Rhys Owain Williams
That dog is in our garden again, digging up the flowerbeds. I don’t think he’ll ever remember where he buried that bone – must have a memory like a sieve. Mam’s going to go mad when she gets back; she prides herself on having the best-kept begonias on our street. Like little, halved blood oranges they are – different shades of red and yellow and pink and purple – no two the same! They’re scattered across the driveway now, ripped up from their roots by that stubborn mutt. I don’t remember Mam saying she was going out – she must have popped down the shops. We’re probably short of bread or milk. No matter, she’ll be back soon. Then that dog is really in for it, she’ll have his guts! He’s still digging. Wonder if he even knows what he’s looking for.
I’m not meant to leave the house on my own, so I’m always careful not to make a noise when I open the door. It’s the burst of air from outside that usually gives me away, as if the world has been leaning on the door all night, waiting for someone to turn the lock and let it in. I press my body hard against the old wooden frame as it pops open, then drag it slowly across the carpet to make my escape. Tiptoeing along the path beneath the bay window, making sure not to crunch too hard on the shells, I take in a big gulp of our front garden. It’s beautiful – Mam works so hard on it. Somehow it looks bigger this afternoon, stretching out between the walls like a huge piece of green marbled paper.
That dog has gone – probably ran away when I opened the door.
I pick up the scattered petals and rest them carefully in my palm. They look like bruised dragon scales, torn off in a long, soaring battle. I bend down at the side of the path and place them back in their broken beds, trying to match up the colours. They don’t look bad, but you can tell that something’s not quite right.
I’d never seen this side of the hill before, not until I moved here. It rises high above the houses opposite our garden, starving them of light. Some of the best days of summer were spent racing through the itchy long grass on the other side, being careful to skip over the little streams of water that dribbled down to the river below. Once, after hearing the ice-cream van one hot afternoon, I forgot to jump over them. The brambles jabbed mercilessly at my plump, milky skin as I tumbled all the way down. When I finally reached the bottom, I wailed louder than the ice cream man’s chimes – ran home bloodied and blubbering to Mam who hushed me in her arms before wrapping me up in vinegar and brown paper.
Wonder where Mam is. She must have got talking to the woman in the shop.
Taking off my slippers, I step over the flowerbed and let my bare feet sink into the grass. The ground beneath is as soft as chocolate cake – it’s been raining on and off for weeks. Squashing my toes into the mud with each step, I make my way across the garden to the front wall. The street is empty. Steadying myself on the gate post, I close my eyes and let the drizzled breeze cool my forehead, washing away the constant feeling of frowning.
I could stay in this silence forever.
On wet Saturdays in the house across the hill, we’d sit on the rug and play board games. I always won at Snakes and Ladders, but quickly got fed up when we played anything else. I wanted the sun to come out, to dry up all the rain so I could go out and play on the hillside, instead of being stuck indoors. That side of the hill was always green and welcoming. Familiar. This side is cold and black, burnt by a forest fire that marched its way to the top before the firefighters smothered it. The sun is disappearing behind it now, turning late afternoon into evening. The drizzle has turned heavy.
“Come again another day,” – that’s the rhyme Mam sings at the rain when it pours down on the housetops of our street. “Come again on washing day,” I say, and she smiles and gives me a hug.
My eyes are still closed when the arm quietly wraps around me, a hand finding the soft spot just beneath my ribs. I don’t know how long I’ve been outside for. Hours feel like minutes. There are gentle whispers as I’m guided back to the house, but I can barely make out the words above the confusion of the rain. Back inside, my wet clothes are changed for pyjamas. It’s too early for bed, but I am tired – so tired. I never felt tired when I was playing on the hillside; I felt as if I could run forever, leave my supper and leave my sleep. I lie down on my bed and watch the faint wisps of steam rising out of my slippers on the radiator. On my bedside table, there is a photograph in a black frame – a young woman and an old man standing together, smiling. The young woman very much reminds me of her, but I know she is not Mam.
Mam’s been gone a long time.
I’ve seen the old man before too – his vacant face on the other side of rain-mottled windows. Mam always told me that ghosts aren’t real, but sometimes, when I’m alone, I see his grey eyes staring back at me from behind the patina of old mirrors.
I don’t want to think of the old man before I fall asleep, in case he finds his way into my dreams. And so I think of the boy on the hill instead – running and racing and skipping and rolling – rolling down the hillside, and all the way home.
Rhys Owain Williams was born and raised in Morriston, Swansea. His work has appeared in various magazines, and his short story ‘The Office Block’ was recently selected as one of thirteen stories for Parthian’s contemporary gothic anthology A Flock of Shadows. www.rhysowainwilliams.com
Copyright: Rhys Owain Williams, 2016. Image: copyright Jo Mazelis, 2016.