The Darlings

The house at Coppice Close had been built with hate.

The developer had hated being forced by the local council to build on a brownfield site, a place that had once been an opencast mine. The bricklayers had hated each other for imagined slights committed against each other in the past. The carpenters had hated the developers for under paying them. The plumbers just hated being plumbers. One of the electricians hated being a man, and the others had hated working in the tension of the man’s unhappiness. The foreman had hated the build for the arguing and fighting and sheer bloody bad feeling that went on every day. It had rained the whole time the building was going up. Something blocked the sewers one day and they backed up and flooded the ground floor. They had to dig out the whole drain to find out what it was. A cat had crawled in through an open inspection hatch trying to find somewhere to give birth to her kittens. They had all drowned, died in trying to live, and had become swollen and putrid. The house had no chance from the start.

It was going to be a bad place even before its first brick was laid.

Joy Marler loved the house at first sight.

It was only a marketing illustration, a drawing in a sales pamphlet that she found on a table at her daughter’s playgroup, but it was everything she’d ever dreamed about: detached; private; south facing rear garden; at the end of a close; modern; new; everything. It had everything. So she had to have it.

The next day, Joy went to look at it, just to make sure. Dennis needed the car for work so she had to drop her daughter at the playgroup and then catch two buses to get there, which made her think for a while but didn’t put her off. The pavement of the road was still unmade, and the roads themselves were covered in muck and mud from the lorries, but that didn’t put her off either, and she got there. The shell of the house was complete, the roof was on and the windows were in so what she saw was almost the finished article from the outside. There were still all the final fixings to do inside, plumbing and electrics and what have you, but she could see what the house was going to look like when it was finished. She saw the shape of it, and liked it. She saw the position, last house on the street, and liked that, too. In a slow turn, she imagined what the area would look like on a sunny day in summer, when everything was all finished. She like that most of all, and she smiled to herself, looking at the house.

The house looked back at her, at what she was. She was coming. The house waited.

Joy told her husband about it when he came home from work. Dennis knew from the way she spoke that, in his wife’s mind, they’d already bought the house. He pointed out that they couldn’t afford it, that it was on the wrong side of town for them, that it was far away from their families and friends, and even farther away from the factory he worked in. The kids would have to go to a different school, he’d said, they’d have to make new friends, too, and they’d lose all their old ones. It just wasn’t a practical, sensible choice really.

He might as well have been talking to the house.

Joy had already made contact with the developers. She’d phoned them as soon as she’d stepped out of the playgroup. She’d phoned them again when she got home, and again in the afternoon. She did the same the following day, and the day after that, and for the next three days, until the developers got so sick of her that they just gave in and put her at the front of the queue. She used the same tactics on Dennis to get him to apply for the mortgage that they couldn’t really afford. He’d been in this position before, though. He just gave in sooner.

That had been at the end of September, just seven weeks ago. When the delivery team finalised the sign-off of the building last Thursday, Joy was outside in the family Ford Fiesta with the kids, David and Susan. Dennis and his brothers were sitting in the hired van waiting to unload the contents of their old house.

The developer handed the keys over and Joy started dancing.

Today was Saturday.

Standing in the doorway to the kitchen, David watched as his sister’s tears trickled down her face. Susan’s head was tilted forward and leaned against his chest. Her tears ran in a watery line towards her chin and somehow came out through her nose. She cried silently. Her eyes were closed. David couldn’t understand how tears could still come even when someone’s eyes were closed.

Susan had her hands over her ears, but David knew she could hear them. Dad was shouting, Mum was screeching. They’d been at it for ages, arguing like that. Dad was standing at one end of the kitchen, leaning against the cooker. His arms were folded, which was good. It was when they were unfolded that things got bad. His name was Dennis. It was only recently that David had realised that a Dad could have a name.

