Featured Review on this writing by Amy F. Turner

Face at the Window

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
REAL LIFE
Have you ever cried so much, you can’t cry anymore, looked around, and seen the whole world weep with you?
Well, that’s how I felt, or at least, how I seemed to feel, when I was a boy.
From: The Seven Scientists by HJ Furl
Image: Ali Pazar at Unsplash

Submitted: June 04, 2019

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Submitted: June 04, 2019

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Face at the Window

1967:

Have you ever cried so much, you can’t cry anymore, looked around, and seen the whole world weep with you? Well, that’s how I felt, or at least, how I seemed to feel, when I was just a boy. When I was just a boy, I stood outside the evil, grey fortress that held her captive, and turned away to cry.

Before me stretched the fields of red: poppies washing in the mizzle, the summer drizzle that blanched my face sheet blank. Fields of blood, he used to call them, for the glorious dead, for the fallen. I saw him fall, vividly in my dream, through the skylight, crashing to his death on bare concrete, spread-eagled and bent-up like a hunchback, red eyes popping out of his skull. I was just a boy of 12. I saw him die in my dream. He would not die. Not for three more years.

He told me to wait, in the little off-white minivan, on the grey-chip stone drive while he went to her. He always went to her on Sunday morning, to avoid losing me to the Church of St Luke, in East Green, where I was a shy, quiet, choirboy. Saturday afternoons, I’d spend in the Church, singing my heart out with Mr Brewster, four boys, four brats, four braggards, and four bald old coots to sing the bass notes. Me, I sang high falsetto, as if Brewster had my tiny balls squeezed tight in his hairy old fist: ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small’, and he did, once. But I haven’t decided to speak about that, yet. Why wish harm on an old pervert? Otherwise we rehearsed hymns for Sunday, the occasional cheery chanson for a wedding, dirge for a funeral. On Sunday morning, while Brewster’s Boys sang their hearts out to the Lord, he went to her.

And he made me come too. Not that it was all bad, sitting, waiting for him to finish with her, in the minivan. He used to pull into the parking bay, in the woods, near Pottage Vale, feed me those crisps with the navy salt twist in the packet. Once he let me open the twist, shake out my own salt.

He gave me a smoked glass brown bottle to drink from, ginger beer, made me swallow it. I hated it! I found out much later, when I was at college, that many years ago a woman drank from a smoked brown glass bottle of ginger beer, only to discover the decayed remains of snails lying in the bottle. Stephenson v Schweppes, I think it was, the tort of negligence. He forced me to drink it.

Then he let me stare out of the drizzled minivan window, watching the posh and stinking rich flash past in their wide cars. One wet, rainy, skiddy-road day, after he had fed me plain crisps and forced me to guzzle snail juice, we saw a people carrier catch the kerb of the road at 70mph. He estimated. Saw the people carrier, full of adults and children, catch the kerb, flip over on its VW rooftop, and catch fire. He told me to stay in the car, in the parking bay, near Pottage Vale, and watch the woods for rabbits.

I asked him how long for?

‘As long as necessary,’ he said.

I asked him when we would leave this horrid place?

He climbed out of the minivan, holding a claw hammer.

I bawled at him, ‘How long before we leave this place?’

He broke into a run.

I saw thick palls of black smoke fill the car, moving bodies, contorting faces, hands pressed against the window. I saw thick, funereal, clouds of black, puff out of the car, like gaseous ash out of a crematorium chimney. I saw her face, stuck to the melting window, mouthing at me:

‘Get me out! Get me out! Get me out! Get me out!’

 She was just a girl, my age, 12. Just a girl, a burning effigy of a girl.

He ran back to the minivan, threw the claw hammer, dejectedly. Threw the claw hammer at the footwell, turned over the engine, made it roar, revved up, released the hand brake. We shot off down the dual carriageway. I noticed he was red-faced, burnt, dripping sweat.

We didn’t speak for ten miles, mainly pine forest, fields of mottled cows lying in the rain, ewes with lambs, an old-fashioned transport café. There were lots of transport cafés beside the trunk roads in the countryside in 1967, but the shops were closed.

I noticed he was breathing deeply, coughing, sputtering. I guess his lungs were filled with her smoke, making it hard for him to breath. All that coal-ash or whatever the girl was now, her mum, her dad, her big sister, her kid brother, her grandma, who knows what of, or why, or how they died that Sunday morning at Pottage Vale.

