Part 2. By Heather Pearson
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Chaos finished pegging the last pillowcase on the line as the familiar lazy growl of a diesel engine drew up then turned off. She smiled, breathing in deeply as the slap of Calm’s feet on the slabs by the back wall followed.
‘Why gate when you can jump, hey?’ Chaos asked as Calm appeared at the side hem of a sheet, dark skin beautifully contrasted with billowing bedding. He’d come to her rescue early that morning, dropping in for coffee then taking the kids to the beach up the coast on sensing pandemonium rising in the kitchen. Chaos could hear singing and giggling drifting from the open windows of Calm’s truck beyond the wall – her children’s happiness.
‘I love the smell of fabric conditioner’, Calm said, sniffing deeply, ‘it’s a travesty for the environment though.’
‘Your face better be spotless, or you’ll be a travesty in this environment’, Chaos joked, earlier thoughts smoothed by the serenity of the orderly washing on the line. Suddenly a pair of her enormous knickers flapped by Calm’s other side. Guilt’s words stung again while Calm followed Chaos’s gaze then winked.
‘Lovely drawers, gorgeous’, Calm mumbled, ready to jump if Chaos lunged. When she didn’t move, Calm scooped up the empty washing basket and waited, now anticipating Chaos’s return to the kitchen. ‘What?’ he asked, as Chaos stood, looking at him, her head tilted. ‘Chaos, what? You’re not moving. It’s… it’s weird’.
Among the hanging fabric walls of her garden, a realisation like a penny scuttering on its edge then falling, stopping dead, had arrived in Chaos’s mind. This was the thing she wanted.
This lightness of life, this sharing.
This safe knowing with a friend.
This not feeling dread at the clearing of a throat.
Easiness. Laughter. Calm was the thing, Goddammit.
She squeezed his fingers on the basket as she passed. ‘I’m burning an apple pie right now’, she announced, pulling on scorched oven gloves from their hook by the back door. Chaos removed a smoking black dome from the oven. No sooner had she put the pie down she leapt to yank the kitchen door to the hall shut in an attempt to beat the over-enthusiastic hallway smoke alarm.
‘Well’, Calm started, still thrown by the moment in the garden, ‘hot pie on a hot day. Quality planning there, Chaos.’ She stuck her tongue out and smiled. A guest’s feet rushed down the stairs and through the hallway, promptly followed by the front door slamming shut.
‘Someone’s in a hurry’, Chaos replied, ‘oh, and by the way smartarse, the pie’s a tradition. First apples from next door’s tree and the last day of holidays equal pie. Just being an amazing Mum.’ With a Stepford-inspired grin Chaos picked up the tray, tipped it and slid the pie into the bin’s waiting mouth. Calm laughed and tied the top of the overfilled bin bag before lifting it to wait at the back door.
‘I’ll fire off again with the kids, get an ice cream, maybe go and see what boats are in at the harbour. Want to come?’ His question hung there, unremarkable till Chaos’s smile signalled the perfect innuendo. She held a mug of coffee out, waiting for him to take it.
‘Yeah. I’ll come’, Chaos smirked. Calm shook his head, trademark cool outwardly unassailed. ‘How about we walk tho?’, Chaos asked, ‘wander up to the tower, tire the kids out? I feel like I haven’t moved anywhere apart from the house for bloody decades’. The chemical tang of melting bin liner rose as the pie’s molten filling oozed around rubbish, blistering packaging in its path. Calm lifted the bag and placed it a step further down to the garden, then sipped his coffee, desperate to hide the deepening of his dimples while he worked out if what he thought might be signals were just a masquerading hope. He’d almost pulled the words he’d waited to say for so long to the front of his mouth as the smoke alarm burst into life from the hall. Coffee splashed the worktops from quickly set-down mugs as tea towels and a pair of massive knickers were snatched up and waved above giggles into the hallway as they tried to stop the shrill beeps before guests appeared, complaining.
Love had booked a seafood restaurant along the bay with incredible views to the islands, candles in conch shells and an amazing dinner menu. They couldn’t go out much at home because Fear’s sixth sense knew everyone was talking about them, but she’d promised this night would be different, she’d been able to tell it would be, even from far away, just by looking at the B&B website. To hell with anyone who wanted to stare, she’d said, laughing and defiant, throwing her arms around his neck and insisting he book the trip with her Visa straight away.
However, now they were at the B&B Fear appeared to be snuggling up for an early night in rather than readying for a moonlit evening out. Love decided to make things easy. Humming softly, he lifted the layers of clothes in the drawer Fear had unpacked into the day before, looking for the floaty dress she’d ordered specially before realising she’d have hung it in the wardrobe with her strappy heels sitting below. Yet, when he looked in the wardrobe, other than hangers and a cotton bud in a thick layer of dust on the shoe shelf, it was empty.
‘Fear, babe’, Love started, consternation knotting in his chest, ‘honey, where’s our evening stuff?’
