I know I shouldn’t have run away but the sound of her shrill voice berating him was too much for me at that hour of the day. My head still throbbed with the after effects of last night’s binge and my tongue was as dry as a sponge that had been left too long on the bathroom window sill. The brother-in-law had meant well inviting me out for a couple of jars. He knew better than most what it’s like to be out of work with your life in a mess. He had been there himself and climbed back from the black hole he was sinking into by a lot of hard work and a couple of well-placed friends. Ursula had more or less insisted that he pull himself together. I can kind of understand why she didn’t want him slipping back into that situation just because her kid brother couldn’t get his act together and his wife, in her opinion, was a loser anyway.
So when, after discovering me on the sofa in the sitting-room as she got the kids off for their last day in school before the holidays, it was not entirely a surprise to hear her charge upstairs to their bedroom screaming like a virago and calling me names that even the lads on the building site wouldn’t dare use to me. I thought it best to scarper. What inspired me to something so infantile as to go out the back way and hop over the wall into a neighbours garden I can’t imagine. Stupidity and alcohol I suppose.
I slid down into the gap between the rough concrete and a garden shed. You could tell there hadn’t been much traffic here – the rotted branches of exhausted shrubs snapped quietly under my weight. No kids in this house so. They would surely have made a den or buried a pet or lost a ball…there would have been signs. That was a bit of luck for a start. Pulling back a coarse bramble, which repaid me by drawing blood from elbow to fingertip, I edged around the side of the wooden building. Another bit of luck. There were some trees that gave a bit of cover while I sussed out whether the house was occupied and what were my chances of making it to the side gate before I was spotted. It was only then that it dawned on me that discovery could mean screams and alarms followed by police cars sirening their way up the street outside and manhandling me into the back of a cop car, carefully putting their hands on my head to make sure I didn’t damage the body-work. They only do that after they have kicked the daylights out of you – or so it seems from TV.
All clear, no sign of life. Easy-peasy. They’d all be gone to work in this area. No dole-queuing for the smart asses like the brother-in-law – well not yet anyway. Wait till the recession got round to them! Then they’d know all about it. Then they’d be imprisoned in their comfortable residences trying to feed kids on dole money and screaming at one another from morning till night.
I edged through the trees and caught the sleeve of my shirt on a wizened branch that hadn’t even the strength to tear the surface of the shiny material when I pulled it away. Jaysus! There was a dame lying dead in a chair about fifteen feet away! A navy & white sheet was thrown over her – and there were white flowers all around like a bleeding funeral parlour. That’s why I hadn’t noticed her. Her hair shone in the sun as if she had already turned into a saint or something – you know the glow they have in holy pictures? Christ, what will I do? They’ll think I murdered her! My legs went weak and I had to hold on to the tree to keep me upright. Should I go back and face the screamers in the house I’d left or take my chances of slipping past the body and out the side gate?
I decided to face the music and head back the way I came and as I forced my feet to carry me, there was a tiny movement from the body and a white, be-ringed hand reached towards a glass that stood on the ground beside her and lazily twirled a cocktail umbrella …..