My room in the house is upstairs. I say house, but it’s a bungalow, and my room’s the loft conversion. It’s the only room up those stairs, and sometimes I think they forget that it’s even there. That I’m there. That I was up there then, that night, awake at the top of its spirals.
That day, the pink paint day, everything exploded. It crashed down and scattered everywhere, like when cheap supermarket bags give way at the bus stop, like those falling coke bottle bottoms, like the glass choked down by the bottle bank.
I was sitting down, at the time, crouched at the top of my staircase hugging my knees into myself. I knew, when I heard the key in the front door, and then the opening of the door to my parents’ bedroom, that I should have just closed mine and stayed on the other side of it. I should have just gone back to bed, turned over and fallen back into sleep.
It didn’t feel like an eventful night, or even an anything night- none of that weird feeling of foreboding in the air rubbish. But for some reason I didn’t turn over and go back to bed, like I know I should have done. I got up instead, opened my door as quietly as it let me, and crouched down childishly at the top of my stairs-to listen.
It started to feel then, after a minute or two, as if I was waiting to hear something, as if, as long as I just stayed where I was, stayed still and silent, I’d hear something big any minute. Something big, and awful. Something that would change things. And I did.
What I heard was big and it was awful, and it changed just about everything. I heard it about 60 seconds after I had that feeling, and I still believe now that if I hadn’t of been sitting down when my sister spoke it, that I would have crashed down too, just like those bottles.
It was my sister, the key in the front door, and it was 2am. The noise of her car on the gravel started up the dogs barking, and Mum wakes up at anything. They say that about mothers, don’t they? That you’ll never sleep as deeply again once you become one, and I thought it was true- of our mother, anyway. I was angry with my sister, for waking Mum up, as recently Mum had looked as though she needed all the sleep she could get.
Dad had fallen asleep in the conservatory with a bottle of wine, watching television, but she’d woken Mum up, my sister. She’d come in loudly, probably forgetting the time, and probably not caring when she realised. I heard their voices. I could tell that they were trying to stay quiet, but my sister was provoking Mum. I knew how it would end, how it always did.
Mum stepped out of her room, catching my sister in the hallway, directly underneath my stairs. [With a voice just above a whisper] “Look, I know you’re driving now, and independent, but you still live here. This is our house, and you can’t just keep coming home in the middle of the night like this! It’s just not on – I’ve got to be up for work at five, for goodness sake!”
I heard my sister breathe in sharply. She had a temper, just like Dad. “Oh godddd. Heeere we go! Let’s make it about you yet again, shall we? You’re fucking unbelievable sometimes, do you know that?” Under her breath, turning towards her bedroom door… “Hah…and you wonder why I want to spend as little time here as possible! …Fucking unbelievable…”
“ Oh for goodness sake! -We’re not all out to get you, you know. And don’t you walk away from me when I’m talking to you! This isn’t about me at all; it’s very much about you. I know you’re older now, but this isn’t your house and the way you’re behaving recently isn’t acceptable. What’s going on with you? …You need to start respecting Dad and I more. With everything that we do for you….”
“Hah!” My sister laughed, mockingly, and I could hear the anger in it. The contempt. I wanted to go downstairs and give Mum a hug, with the things my sister says to her sometimes she gets so worn, but something told me I had to keep listening, to keep quiet and keep listening.
“You think you two do anything for me? All you’ve done is drag me to this shitty place away from all my friends! I…”
“…Shhh, keep your voice down, for god’s sake! You’ll wake your sister.”
“Ohhh, I’m sorrrry. We wouldn’t want to wake the golden child now, would we? Pfft, Screw her, the stupid bitch can wake up for all I care!”
Mum’s voice sounded so tired and so helpless. “Please, come on, now, keep your voice down. I didn’t want an argument about this”.
“Ha! Of course you did! But whatever, you’re not winning so you’re backing down now, that’s fine. God, you’re so weak. It’s pathetic…”
She sounded weak, now; Mum. “Please, I’m your mother, you can’t talk to me like that. You can’t just disrespect this house and call me pathetic!”
“I think you’ll find that I can do what I want, actually. Just like everybody else in this house does. Just like he did. You are pathetic, weak. Why do you think he was fucking another woman for so long!?”
Everything stopped. I breathed in deeply, sharply, and I couldn’t seem to breathe it out again. I felt sick, confused, angry, betrayed. I realised that I’d started rocking on my knees, and that they’d heard me.
The next face I saw was my Mum’s, rising higher towards me as she climbed up my stairs.
“Oh god, ohh…oh god. My baby… We…we thought you were asleep. Oh god…” She looked down and through the banister at my sister, who had stopped talking now, and then back to me. She placed her hand on my shoulder, trying to get me to look back at her. I couldn’t. “Darling, how long have you been sitting here? And what did you hear? Darling? Darling, look at me, look at me…oh god…”