Matthew Marke’s West Hill Cautionary Tales – April 2023

The doorbell sounds at the front of the house. 

I am ready. 

My heart is beating loud and I wonder if they will notice when they come in. 

Down the hall, I hear my mother come out of the kitchen, closing the door on my father. She always shuts it after herself. I can taste the silence in the kitchen. It is bitter and has the flavour of a squashed slug. 

I hear her open the front door and exclaim a too loud hello. There is a muffled silence for a moment and then I hear them coming towards the room where I am waiting. Ready.

Just as they are reaching the door, I see the key on the drinks table. I have forgotten to put it back. If my mummy sees it, she might wonder. Then she might ask daddy. And he would definitely check. And then my plan would be ruined.

I’m about to spring for it, but the door handle turns and it’s too late. Mummy comes in followed by my piano teacher. My stomach turns. The way it always does when I see him. My head goes funny too. It’s like it’s full of cotton wool and won’t let anything in. No music can live there. 

Mummy can’t understand why I am not learning. I’ve begged her. Not him. A different teacher. Anyone but him. But she won’t change.

It’s useless and I know why. And that is the reason the key is sitting on the table.

Mummy forces me to say hello as usual and I do. But I don’t want to. I don’t want anything to do with this man. I want to disappear but I can’t. I have a job to do. For mummy and daddy.

Mr Price says something and mummy laughs in that way that she does when he is around. I don’t see her laugh like that with anyone else. And that, more than anything, is why I know what they do. And now what I must do.

Colour comes into my mummy’s face. She is shining, like the petals of her roses. Reds, yellows, white. She looks like a sunset. She is so beautiful. Then I see myself in her face, my nose, my eyes. It makes me happy and sad at the same time and then it just makes me angry and I clench my fist and I want her to be gone. I want her out of this room. To go back to daddy in the kitchen. Get out. 

Get out. Get out. GET OUT.

But she doesn’t. She is still here. Smiling and laughing. At the stupid jokes he is making and thanking him for his compliments about me and my playing. Which is a lie and all of us know it. Me, my mother and the stupid, ugly, horrid man.

I want to scream. But I don’t. I clench my fists harder and wait. I am staring at the key on the table now as if it is a friend. And I know that they will not notice. 

My concentration on the key does it. Finally she is leaving. She is at the door and then through it, closing it. It makes only the tiniest click but it cracks like a gunshot in my head and I remember the first time I heard it. But now I smile. I know it will be the last time I hear it.

‘Well, shall we start?’ he says, his voice making that horrible gargling, gurgling, phlegmy sound. 

I am breathing fast, nearly panting. I hear my heart pounding inside my chest again but the cotton wool is gone. My heart is in my head now. 

Babam. Babam. Babam. Can you hear it? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.

I hear someone, a child, say ‘wait’. It takes me until I am halfway across the room before I realise that it is my voice. He is saying something behind me, but I can’t make it out. Everything is too loud. The ticking of the ancient grandfather clock is like a giant scythe clearing a path. I reach it as if it is an old friend waiting for my return. I pick up the shotgun that leans against it. It is heavy. I turn and point the barrels at him. The safety is off. I know I should never leave a gun like that. But this is special. And I’ll never do it again. Never have to.

His face is a picture when he sees what I am doing. I smile. Maybe the smile he and mummy are always asking for.

I watch as his yellow teeth, his thin pale lips, his blotchy red nose suddenly disappear and rearrange themselves across the bookcase behind him. I don’t even hear the bang. 

I sit down to practice my scales.

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