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Dedication

by Alan Muir

“For you,” she said pressing the small white card into his hand.

She had already run halfway down the path before he glanced down at it. He looked up as he heard the dull thud of the car door quickly followed by the noise of the engine. As it pulled away he saw the kids’ faces looking back at him. Blank stares. No- one waving. Picking up speed it moved quickly down the road. Their features became indistinct before they finally turned to a ghostly blur and disappeared round the corner. The noise of the engine carried faintly on the air as they moved further away from him. Then there was silence.

He stood for a moment staring at the empty street, the roots of the trees that lined it pushing the paving slabs up at awkward angles. He turned the small piece of card over in his hand. How had this happened to him? He felt as though he were floating, his mind disconnected from his body. It was as if this were someone else’s experience, as though it were all happening in the third person. A sharp pain brought him back. He watched as a small bead of blood pooled on his thumb where the edge of the card had cut it.

Raising his thumb to his mouth he licked it, feeling a prickly sting and wincing. He looked at the card. It was one of those business cards, the type that made you think of money; thick, crisp and white with a kind of bobbled effect, like a miniature desolate landscape. In the centre, tiny black embossed words rose like a malignant growth:

Messrs Harrigan & Co.

Solicitors

For All Your Needs.

That was it. No handwritten message. Nothing.

He stared dumbly at it for a few seconds before pushing it into his trouser pocket, careful not to catch his thumb. Looking down the empty road one last time, he absentmindedly scratched his chest, before turning and going back into the house.

The door sounded different when it closed and as he pushed it home the sunlight played briefly on the stained glass and he caught sight of his distorted reflection, unshaven and hollow eyed. Looking along the hallway and into the kitchen there was no evidence that they had ever been there. It was all too tidy, no toy cars skittering across the laminate floor as he walked, no kids pictures on the radiator cover. He couldn’t believe she had taken the pictures. Feeling a flush of rage he stomped through to his corner at the back of the little dining room and sat in front of the computer screen.

He should work, he thought. But isn’t that what had caused all this in the first place: The Writing. Selfish she had called it. Selfish. How could she have said that? Everything he did was about them. It was typical that she had chosen this moment to go, just when he had been getting somewhere. After all his last rejection letter had been very encouraging. She tried to ruin everything. She said it took too much of him, every night, every weekend banging away at that keyboard. The edge of reason she had said. That was a cheek; he wasn’t the one who had started taking pills.

He stared at the blank white page.

He needed an opening line, something to hook the reader. That’s what it had said in every book he had ever read. Something to keep them guessing. Something to make them wonder what would happen next.

Nothing came.

His thumb smarted as he tucked it under his palm to type. He tried out a few lines, deleting them as soon as they were written, punching the back space key more vigorously each time. Sweat prickled on his neck and he squirmed in the uncomfortable little wooden chair scratching his chest. He rested his head in his hands and stared into the screen, the whiteness of the page slowly giving him a headache. He closed his eyes but it was still there, only now it had divided into two little bright squares burnt into the back of his retinas. He needed a break.

*****

He lit the cooker hearing the whoosh as the gas took light. Filling the kettle he placed it on the ring. His thumb throbbed. He stared at the little red mouth, teasing it open to examine the depth. Blood quickly welled up as the cut opened again. Swearing, he rummaged through one of the top cupboards in search of plasters, boxes and bottles falling as he attempted to pick things up without use of his thumb. Finding the box he clumsily held it against his body with his forearm and fished out a plaster with his good hand. Pulling the wrapper off with his teeth he shook the impossible little white tabs free before carefully wrapping it around his thumb, pulling it tight to try and close the slit.

It was then that he noticed the fridge.

All the photographs and drawings were missing. But that wasn’t it, that wasn’t what bothered him. The fridge was covered in multi-coloured magnetic letters that the kids used to play with. A message had been left. It had been clearly laid out in the centre with all the other letters pushed to the outside to form a circle round it.

“FOR THE KIDS,” it sang out brightly in yellow, red, blue and pink.

What was that supposed to mean? Was this how she was justifying her absence? What had he ever done to the kids? In that moment he felt a surge of rage and bursting forward he swept the letters from the fridge door with one hand. They locked together in a clump before clattering and dispersing as they hit the floor. Breathing deeply he pressed his forehead to the cool white surface of the door and closed his eyes. He should get back to work but how was he supposed to concentrate on anything? It was ironic really. He used to complain about the noise of the kids, the vacuum cleaner, the doorbell. He’d even had to take the phone out of her hand once. He’d thrown it so hard that it had bounced off the floor before shattering against the hall table. All of it had stopped him from working and now that he had complete silence he found that he could do nothing. It sat fat and heavy in the air of the house. He could feel it pushing against him, working its way inside.

