The high-pitched giggles and shrill screams from next door invade my quiet afternoon contemplation in the backyard at precisely 3:05 p.m. The monsters must be back from school. The racket they create is unnerving. How do they manage to have all this energy after a long day at school? Back in my day, we were not seen nor heard. That’s how children were meant to be.
I shuffle towards our shared fence and even before I lean against it, I see the feral brats bouncing up and down on their trampoline. It’s how they spy on me.
‘Hey Mrs Hooke!’ they sing in unison.
I am gobsmacked. Hey? Hasn’t anybody taught them respect? I almost laugh at my own naïve question. I clear my throat and say, ‘Don’t you mean “good afternoon, Mrs Hooke” young man?’
The little boy’s face splits into a toothy grin, but he doesn’t comply. His sister’s face bounces up as he disappears; the same curly blonde hair, the same green and yellow uniform. Unlike her brother though, she’s missing her two front teeth.
I don’t know their names. I haven’t bothered. ‘Where’s your mother?’ I ask.
The girl points towards the house, bouncing away.
‘You tell your mother I am sick of you making this racket every afternoon. I need some peace and quiet and you kids are nothing but trouble. Trouble!’
The boy’s face crumples and I lose sight of him. The giggles stop. I stand on my toes and glance over the fence in time to see them head indoors. That’ll teach them.
I shuffle back indoors and turn on my kettle. Might as well have a cuppa seeing as my afternoon has been disrupted. I can hear the muffled screams through the walls. This was precisely why I did not want to live in a villa; the shared walls are a nightmare. But Jeff seemed to think this would be helpful for me. ‘You need to downsize, mum. You’ll have more neighbours. It’ll be easier for us to check in on you.’ I haven’t seen him since Christmas day six months ago. Sure, he calls regularly. Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. on the way to his yoga class and every Sunday after the kids’ football game. I think of all the things I should tell him. When will you visit me? How hard is it to get on the freeway and drive thirty minutes to see your only living parent? But instead, I smile and laugh and tell him I’m well. I ask about Julie and the twins. About their piano lessons and football games.
The kettle whistles, letting me know it’s done. I think about how long it’s been since I’ve seen the twins while I pour the boiling water into my cup. A few drops splatter on my hand, rudely jolting me out of my reverie. Ouch! I attempt to wipe it with my other hand, only to touch the kettle. The rest is reflex. I finally understand what my science teacher was trying to teach me all those years ago. Except, I didn’t realise it could scald me to death.
The kettle clatters to the floor and covers me and the tiles in boiling hot water. The tiles fare better than my feet which begin to sting and feel like they are on fire. It’s a pain unlike any other. For a moment, I’m tempted to compare it to childbirth. But then, everything goes black.
I hear muffled voices, then a giggle. My eyes feel heavy. It takes me a moment to remember the hot water cascading onto the floor and me. But it doesn’t feel like I’m on the wet tiles any more. Is this what it’s like to die? My head is resting against something soft. There are smells I don’t recognise – floral and musky. My house does not smell like that. I try to wriggle my toes, but they seem to be wrapped in some kind of cloth. I blink and slowly open my eyes, staring at silver stars above me.
‘Mum!!!!!’ shrieks a girl’s voice to my left. ‘She’s awake!’
I know for certain it’s not heaven. I turn my head away from her voice and stare into bright blue eyes and a familiar toothy smile.
‘Good evening, Mrs Hooke. It’s good you made such a racket today or we wouldn’ta known you’d gotten hurt.’
© Sanch V @ Sanch Writes (12 June 2019)
A short story using this week’s prompt ‘racket’