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25/05/2020 / Harry Browne

Monet: Colours of Silence by Rosemary Tumilty


In those briefest of moments before understanding and awareness are present, thoughts of a Monet painting, or at least the replica on the wall of the corner café where I had my part-time job, spring to mind. I imagine my fingers tracing the outlines of lilies, the shimmer of water, shades of indigo, violet, mauve; mesmerising hues of lavender and crimson, emblazoned with subtle undertones of scarlet and plum.
I stumble from the kitchen door across to the sink and its array of dirty pots, pans and plates, grabbing the kettle and making room to fill it among the debris of at least two days of unwashed dishes. Water sploshes over my hand. The sound of the tap, the hiss and spit of the water, assault my fragile brain. The threadbare cuff of my dressing gown now sopping, trails across the grimy worktop as I reach to switch the kettle on.
Silence from the kitchen table.
Undecipherable flashes of the night before skim across my thoughts.
The pressure of lockdown had swung its evening pendulum — a weighted barometer of all that the day had heaped upon us. Days — weeks — months — who knew anymore? Who cared? Certainly not the blasted government
Darkness and pressure new lodgers in my head.
One thing I do know, I’m going to stop drinking. Today! This is a new day, a new beginning.
No more of those joking pandemic texts at lunch time calling it ‘Wine-o’clock’! No more of those beers or ciders with dinner. No more gin or vodka in the evenings. No! This is it!
The kids, who are being silent as little mice upstairs this morning, I’ll rustle them up a nice breakfast then we’ll get their schoolwork done first thing. I’ve to nip round to great aunt Tessie, make sure she’s had her breakfast and tablets, then I’ll have time to pop in with Mam to get her showered and dressed before these ones will need their lunch. No point in asking Nigel to sort out lunch, he’d burn water!
Steam from the kettle mists the cupboard door as I fumble for paracetamol, Aspirin, anything! My head thumping like a slow vibrating jackhammer.
While I’m out at my Mam’s I’ll also call round by the corner shop, grab something for dinner this evening while there’s still a few coppers in my purse.
If only Nigel would get up from hogging the damn kitchen table, his head in his hands like a weary man. He wouldn’t know the meaning of tired! Lost his bloody job because of this flipping pandemic, sure what use was a zero-hours contract to begin with! Fighting now to get benefits, and him a proud man. No other employer will touch him with that cough and wheezy chest of his. But it’s like a damn holiday for him sitting here, day in, day out!
I wish he’d make himself useful, maybe go out and clear up the back yard of all that smashed glass, the result of those young ones drinking all night down the back alleyway between the houses, then chucking their empties over the walls to come crashing onto our cobbled yards, before running off screaming abuse and laughing.
Was this neighbourhood always so rowdy, so disturbed? I don’t believe so, but it’s difficult to recall ‘Before’ in relation to lockdown.
The question, ‘Will there ever be an ‘After’? torments me.
These were good neighbours, once, close friends. All been in this same row since the kids were wee ones. Prams all out on the street together, then our youngsters playing ‘kerbsies’ with an old ball and skipping using an old washing line. Good neighbours, the best of friends. But not anymore. Distance now, of space, mind, thought.
The young teenagers from other streets, other neighbourhoods, terrorizing our houses every night. It might have started off a bit of harmless mischief, like Halloween pranks, knowing Nigel wasn’t fit to go out to them what with his wheezy chest and all, but quickly it escalated. People terrorized in their own homes — windows smashed — graffiti daubed on doors, walls, kerbs.
My brain is frazzled, feels like we’re living through that damn film ‘The Purge’! Every man for himself! Barricaded in our homes at night for safety.
Teenagers, believing themselves to be immune to the effects of Covid-19 flaunt the government guidelines to ‘Stay at Home’. They prowl at night, top of the food chain, seeking out their prey, the weak and vulnerable.
‘It’s only ‘you oldies’ that this virus wants!’ they scream through the letterboxes, taunting us, before pouring bleach or petrol through the slot, dog poo through my neighbour Josie’s letterbox.
My eyes water as I stare blindly, eyes oblivious to the grime on the net curtains and the drab view of the yard beyond.
‘I can’t live like this anymore!’ I scream, my hand reaching for the dregs of the vodka bottle, but its vacant empty shell skitters across the edge of the worktop and in slow motion makes its way through the air like a tumbling ballerina, arches, twirls and pirouettes, before smashing to the lino.
I stop. My body frozen in motion; arm outstretched. A distant chime of eight bells.
Slowly, imperceptibly, Nigel’s head rises from where it was cradled forwards in his hands, his fingers had been massaging the back of his scalp through his mound of curly hair, his elbows firmly planted on the table.
As he lifts his head, I barely recognise him for the bruises.
Again, flashes of Monet dart through my scrambled brain: jagged edges and lightning forks of purple, mauve, indigo and violet streak across a foggy mind. Bolts of half remembered memory, time a baron lost thing: shouting, screaming, children’s tears, walls thumped, glasses and bottles thrown, doors slammed.
Tears and snot run down my face. I swipe at my nose, cheeks, mouth with the cuff of my dressing gown. My tongue suddenly dry and stuck to the roof of my mouth.
I am afraid. I am ashamed.
I have no exact recollection of the darkness of the night before, but Nigel’s vacant eyes and swollen lids say it all.

One Comment

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  1. Roy McCarthy / May 28 2020 10:36 am

    Nicely written, helplessness indeed. You’d hope there wouldn’t be too many like that at the end of their tethers.

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