Other than a small snore, no reply came from the dunes of the voluminous duvet Fear lay amongst. Anxiety rising, Love went back to the open drawer and looked at what Fear had packed. Loose jogging bottoms for him, two white t-shirts and his casual jeans. At the bottom of his pile the cashmere of his favourite hoodie, a gift from Fear, met his fingertips. For herself, Fear had stowed a selection of perfectly folded loungewear; the stuff she swore you could wear to bed or to pop out to the deli. ‘The refined lady’s staples’, Fear called them. Yet, she never did leave the house in her loungewear, as far as Love could remember.
Meditating her attention away from where lamp cord had bitten at her neck, Peace focused on her breathing. She’d struggled hard against War but there was no getting away from it, these last few years he was more often the victor in their tête-à-têtes. As he’d let her go, War had flung Peace across the room sending her onto then off the bed as he’d dropped onto the dressing table stool. The only movement suggesting Peace’s heart was still beating had been a weak stretching of the fingers on her right hand, towards the window. War’s bloodied head had dropped into his waiting hands. War knew the woman could comeback from all sorts. He had to get out. Fast.
Peace watched the clouds outside the window move across a perfect blue sky. Carpet fibres met the saliva pooling at the side of her mouth as she listened to her body try to function, her heart beat echoing in the floor beneath her making her wonder if the age-gap couple might hear it too. Her body felt like it rested in recovery position but, annoyingly, her head and neck did not.
‘Excuse me’, War had muttered, stepping over Peace and making his way to the sink. He ran water onto the white hand towel to daub at the cuts on his forehead where shards of bulb stuck, wincing as he picked out tiny remnants with clumsy, fat fingers. Gulping a breath, he’d shut his eyes, hanging his head under the fast water, rinsing everything he could into a red vortex. Then, pain tolerance reached, he’d straightened, flicking his head back and sending a sinister arc of red across the white ceiling, ending in bloody tears running down the mirror. Wrapping his head in the sodden towel and kicking the bible under the bed he declared his plan, ‘I’m taking the job in the Middle East. This hook-up is over, right? For good.’
War’s ankles had stood in Peace’s line of vision, if her arms would only move, she’d thought, she could reach out and grab him. But he’d moved around the room unimpeded, throwing things into a bag and zipping it shut, ankles passing again to the mirror as his jacket, hat and sunglasses went on.
Then to the door.
Then down the stairs.
A draught lifted a lock of Peace’s hair onto her cheek as the B&B’s front door swung back into its frame with a bang and War’s distinctive Cuban heels clicked down the steps and onto the street.
Summoning the very last of her energy, Peace had moaned determinedly through hot, tissue-twisting pain, changing her view from the window to the door. Better. Now she was ready to receive her rescuer with a smile. The sound of the smoke alarm started, stopped and was followed by a flurry of hilarity from the bottom of the stairwell. Peace was not one to judge, she told herself, but she had certainly stayed in quieter, more professional guest houses.
Guilt was fixated by the idea of having a piece of apple pie before heading home from cruising the prom for tourist skirt. He’d seen the apples in Chaos’s kitchen that morning and remembered the tradition. Also, if he was briefly honest, he’d seen very little of the kids over the holidays. This way, when his offspring whinged that he never did anything with them he’d point back at apple pie night and ask what the hell they were talking about. Future proof of his parental dedication would be in the eating of that pie.
Guilt drove first to the back of the B&B finding Calm’s 4×4 parked by the garages. Jesus, Guilt thought, some folk didn’t ever get bored of trying to cadge another man’s leftovers. Strangely though, when Guilt got out he found the gate to the back garden firmly bolted and noticed the kitchen and Chaos and the kid’s bedroom windows in darkness. Guilt rattled the gate again but it wouldn’t budge. Odd. He’d seen Calm jump the wall before and decided it couldn’t be that hard, even if he was shorter and a little less toned. But as Guilt lifted a leg to swing it over, the sound of ripping heralded cold air at his groin, delivering the news his favourite white jeans had split. ‘Fuck!’, he spat, patting his arse to assess the damage before heading back to the car. He slammed the door shut once he’d adjusted himself so the leather seat wouldn’t snag him then enjoyed testing his racing tyres through a seven-point turn before arriving back at the front of the B&B, screeching to a stop prom-side, in the disabled spot. If Chaos wasn’t in, Guilt thought, where the hell was she? It was nine o’clock. The kids would need bed soon. Or were they in bed already? Who knew their kids’ bedtimes anyway? Guilt pushed the big front door and felt it push back for the first time. What the fuck?! He gave the timber frame a series of kicks and shoves then, sweaty and breathless, pulled his phone from his pocket. Chaos sometimes talked about jacking everything in, Guilt remembered, raging now. She’d bang on about selling the B&B and taking the kids travelling. Guilt could just imagine that arse Calm egging her on too, saying he’d go as well no doubt, trying anything to get into her ever-widening underwear. Stabbing his phone screen with his middle finger, he texted Chaos, telling her to get the kids home and be a proper mother, hitting send just as a noise from the window above caught his attention. Looking up, Guilt could just make out the shape of a travel kettle before it crashed into his face. His phone screen shattered as it hit the step below and his hands flew to his nose, too late to mask his screams as the kettle’s base and plug hit him next, a perfect one-two formation.