He took a hoarse breath, asked me if I saw any rabbits, in the woods.

I said, ‘Yes! I did! I saw seven! Can I have some more crisps now?

I’ll never forget her face in that window. I burst into tears, the shock of it all, I burst into tears and cried so much that I couldn’t cry anymore. He put his fat, tender arm around my sloping, narrow shoulders, and drew me - in my red and white “Where’s Wally?” tee-shirt and old blue shorts - to his warm, rugged, chequered-shirted chest. I will never forget her face in the window.

Have you ever cried so much, you can’t cry anymore, looked around, and seen the world cry with you? Well, that’s how I felt when I was a boy of 12. I stood outside that evil, grey fortress, that held her captive, then I saw her…

The last time ever I saw her face I was thwacking a tennis ball against the garage wall which occupied two thirds of our garden. I never understood how a garage wall could occupy two thirds of our garden, with only one third in the garden next door. Still, walls were meant for chalking, so, being a lonely child, I chalked an imaginary net on the wall, hit the ball over it, and the wall hit it back. I hit that ball incessantly during the summer hols: rising at the crack of dawn, sloping inside for bangers and mash at dusk, infuriating them next door with my thump.

One of them stuck its head above the privet hedge parapet and watched. It was a frog’s head, with bulbous eyeballs, no lids to speak of, thin lips, a crew cut, and sticky-out ears. It ducked out of sight whenever I regarded it. I grew accustomed to its face: round, florid, freckled frog’s. It disappeared from view. I didn’t see it again during the school hols. I had to leave home, see?

Dusk had set in and the air was full of gnats, from his wormery. He kept a wormery made of rotten lawn cuttings beside the garage wall for his brandlings. I looked up at the darkening night sky, the first stars, and felt small. The universe was infinite, expansive, a vermillion ocean, sparkling with stars. I felt alone, lonely, cold. He would be home soon, sleeves rolled up, elbows on the table, boots on the floor, expecting supper on the table. I felt the cat gut on my tennis racket. One of the strings had broken. I was just a poor boy with no toys, no fireworks for bonfire night, and, now, no racket. I shivered at the evening chill, the sudden sense of loss.

There was a rasping noise, coming from the window above me, the noise of cheeks sucking in and screaming out, hoarse and rattled. Something stupid. She had gone and done something stupid. He was out drowning his sorrows in the boozer with his hod carrier, Sooty, and pug man, Sweep, while I managed. I was left to manage her while he sat in the pub eying the girls.

‘Please, release me let me go,’ she croaked.

I immediately realized what had happened – her obsessive, compulsive, cleaning disorder had led her to force her head through the wrought iron railings to smoke a cigarette, so as not to drop ash on the carpet. She was house-proud, forever sticking her head through the railings to keep the conjugal bedroom smoke-free. Somehow, she looked different. Her hair was dripping with sweat, light golden brown with teak tips. The fag hung, no drooped, from her puffy lips. Spittle ran down her spotty chin, hung off her jaw, all mucous and clingy, then dripped twenty feet onto the green, green grass of home. Drunk, she was drunk. She twisted her head to the left, twisted her head to the right. She was blind drunk! Singing! And croaking! Humperdinck!

‘Cos, she don’t love me, anymore.’

Her head got wedged in the railings. Her head sagged into the railings and began to swell. Her head swelled like a puff-ball, pink, then red. The fag slipped out of her mouth, fell on the green, green grass of home, fell between my feet. I reacted, instantly. She was asphyxiating, dying, in between the railings.

I said something stupid, like: ‘Are you alright?’

What to do? Him, I couldn’t call him. We didn’t have a telephone. I thought of them, the thing with the frog’s head. There wasn’t time. I ran out of the garden, as far as the back door. Locked! The front door was always locked, they only used it for visitors, guests. We never had any. We were too poor. I ran along the side of the house, the crazy-paving he laid down the year I was born. The hallway window was closed. I stepped up onto the raised lawn, the green, green grass, enclosed with red Bedford bricks, stolen from the builder’s yard.

Our house had three bedrooms upstairs. One was a tiny box room where I slept. The second was the conjugal which overlooked the back garden. He had it fitted-out with stolen railings. Excuse my ignorance, but why? The third bedroom was reserved for her, and the new baby. If it ever came. If the stork ever visited! I stepped up onto the raised lawn. The upstairs bathroom window was closed. The living room window, closed.

