would gaze down at me with looks of unfathomable emotion, these paper dreams consoling me with illusions of hope.
Even your pictures lied to me, using the ruse of love. The word you began and ended your lies with. So appealing on the tongue and in the ear, it blinded me, leaving me defenceless. How many times did you utter it, abuse it, twist it to make a wrong a right, to stop the tears that flowed so quickly? It's no longer a declaration of affection and adoration. I am hardened to it; it's an insult, an obscenity – spewed out, the cruellest joke of gullibility.
Then the meal.
The final straw, the final disgrace.
The carefully decorated table covered in flowers, the chicken caramelising to perfection in the oven, the meringues cooling on the sideboard, the children put away in bed. Every perfect detail is etched onto the wall at the back of my head, playing over and over again.
Every detail considered, every thing flawless.
Where were you?
In the hallway, cloying perfumes sparred for dominance as the guests arrived.
The obligatory offerings of wine thrust into my hands, waiting for the mandatory response required for self-gratification. Rules of war artfully played out behind silk and Chanel.
The company of players takes their seats in the living room as they wait for the main event, who is again not present.
"He'll be here any minute."
"You know what they're like at the office with this deal going on.
Did he tell you he's being promoted?"
Statements thrust out to delay the stealthily circling tigers of their prey.
Even in my ears, they sound fictitious.
From the silk cream sofas, contented looks spread over skillfully painted lips as the minutes tick painfully by; gently squeezing the arms they hang off in reassurance that they are not the one alone in the crowd.
My glass is empty again.
"I'll just go check on the food."
Nobody is listening.
The women are taking part in silent conversations that break into full flow as soon as my back is turned. Powdered eyes meet across the room and sparkle with anticipation at a new topic for their tennis club teas, whilst their lips talk about boarding schools and the latest fashions.
The men, oblivious to it all, continue with their talk of stocks, shares, and past friends and colleagues who now answer to them in the office. Each staking out their own territory on the luxurious, cream carpet.
Nobody offers to help me; they are waiting for me to leave so the real conversation can begin.
In the kitchen the phone is silent, there are no messages.
It is connected, the dial tone is there.
The chicken is beginning to crisp and dry.
You are an hour and a half late.
There are tears on my face.
The thick oak doors are not enough to stop the grating laughter from echoing through the walls of the house to the kitchen and into my head. It reverberates from every corner, trapping me in a cycle of eternal mockery and distain.
Dry sobs rack through my body, I feel sick.
There's nothing inside to come out though, over the years it's been stripped down and stolen away.
I sink down against the door, arms wrapped tightly around me to try and hold myself together, sitting here in the shattered pieces of the life we so carefully put together.
The voices in the living room have stopped; shoes are clicking across the marble floor.
Darkness has finally settled outside. How long have I been sitting here? I wipe the tears from my eyes and check my reflection in the mirrored cabinets. My eyes are red; the mascara so carefully applied hours before, has run; my lipstick has become a gash of blood across my face.
My appearance is the first thing they take in as the door opens, coats already in hand. They recoil.
There is something there in their eyes; not pity, not sadness, not sympathy, but something else.
"Perhaps tonight wasn't such a good idea after all," they say and turn away.
I make no move to stop them, I cannot physically move. I will fall.
I cannot call out to them, there is nothing left inside to come out.
The chicken is burning; its bitter smell is creeping up my nose.
In their haste to escape, the front door doesn't quite click shut and swings open, inviting the frosty night inside. Wheels spin and gravel skitters from the drive into the hallway, echoing across the marble floor as they race to leave this place of disgrace. Afraid to be associated with something so imperfect,
it may stain.
Red lights fly away through the surrounding woods and are enveloped by darkness and shadow that bleeds across the open doorway, inching every closer, crawling towards me.
I can't sit here. All I see are ghosts. Dead people. Home movies captured in the vivid Technicolor of my mind flicker like sparks in the darkness. A couple infatuated with the promise of love press up against the wall opposite me. Her hands frantically grasp at cloth and skin with need and fire. His body is taut, commanding, molding her to him, as he pins flailing arms above her, head buried at her neck where puffs of air exhale across bare skin, that spray like gasoline to fan the flames burning between them. Fabric tears, moans are quickly swallowed as mouths devour sound and souls, and skin meets skin with heat and need. Frantic thrusts. Writhing hips. A cry of exaltation and benediction that echoes from such a distant place it no longer seems real. They collect the discarded pieces of their passion and chase down the hallway out of sight, with laughs and playful touches.
Then they are gone.
And I am colder for it.
Hands meet skin, but there are no flames, only friction. My fingers trail across skin that erupts in goose bumps, as hair stands on end at the foreign sensation.
Is touch so foreign to me now?
Time lurches. The shadows have reached my feet, which have edged back and back and back from their lapping tide, until I have no choice but to retreat or be swallowed whole by the night.
I must have moved because I am now standing there alone in the kitchen. The coldness of the night has frozen me to stone, and there is no escaping the shadows that now drape across me and hang heavy from my face.
Where are you?
The chicken is quietly smouldering in the oven.
The burnt smell is now creeping through the house. I cannot move to shut the door to stop it. I am tired of trying.
The telephone is ringing. Its alien peal echoes through the empty hallway. The answering machine takes over and tinny voices begin to chime with laughter in chorus to no one in particular but themselves.
"I won't be back tonight."
I make no move to pick up the phone. My mother told me never to speak to strangers.
The phone rattles in the cradle at the other end as they hang up.
The children are woken by the shrilling of the smoke alarms and wonder where daddy is and what to do with mummy who they keep finding crying all alone in the dark.
They take me by the hand, lead me upstairs, and put me to bed.
Their soft butterfly kisses brush my forehead as they whisper good night and tiptoe out of the room, knowing looks on their faces.
They are six and yet older in years than they should be. It should not be like this, but I am too tired to make it any other way. I am too exhausted to put the pieces back together again.
From the walls your pictures look down on me, but it is no longer love in your eyes.
There is nothing there anymore, only distant memories of something that could have been.
In my head I'm still standing there in the kitchen, while beads of salt slide over my cheek.