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ABSOLUTION

Standing in the shadow of the birches that lined my street, I wondered if somewhere on the planet there was someone feeling the same thing at that same precise moment. Perhaps, somewhere in Mongolia, a man returning home was waiting outside his yurt, tired and hungry, yet despite the cold, despite the rain, was utterly terrified to enter.

Lights glowed from all the houses except one. It was not a surprise that my home was unlit, but the contrast made me hesitate, made me shake, made me want to cry. I turned up my collar against the wind and forced my feet onward. I paused briefly and then climbed the concrete steps to my door. My hand shook as I held the key and I almost turned and ran.
The breakfast, which I had prepared that morning, was uneaten; the coffee untouched. I scraped the congealed eggs and sausages into the bin and washed the dishes, taking my time, not wanting to go upstairs.

The silence of the house was suffocating. It was hard to breathe. Voices, laughter, shouting, crying—all the sounds of life—were gone. A mere glance at a photograph, the smell of peanut butter, everything evoked a fragment of conversation, a feeling, a smell, the sound of laughter. I tried to reach out to them, those ghosts, to hold them, but I could not.

I felt nervous, as I always did now when I climbed the stairs. Reaching the bedroom door, I paused. I was breathing heavy; my palms were clammy.

Susan was lying on the bed with her back to me. I could just make out the contour of her in the gloom. I reached over and touched her skin. It was warm; I felt her shoulders rise a little. I sat beside her. She was clutching the photo album, open to her breasts. She continued to stare at the wall. We watched, in silence, the shadows that crept over the wallpaper like probing fingers.

Too tired to take a shower I lay on the bed fully-clothed. I considered moving closer to my wife, holding her, but when I lay my hand on the bed, felt the place where my daughter had once slept between us, I closed my eyes and clenched my jaw tight until it ached. I would not cry.

The representatives of Hudson & Smith were already sitting around the table when I arrived. I offered my apologies and made my way to the front of the room. Nine faces sat expressionless before me. As I unpacked my laptop, I ran my hand across my chin. I hadn’t shaved again.

They waited for me to unveil their new head office, a 3D representation of how it would stand majestically over London. One of them coughed impatiently. I found the file on my laptop and opened it. Their eyes went to the large screen behind me. I searched their faces, as I always did, relishing the moment: eyes would widen, there would be an intake of air, and then they would smile.

Their eyes widened, but there was no intake of air; there were no smiles. They looked around at each other. A cold sweat ran down my spine. Someone laughed. I turned around and grasped the table. Looking down at me from the screen, smiling, her big blue eyes sparkling, was Lucy.

I drove through the city, and the sun sank low, reflected in the skyscrapers, the buildings that had enchanted me all my life, and then it disappeared entirely, and it was night. I drove through the streets with my window down. I caught sounds, snatches of conversations, a bar of music, but they were gone before I could interpret them.

 

END OF EXCERPT


Disfigured Liberty

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A Psychiatric Hospital, a London bomb, an abusive father, a hedonistic rock star, bereaved parents, and a suicide bomber, come together for this literary sojourn into the grimy depths of sadness and regret.

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