My partner and I suffer and relish, each month, in creating a piece based on a new theme. June’s theme, chosen by our wonderful friend Laura Mahoney (acclaimed ‘G Â S T’ artist), was ‘Holes.’ I shall leave you to enjoy the following short story.
I awoke with his lips on mine, soft breath: “Sorry Josh, got to go. Last night was fine, really boring: sorry babe, got to go.” Only on opening my eyes, Tony already out of the bedroom door, did I remember that he hadn’t come back last night.
He’d left an empty room: the same wardrobe, the same mirror; curtains trailing in early daylight. The same space next to me, cold and bare. I had spent all night wishing he were there. I heard noises downstairs; I almost got up from bed up to check, but I daren’t leave the frail safety of the sheets, their clammy embrace. I’d shivered, ceiling-facing, squinting for signs of movement from our bed.
I then heard the front door shut to, and the lock grate. I looked about the room again, the chill morning light casting the vacancy of our home into relief. No ghosts: it was day.
I draped a robe about myself and descended the stair. I could see the garden – the lawn which rose uphill away from the house, little beds of foxgloves and chrysanthemums, mounds of earth from the work. He’d be around in an hour to carry on, arms bared, toiling under the sun.
Orange juice, two slices of toast. Square white plates. The househusband, I began my day in my own time, gathering myself together just as I had gathered the robe about me. I could still feel sweat clinging to my back and legs on the fabric, light drifts of air licking my ankles.
He’d be here, soon: Georgio the gardener. He’ll smile, a perfect, feline smile; verse through his fractured English, lifting his tools – arms tense – he’d wipe his fringe from his gleaming forehead under the sun, pounding at the earth with the shovel, unsettling what lies under there.
A water feature. Tony thought it would brighten the garden up, give it some life. Pour life back into our home, a babbling, quiet sound to distract us from the underlying silences.
Hot white foam over the plate, draining board, clink of china against china. Now to shower.
He’d met Georgio, somewhere – work, bar, through friends – cheap labour, probably not even legal, and willing. Could do the groundwork, strong, young, fast. Making a playground of our garden. Playing around.
I was the househusband. Tony was at work. All day in the hot, thirsty kiss of the sun, dust in the air, Georgio worked the land; I remained indoors, unwilling to fight for the ground. I drank cold water and read. We kept our distinct sides, of everything.
The fountain had been left near to the pit, ready to be erected – any day, now – piping ready to go. A little gravel around the rim of the pit, once fully dug, and it would be done.
I might step out, take in the air and inspect the unleveled ground; and Georgio would not notice me at first, so I could see his back, his arching form, hear the grunts and thrusts of the shovel. I could imagine them together. And then he would turn, half-gesture a greeting, and smile a cat-like grin, aching with effort.
Tony had not come back last night.
Georgio did not ring, today: he was already at the back by the time I had dried myself, digging. Spades of dry, dense earth were flung from the pit. I saw his shoulders, globes of honey-coloured flesh, straining.
A few days ago he had found something: a pendant in the pit, once silver, since aged and preserved by dirt. Discoloured and forgotten. Other things, as well: a doll, a gold ring.
Last night I barely slept for fear of what else lived in that house.
Now dry from the shower, I stepped out, and I watched Georgio then, unsettling more and more earth. I heard his dry, panting breaths: I could almost feel the tension in his body, the thighs taut with lifting, vascular strain in his upper arms.
I could only think that this house was not mine, and mine alone, anymore.
The subject had never been broached between us, seriously: Tony might over a meal (which I had cooked) call me the Desperate Housewife, having it off with the gardener. I would laugh and say, I should be so lucky, what with him playing the field on his work trips. The macho one. Playing the field. We joked about it.
I should be so lucky: the irony of it, when they were together; and I was alone, or almost alone, in that house.
A fairly old house, with original garden: a tree, further back, which partially obscured the light but left dappled shade dancing across the lawn. That tree had been here for centuries. It had lived through countless families, who had dwelt here. Births, marriages and deaths.
Doll, gold rings, pendants. The tree had seen it. I had heard it, too. And those precious relics of life, together, had been left here one day, to be forgotten. To be buried.
Tony and I had been happy here. The silences of the house, after years of struggling – finally, having the time to stay at home and write – finally, the silence of a place we could call our own. We welcomed the peace of it.
Shunk, shunk, shunk: the dry ground carved from the earth, thrown aside.
Georgio did not notice my watching him, at first. I could not help but admire his sweet, sun-kissed skin, his powerful domination of the soil, shovel by shovel. As I drew closer I could hear his breath, brought in through his fine, thin nose; and hear him grunt out that breath with each motion. I could smell the clean sweat of him now – sweat, warm, healthy, aglow. It stirred me; he smelt of sex. Raw, muscular.
Cold, empty bed beside me. Sheets clinging to me in fear. Nightmares, waking nightmares. Sounds on the stair; further still, the sound of glass, or tinkling metal from another room. The house knew. The house, centuries-old: the house was as disturbed, as I.
Warm, urgent. As he stood up to stretch, his back muscles shifted as a lion’s, his shoulders fearsomely raised, rippled flesh. Tony had seen and felt and tasted the salt on that back.
Something silver, almost-glistening, lay at his feet: in the belly of the plot, a necklace uncovered, perhaps; its chain was broken.
It had belonged to the residents; untold years before, a family who had moved, or died; left for some reason, abandoned silver; buried there.
I felt the cool weight of the piping in my hand. With a pleasure like broken plates, smashed glasses, the frivolity of utter and joyful destruction my arms relished the action, his head caved in like eggshell, crumpled on the hard earth of the pit. The beauty was there, in his skin, and in the pool of blood which babbled quietly in the garden. Dappled sunlight danced over us, in a breathless, silent wind.
Holes which should not be – which should not be carved, placed in the materials of life, in a home – they must be filled. To bring it together, to make it whole again, it must be filled. It cannot be the same, it may never be right: but it can be whole, again.
The fountain had been left near to the pit, ready to be erected – any day, now – piping ready to go. A little gravel around the rim of the pit, once fully dug, and it would be done. Dug deep enough, gravel scattered about the site. Everything was around me, as if the house wished for me to make perfect this imperfection, to bring together the fountain and the earth, the necklace, the hole in my heart. The piping was ready.
The silences in the house were welcoming. No shunk, shunk, shunk; no creeping on the stairs; no chink of silver in a far room, which once had slept soundly. A square plate with two slices of toast, one mug of tea.
Tony arrived – on time – today. His appointment for the evening had fallen through: he almost sounded forlorn. We sat and talked, breathed in the quiet air. He admired the finished fountain, though. The garden looked quite splendid now the hole had been filled.
Don’t worry, Blair. Neither of us are the househusband.