He already knew that his Mum’s name was Joy because people shouted her name out whenever they went out walking. She was tall, although shorter than her husband. They were now both in their late twenties, and had been together since they’d met at school. She had blonde hair, his was a dirty brown. David thought she was pretty, though she didn’t look pretty just now. She’d been crying, and she’d wiped mascara all across her face. She kept walking up and down the kitchen with her hands pressed on her hips. Sometimes she would stop and raise a hand and jab a finger at Dennis as she spoke. It was like she was stabbing him with bad words. Dennis just stood and took it, looking bored, his top lip up on one side. Sometimes she would say something and he’d shout back at her. David could see that his father was getting angry. Dennis had thick eyebrows. When he got angry his eyebrows came closer and closer together until they were just one solid nasty line. They were meeting now. Dennis unfolded his arms. David wrapped his arms tighter around his sister.

His mother was saying something about someone called Melody. No, not Melody. Her nose had started to block with all the crying. Was it Melanie? Someone called Melanie? David wasn’t sure that was the right name. Whatever it was, that was what did it.

“Right,” said Dennis, pushing himself away from the cooker. “That’s enough of this shit. I don’t have to take this. I’ve done nothing. I’ll be fucked if I’m going to stand here and get slaughtered for something I’ve not done. Fuck it. I’m off. You’re on your own.”

Dennis grabbed his jacket from the back of a kitchen chair and strode towards the rear door of the house. He was a slack man and he sometimes walked like he was a puppet, all loose and floppy, but when he got angry he sort of set and turned hard. He was hard now, and when Joy tried to stop him he brushed her away with just a wave of his arm. It was a heavy push rather than a blow that caught her. Joy fell across the chair that had been dragged out of position when Dennis pulled his jacket off it. She slid down between the chair and the kitchen table. Before she could get to her feet, Dennis had slammed the door behind him. He hadn’t looked back.

Pushing the chair out of the way, Joy got up and ran to the door. She pulled it open and ran through it. David heard her shouting his father’s name seven times. He counted. She shouted really loud. When she came back in she looked wild, like a cat looks when it’s chased by a dog, wide eyed and bared teeth. She walked up towards the cooker where Dennis had been standing and almost tripped over the fallen chair. She picked it up and righted it and put it back in place. Her hands gripped the shiny wood where Dennis’s jacket had been just a few moments ago.  Releasing the chair, she put both hands into the nest of her hair and grabbed it tightly and stamped once, hard.

“Bastard,” she said, through her teeth.

It was only then that she noticed her children.

Joy came and crouched down and put one arm around Susan and one hand behind David’s head. “Sorry, David,” she said, her hand working in his hair. “Don’t cry, Suze. It’s just an argument, babe, that’s all. Mummy and Daddy’ve just had a little argument. Don’t you worry, love. It’ll be alright.”

Joy hadn’t looked at Susan at all as she’d been speaking. She hadn’t looked at David, either. She’d been staring at the back door all the time. David knew what she was going to do.

“Mum,” said David.

Joy turned to face her son. He pulled away from Susan but Joy’s eyes stayed fixed on the space where he had been. He knew that she was thinking about something else.

“You can’t leave us, mum,” he said.

Joy focused on him again. She shook her head. “I’m not going to leave you, Davey boy. Never! I’d never leave my darlings. Never, ever.” She stood up. When she spoke again, it was as if she was speaking to herself. “I’ve just got to go out for a minute, though. Just a few minutes, that’s all. I’ve got to find Den. It’s really, really important, love. I’ve got to find him before… I’ve got to find him first, that’s all. Bring him home to his family. To us. Won’t take long. I know where he’ll be. I’ll be straight there and back. Twenty minutes it’ll take, no more than that. Thirty, tops.” She was walking towards the back door, walking backwards away from her children. “Just you two sit tight and wait here. Wait in the living room. Watch telly for a bit.” Grabbing her handbag from the table, she turned and took a coat from the coat hook on the back of the door. She slipped the long key out of the lock and put it in her coat pocket. “Straight there and back,” she said. “Promise. I’ll bring some chish and fips if the chippy’s still open. You want some chish and fips, don’t you?” She nodded, though her children had remained silent. “Yeah, course you do. I’ll pick some up. And battered sausages, too, yes? Yes. Right. Won’t be long.” She stepped through the door. A cold draught of air forced its way into the kitchen. As she pulled the door shut she said, “Sit tight.”  They heard the key rattle in the lock and then she was gone. They were alone.

The house surrounded them.

 

Get the full story in Mortality Tales.

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