I tried to collect my thoughts. He was in the boozer eying the girls. The boozer was ten minutes’ walk through the council estate. She was asphyxiating, dying, upstairs. The kitchen and scullery windows were closed. From my vantage point, on the raised mound of green grass, I could see them, staring at me through their brightly lit windows.

‘Help!’ I cried, ‘Mum’s got her head caught in the railings! Her lungs are starved of oxygen! She’s asphyxiating, dying! Has anybody got a ladder? No? Please, call the fire brigade! Please!’

There was a flurry of activity as the neighbours all drew their curtains, simultaneously. I stared at the night sky, thought I saw a shooting star, a comet? No, a plane bound for Gatwick. Brick! Find a brick, and smash the window! I crawled along the boundary of our raised front garden, feeling for loose bricks. There were no loose bricks.

Desperate, I removed my brown leather sandal, ran up to the living room window and hit it with all my might. The sandal bounced off! I heard a man’s voice, thick and slurred with beer, roar at my back:

‘What the fuck has she gone and done now?!’

‘She’s done something stupid! Her head’s stuck in the railings, she’s asphyxiating!’ I shrieked.

He reeked of beer, something else, a woman’s scent, eyed me, as if I were insane. Let me tell you, I was the only sane one in our family! 

‘Pixie-hating?’ he scoffed, ‘What’s that mean?’

I did something I had never done before in my childhood; I slapped his ruddy, slobbering, face! It made no difference! He was still blind drunk. He staggered about on the front lawn in a drunken stupor unable to find his keys. She was probably dead by now.

The mini-van! He kept a spare set hidden in the glove compartment of the mini-van, in case he got locked out! I raced across the moonlit lawn, leapt the low brick-built garden wall, landed on the pavement where the street girls played hopscotch, launched myself at the mini-van, threw open the door, and retrieved the house keys.

Shoving the drunken sot out of the way, I mounted the front door step, unlocked the door, ran upstairs, and stopped. Something made my flesh creep inside out. Slowly, I opened the door. Her body was slumped on the floor, a puppet on a broken string, her neck stretched and drawn, like a turkey’s neck that has been pulled. Her hands still gripped the curtains where she pulled them off the rail trying to free herself. Her pretty red rose floral blouse and black cotton skirt, one flesh-tone stocking, were saturated with blood. I felt myself gag and retch. I saw the gaping throat, her ligature. I heard a voice, keening, softly behind me. She was still holding the serrated carving knife, dripping with blood. She stepped forward out of the shadows. My sister, Tanith!

‘Hello Dean,’ she said in her plum-sweet voice, ‘Can you keep a secret?’

*****

Have you ever cried so much, you can’t cry anymore, looked around, and seen the world cry with you? That’s how I felt when I was a boy. I stood outside the evil grey fortress that held her captive. Then I saw Tanith. Her gaunt young face pleading at me from behind her barred window. I turned away to face the field of blood, couldn’t bear to watch her mouth the words:

‘Get me out! Get me out! Get me out! Get me out!’

I felt his arm, tender and warm, around my shoulders. I saw the lines of worry on his face, the streaks of grey in his hair. He would be dead in three years’ time. We had just three years left.

‘Is it over, Dad?’ I asked, sniffing back my tears.

‘Yes, Son,’ he said, gravely, his breath smelled of mints, he quit the drink, ‘It’s over. Tanith is clinically insane, they’ll never set her free.’ He quickly changed the subject, ‘I bought you a present, it’s in the van, come and see.’

A present? Dad couldn’t afford to buy me presents. It had snowed so hard at Christmas that he couldn’t build. He was a self-employed builder, had to pay his debts, had to pay his hod-carrier and pug man before himself. The last thing Dad could afford after my Mum’s funeral was to buy me a present.

I swished the gravel with my scuffed brogues and strode to the van. He grabbed the handles with both hands and drew the doors open like the curtains at a magic show. Lying on the corrugated metal floor, beside the trowels and spirit level was a box with a cellophane front.

‘Oh, Dad,’ I cried, ‘I don’t know what to say. I love you, Dad.’

He ruffled my hair and gave me the loveliest bear hug.

‘Don’t go blowing up our new council flat,’ he laughed, the first time I’d heard Dad laugh in years.

I lifted the box and stared at the contents: test tubes filled with crystals: green, blue, orange.

 

 

 

 


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