The door slam reverberated through the house and she immediately regretted it. Not because he didn’t deserve it, or she didn’t mean it. She definitely meant it. She meant every echo that rippled from the point of impact. What she regretted was the fact that it was what a child would do, the one on the losing side of the argument, without a legitimate point to make.
Her point was legitimate.
Swearing under her breath, Deirdre thumped down the stairs, hooking around the bend in a wide arc and half flinging herself down the hallway. She palmed her cigarettes and lighter as she passed the kitchen table, determinedly not making eye contact with the eviction letter still splayed there in an ivory, blameless accordion. It was obscene, the way it leered over the table where a decade of meals were eaten, keys dropped, shoes kicked under. A table for school bags and wrappers and hastily scrawled missives on the communal notepad.
Deirdre elbowed the back door open, weight pressed with the particular knack required to loosen the sticky frame, and the mild, dim day leaked in across the kitchen tiles. Gentle grey and overcast, humidity dancing along the edges. She stepped out.
The garden was little more than a paved square when they moved in, fenced and austere. Over the years they made a proper garden of it, threading ivy through the fence posts, a mess of flowerpots spilling cyclamen and lavender, marigolds and pansies. The heavy air was perfumed sweet, buzzing with hidden bees. As she exited the house, sparrow wings sparked like quickly turning pages. She watched them bleakly, her t-shirt hanging loose and patchy with drying sweat. The feeder rocked in the wake of absence.
Who’ll feed them?
Deirdre dropped her arse to the back step, kicking out her heels and pulling a cigarette from the carton. She flipped it between her fingers, skimming the rough paper with her thumb and thinking how all comforting things became less so as soon as a sticky heat got introduced. Big hoodies, cups of tea, a warming cigarette. All her favourite soothes were made for colder times, this heat made her want to peel off her shirt, her hair, her skin.
“We can’t take it all,” her brother had said, tossing memories in a bin bag like kittens for drowning.
“But we don’t have to throw it all away either,” she said, throwing her hands up. “Just because you don’t give a shit – ”
“Fuck you – ”
“Kids.” Mum’s weary voice waded between them, boxes of lego and photograph albums stacked in front of her, queuing. “Would you please.”
“But – ” Deirdre quieted at the tiredness in Mum’s eyes, deflating at the shoulders. The room was humid with three sets of breaths. They’d been lifting boxes all morning, sorting through the attic, triaging the past. The sweat at the small of Deirdre’s back told how heavy the work was.
Mum reached into the Lego box and unearthed a dinosaur, an act of plastic archaeology that brought a smile to both their faces. Deirdre remembered how long Con would spend playing with them, setting up dioramas of nonsense scenes, giving the old things voices, problems, happy endings.
“Look, Con. What’ll we do with these?”
Con glanced over, nonplussed. “Get rid, or keep them. Whatever you want.”
“What?” Deirdre looked between Con and the dinosaur. She never learned the name of what type it was – dinosaurs had been his thing. “You used to love those.”
He shrugged. Another argument crashed against the back of her teeth, only kept there by Mum’s conciliatory glance. Her fingers were still curled around the toy, fingernails digging into the grooves between the plastic scales, the worn paint.
“I’m just trying to be practical about this,” Con said. “If I’ve no use for it going forward, there’s no point keeping it, making Mum lug it to the next place.”
“I’m not trying to make it hard – ”
“Well you’re not making it easy.”
“Sorry for caring about it then! Christ.”
Door slam. Thump, thump, thump.
Deirdre sighed, the cool stone of the back step stiffening her shorts, leaching the warmth from the back of her thighs. She could imagine him up there now, where she left him – acting like the reasonable one, the facilitator. Practical. She set the cigarette carton down behind her, out of sight.
A click signalled new arrivals, claws meeting the ground. Deirdre met the liquid eye of one of the regular ravens, another quickly following. She grabbed a handful of seed from the sack by the door, spilling it across the stone where it was dry. She retreated to her own perch on the back step. Casting an appraising eye over their feathers, they both looked well in the thin sunshine, shiny black from their wedge tails to their long-blade beaks. They pecked at the seed with an unnecessary brutality, like using a meat cleaver to crack open a scallop.
The right raven veered into the left’s path, and they started to squabble, croaking and jabbing, rustling their wings.
“Oi,” Deirdre clapped. “Oi, servants of darkness and purveyors of fortune? Cut it out.”
Both birds stopped, their beady attentions fixed on her. The right raven tilted its head, and sighed.
“We wish you wouldn’t call us that.”
The left raven sidled closer to the right, dipping its head. “It’s reductive,” it agreed.
“Sorry.” Deirdre scrubbed her palm over her mouth. “It’s been a morning.” She sharpened. “Which, thanks for the warning, by the way.”
The left raven jostled its wings. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“And you shouldn’t have needed our help on that one,” the right raven said. “Less an old fortune and more a new inevitability.” It squawked at its own joke, and Deirdre had to give it that one. The landlord had been making noises for a while but they still hadn’t quite expected things to escalate. Deirdre wiped her palms on her thighs.
Craning her neck back, she surveyed the sky.
“Where’re the others?” The ravens were silent. “Just you two? No news?”
“There’s news,” the left raven said.
“There’s always news,” the right raven said. Deirdre butted her fists together, keeping a tight grip of her impatience.
“Get on with it then.” Not that tight a grip. The right raven emitted an unimpressed squawk, but the two unfurled their wings and took off, sending the remaining seed scattering across the paving stones. Deirdre leaned back on her palms, waiting for them to reach their height, her back pressed to the glass of the door. Back to the house. Back to the boxes and boxes and boxes. The throb and memory it all represented now.
The ravens hit their zenith, an invisible second horizon, and began to arc. They were too far away to truly tell the right and left apart, but Deirdre could detect it in the way they flew. The right raven initiated a figure eight, the left looping around the twist of it, corkscrewing tighter and tighter. They broke apart and fell into synchrony, wings outstretched and gliding, banking onto their sides.
Deirdre let her eyes soften their focus. Black broke, and let indigo, grey, ebony fly free. The pattern emerged.
Her laugh left her, wry, quiet – chastened. Of course, it was only safe to sit with her back to the past because it was an ally.
Mum heard her first, lifting her head at the whine of the door. Deirdre opened her mouth.
“Done tantruming?” Con asked lightly.
“Just about,” Deirdre said. She caught Mum’s eyes, unable to communicate what she’d seen, the details already slipping from her as the feeling remained. Steadiness. Preparation and still hands. Deirdre moved to the bin bag at Con’s feet and withdrew the dinosaur, blue-grey and rough in her fingers. “We’re keeping this.”
Con’s nostrils flared. “I’m not taking it,” he said. “I don’t need it.”
Need is not the only reason to keep something close at heart, she didn’t say.
I’ll keep it for you. I’ll keep it because of you. I’ll keep you, you absolute bastard, she didn’t say.
“Put it in my box, so,” she said. “I’ll carry it.”
Shannen Malone is a queer Irish writer, living in Mayo and occupying the liminal space between her librarianship masters, an eviction, and the next time she can justifiably make another soup. Her work has appeared in Bindweed, Headstuff, and Entropy. She tweets @shannenmalone