The thing that riled Fear beyond her outer limits was, without doubt, having her sleep disturbed. It unhinged her even further than having her writing disturbed. ‘There’s no creativity without sleep’, Fear often told Love and, bless him, he agreed, as he was wont to do.
Fear had been woken firstly by the car driving too quickly. Then there had been a rattling and banging. Then, appalling skidding manoeuvres. Finally, the abuse of the B&B front door had got Fear up, livid and ready to deal. Love had been extremely difficult to settle after discovering the absent evening wear so she’d risen gingerly, crept over to the window and spied the head of the man she’d noticed downstairs that morning as he’d prowled through the hallway at breakfast time leaving a trail of cheap aftershave with a hint of recently broken wind. Unforgiveable, thought Fear, glancing up to check no-one was watching from the upper window then beginning the swift enactment of karma.
From a fractious dream about rainbows not quite magically connecting aqua blue rivers, Love woke with a fright at the sound of someone’s distress, too close for comfort. His eyes and hands searched the bed furtively for Fear then, discovering her missing, his head darted up, Meerkat-like and silent; there she was, safely silhouetted, her back facing him from across the room at the window voile. Just as he was about to speak, Fear’s arm extended, snatched a cup from the refreshment tray and lobbed it out the window before pulling herself back in, a crockery sniper, attacking quickly again with a tiny sugar bowl. An answering wail trapped Love in mute paralysis while a voice came from the street, ‘I’m begging you! Please, don’t hit my car! Oh my God! What the?! Stop!’ Fear chuckled quietly as she snatched up a saucer and flung it, a metallic clatter then smash following as Love suppressed a gasp. Christ, would he be next? Tiny sounding feet ran, then the roar of a car engine and tyres screeching away.
Love slowly returned his head to the pillow, terrified and feigning sleep while sweat pricked every inch of his skin. His muscles tensed as Fear snuck in beside him, an arm stretching across his chest while her lips kissed his shoulder.
‘Sorry, darling’, she whispered, ‘it’s the HRT, I woke needing my sips of water and you’d forgotten to have a tumbler at the bedside so I got one myself, that’s all. Sleep on, blissful one’.
Peace’s face felt numb. Poly mix carpets might well be easy to clean but they were unkind on facial skin, she noted. Day had faded into late evening and still she lay, turning over jigsaw pieces of events in her mind as consciousness came and went, ignoring her body’s spasmodic jerks and concentrating when she could on the bigger metaphysical picture. Despite an impressive strain in Peace’s usually reliable psychic willing, it took another twenty minutes before Chaos found her. Peace heard confused voices from the street first, then a sweeping brush swishing gently on tarmac, then a knock on a door in the hallway, then the shock of the big light above her. Now, the face of the harassed young woman who’d checked her in and refused her offers of a meditative mini clinic hovered above, within kissing distance, but instead of puckering, she was screaming for help.
Then, Peace thought, drifting in and out of consciousness, a herd of elephants were running up the stairs. Such drama! More concerned faces arrived in the doorway, no elephants, but instead children and a man she didn’t recognise. Then, the older woman from the room below snuck in then out behind the little group, holding War and Peace’s refreshments tray, closely followed by her young man hysterically shouting at her and sobbing. She didn’t do this, Peace wanted to tell him, but no sound came.
More fuzzy images were obscured by a fresh wave of pain, was someone talking to a policewoman? A steady male voice was saying he’d take the kids to buy an apple pie and an ambulance siren’s circular wails were nearing from outside, a blue ribbon approaching through the sky, tying itself around them all. How beautiful, Peace thought, trying to smile as a vision arrived in her third eye: War, arriving in an airport. Then, in the room, a phone began ringing loudly, hailing her back. She fought to return to War and found him laying his passport on the check-in desk and grinning. Oh, how he loved to travel, she thought, smiling back. She’d join him, when she felt better. The best part of falling out was, after all, the making up. In the background a voice see-sawed between hysteria and relief, pulling Peace back to her body, and the phone ringing stopped.
‘Bayview B&B’, Chaos said, followed by a long pause in which Peace heard the younger woman’s breath buffer, then release. ‘Sorry. No’, Chaos said next, steadier now as she watched a paramedic kneel beside Peace and place a kind hand on her shoulder, ‘we have no vacancies, no vacancies ever again. We’re making a fresh start somewhere else. Yes. Sorry. Goodbye’.