by: Nels Schifano
It was autumn. Although still afternoon the journey had been spent peering at slowly moving red lights through clouds of condensing exhaust and the intermittent slip-slip of wipers. Now as she turned off the ignition darkness gathered silently around her. She walked head down, hood up, feeling plastic handles moulding themselves around her fingers, the carrier bag spinning one way then the next as it clipped against her leg. The pavement was thick with the slippery brown mulch of fallen leaves and the smell of bonfires wafted across the common. A thin mist clung around the streetlights producing a shifting yellow gas. Sounds were muffled and movements lethargic. Cars slipped slowly by on a film of dirty water. At her gate she delayed, unwilling to break the stillness with squeaking hinges; not yet teatime and the city was being put to sleep.
The terrace before her hugged the curve of the road tumbling erratically down the hill and into the gloom. Bending around the edges of her vision she was conscious of curtains being swished closed, stone faces bathed by the grey light of televisions, broken roof tiles, satellite dishes, bay windows, the whole higgledy-piggledy collection of guttering and skylights. For a moment her home was a stranger, a simple compartment in this huge connected structure.
She rattled the key into the lock, tilting it to the particular angle that would allow it to catch. She stepped inside, her hand brushing the light switch as she closed the door behind her. The softly lit warmth of the interior walls were a welcome contrast to the dark slimy surfaces of the outside. Two elderly neighbours warmed the house from the sides and soon she would hear the comforting noises of the boiler rousing itself into life.
She kept her mind occupied by these happy details of returning home as she walked along the hall and into the kitchen. She lifted the carrier bag onto the worktop and reached for the kettle. Standing in the centre of the room, still in her anorak, she listened to the sound of the water boil and felt the house adjust itself to her presence. Now she returned at all times of the day she sometimes sensed she had caught it unawares. What ghosts that had been running through rooms were now slipping reluctantly back into walls? While its inhabitants had moved the house stayed still, preserving pockets of time in dusty corners. The blue-tak tears on bedroom walls, a water-colour sun and stick man hiding behind a fitted wardrobe, a dent in a table, a crack in a mirror, were all passing moments etched into the physical world, like voices pressed into vinyl.
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