It was a late afternoon in the quietest part of town. Slender trees leaned over the whole alley, shadowing the cobbled street and pavement. There was a particularly concentrated smell coming from the upright gardenias guarding the warped sills, making her painfully aware of a contrast created between the scent and the stench of her cigarette-sated cloak. But soon enough it waned and Theresa was striding on swiftly only to pace herself each time she recalled where she was headed and what for.
The street was deserted; nothing unusual if one takes into account that this was a place where shops closed at 5 pm and lights went out at 9. Even the cats abided by that principle of decency and past bedtime gallantly disappeared. But the indifferent eyes of the dignified apartments wouldn’t blink to give away noticing anything discordant. The drunkards kept away from the street; the city guardian precinct was a sufficient deterrent. Other kinds of stray dogs revolved around the neighbouring park, where they would be regularly captured and euthanized by the Animal Control Service. By an unspoken common consent the people of the street made sure that the decorous façade remained intact—everybody drunk, argued and beat the crap out of each other in the privacy of their homes. As in everything else, the rotting took its place discreetly on the inside. That she remembered all too well. Nothing disturbed the orderliness of the street and even now the only noise resounded from the clatter of her heels.
Her gate was getting closer and as the shaded windows grew increasingly familiar, a thought struck her.
The longing for drama must have been the most idiotic thing that I’ve done. I jinxed it.
Indeed, Theresa had had plenty of opportunities to feel alive, as she had been sloshed around by the real deal she had so vehemently looked for, and had finally got for the whole three years in a relationship. If Mother had known about any of it, they would argue: if it hadn’t been the good old fortune biting her in the ass (Tess), it must have been the sombre God punishing her for some unfathomable reason, for sins either uncommitted or yet unrecognized (Mother).
The grand gate entrance doors with a plastic handle were as heavy as she remembered them. The key wouldn’t fit their door in the annex, so she just pushed the old piece of wood. It was open.
She passed the threshold in complete darkness and entered the room. A rueful memory of the time spent here squeezed her insides like pliers.
The air was thick, electrifying. Something profoundly dark and insalubrious was emanating from the only room of an old musty annex building. Yet that was it, their home. The corners were slowly obscured by the dusk, above the lonely window opened the view to the unkempt lot between the tenement houses. She had been afraid of what she would see. The first sight made her shiver only inwardly, as by that time she had got used to things like that, with plenty of occasions to learn how to control her body reflexes; and now as well as it always had been, only her stomach tensed up.
The table had been completely cleared of everything that was on it—the dishes, food, cutlery—all of that was scattered on the floor in a chaotic composition. With grief she observed that the last two plates were broken, as was one of the cups she had spent money on a week before. There were yellow dots of mustard on the wall encircling a single bigger trail. Her look followed its gravitational movement to the floor where the shattered remains of the jar reposed. A little bit further a large stain shaded the dirty tapestry—probably coffee. Maybe they were out of sugar. Yesterday’s soup adorned the chair, where her paperwork recklessly left before lay now in a complete ruin. The blankets covered the floor and cushions leaned helplessly against the sprayed wall. She had been prepared for something. but this exceeded her expectations. Indeed, she had been punished. Always creative, that one.
He stretched out restlessly on the old couch, still in his clothes, the weighty mass of his body spread inertly, immovably. She approached on tiptoe, careful not to make a sound, and slowly leaned to peer into his face. He slept like a child, perfectly peaceful, like when after the storm the sky must make up for the dread with excessive tranquillity; still, he was a remnant of the storm cloud, distant but always threatening. His breath was short but deep, as if every second of it moved him further into oblivion. She resisted the urge to stroke his temples, especially the pulsing vein and then the ridges of his wrinkles. And for a split second she was tempted to grab a pillow laying right in the middle of butts from the upset ashtray to embrace it around his rough face. She was sure that he would remain as still as he was then, just that the breathing would stop.
Theresa shuddered the feeling away and took a step back without taking her eyes off of him. She wouldn‘t kill a fly. Might she ever do that?
She looked around. The other ashtray, the one she bought for herself as a reminder of the trip to Ireland (the only leisure she had had a liberty of taking during the time they had had together) was under the table shattered in million pieces. That could not be mended anymore, for sure. She stared without blinking until her eyes filmed over.
For a moment Theresa felt overwhelming sickness. but her eyes opened and the world was in its place again. The room must have been hastily emptied quite some time ago. All the conveniences vanished: the ill-suited deck furniture set was gone, the book shelves unbolted, stacks of papers and tools usually scattered—everything but a stool in the corner disappeared. She approached it and slowly leaned over to pick up a green enamelled piece of gypsum from underneath. It fit in her hand; she spelled the engraved letters (Èire) that mysteriously remained whole. Tess gazed at it, strangely elated that in the end he never got to fix it, though he promised repeatedly and probably really meant it each time he said it, until that didn‘t matter anymore. Feeling a slight pricking in her heart, Theresa smiled sadly. Laughing was difficult, because once again her mouth felt full of blood , as if all was back to normal.
She entered the street again and headed down the road. Soon enough the clamour of cars, the screech of tram rails and raised voices of simple street vendors engulfed her and the silence for good.