Pushing his head from the door he stood upright and opened his eyes. He would get back to work. Letters scraped and crunched against the ceramic floor tiles as he turned. He tried to stand free of the jumble of colours but they seemed to swirl around beneath his feet. He pulled himself free.

“FOR EVERYTHING YOU’VE DONE” they said.

The words were clear. They were there in amongst the jumble; a mocking sing-song of rainbow colours.

Leaping back, as though he had discovered the presence of an Adder in the house, he knocked over the glass jars on the counter behind him. They rolled lazily in the silence before falling, smashing and spreading their contents across the floor. The kettle started to scream.

He breathed deeply but it entered his body with a shudder. The kettle slopped some of its contents onto the hob as he silenced it. This was ridiculous he thought, words didn’t just form like that. She must have left them there. But why? Why on the floor? To freak him out? To make him think he was going mad? This was low, childish messages and what was it supposed to mean anyway? Was it supposed to spell out another reason for her leaving? Literally, in this case. What had he done? Everything he had done had been for them. Was it a convenient way to leave messages like this, nothing in her handwriting, nothing he could produce as evidence of harassment? Had her solicitor put her up to it? He remembered the card in his pocket and looked at it again. There wasn’t even a phone number or he would have called and told them what he thought of their creative ideas. He thrust the card back into his pocket.

Unnerved by the words, his body tensed. His chest itched and he scratched until he could feel the warmth where his fingernails had been. Tentatively he stretched out his foot and scrambled the letters, black marks appearing on the white tiles as he pushed as many as he could under the fridge.

He went back to the dining room, closed the door and lay on the sofa at the back,

drawing his legs to his chest, still feeling the dull warmth where he had scratched it. He looked at the white page on the screen and closed his eyes.

*****

Waking with a start, he sat upright. He looked around wildly, not sure what had woken him but he felt sure that something had. A door slammed somewhere and he was on his feet. It was then that he saw it. The wall behind the sofa was smeared in large, irregular reddish letters. “For all that you are,” it said.

He pressed his back against the door, his breath coming in short wheezing gasps. This was unbelievable. She must have come back. But why would she do this? It had all been for them. Without taking his eyes from the wall he opened the door, stepped out into the hall, and pulled it firmly closed behind him as if worried that the words might escape.

Every shadow seemed to come to life as he staggered backwards. He turned and through the kitchen door, on the far wall he saw the chalk board they had used for messages. A jagged white scrawl filled it. “For what you’ve been,” it screamed. Rage filled him. Charging at it, he smeared the letters across the board.

He stormed through to the living room. “I’m coming for you,” he screamed. He scratched his chest, his nails loud against his shirt. His eyes flicked wildly from side to side looking for her in every corner, examining every surface. Scored into the coffee table with a jagged heart round it, like lovers’ initials carved on a tree, it read: “For all you are.” A thin line of sweat ran down the side of his face. He would find her.

Creeping from the living room he looked up stairs. There was nowhere else she could be. Slowly he climbed. His breathing was rapid, his throat dry. His chest ached. He scratched it vigorously feeling the deep burn. Carefully stepping over the creaking stair at the top he stood on the landing. All the doors were closed.

Slowly he moved forward, trying to control his temper, his teeth clenched. The first door was the kids’ room. He turned the handle and opened the door. It was empty. The beds had been stripped, the shelves and bookcases devoid of toys and books. Even the posters had been taken from the walls. The only evidence of their existence were dusty outlines. He felt a strange sense of relief. There were no messages here. Perhaps she had gone. He started to pull the door closed. It was then that he saw the play of light on the carpet. Marked right across the length of the room as though someone had drawn their finger against the pile it read, “For us.”

He slammed the door loosening the handle in the process. Moving slowly and deliberately towards their bedroom, he turned the brass handle and pushed the door open, hearing its soft hush against the red carpet.

Every inch of the wall was covered.

Hacked into the lined wallpaper, right through to the plaster, into the bones of the place: “For my wife”, “For my family”, “For all of us” over and over and over again.

He stared at it, his whole body breaking into a sweat. The itch in his chest had become unbearable. He scratched deep and long with both hands feeling a warm sticky sensation. There was a large patch of blood in the centre of his white shirt. He pulled it open and read the words delicately sliced into the skin.

“For you,” they said.

He dug his fingers in and pulled.

Copyright Alan Muir 2011

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