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(A flash fiction of 28 words)

The Summerhouse


by Sue Wilsea

David wants to give his wife Kate everything she didn't have before meeting him: security, a nice home, another baby. He wants to be a good step-dad to Josh and erase the memories of Tom, Kate's first love and Josh's father. But none of this seems enough for Kate and after the birth of their daughter she slips into depression, her only solace the run-down summerhouse at the bottom of their garden. When David discovers what he thinks is her betrayal he sets out on a path of destruction.

(The Summerhouse, a novella, was shortlisted for Gateway's New Fictions prize in late 2014)

As an animal would its territory, Kate marked the summerhouse with her scents: coconut and vanilla body lotion, coffee and cigarettes, a citronella candle used to deter bugs, the new wood of pencil shavings mixing with that of the rotting window and door frames. Some smells she carried with her all the time – I could tell where in the house she’d been by sniffing the air for the musky aroma of joss sticks which clung to the materials she wore. Her skin always tasted of coconut and her hair of smoke.

She hadn’t used it at first what with feeling so lousy throughout the pregnancy and I was all for pulling it down to tell you the truth. But she got so upset if I so much as hinted at it that I learnt to steer clear of the subject. You couldn’t see the summerhouse from the house so it didn’t matter that much, I suppose, but it bugged me that she could get so worked up about what boiled down to an ugly, damp outhouse obviously built by some toff so he could sneak out and screw one of the maids.

As for what the place looked like, there were the rather pathetic ethnic touches – the Peruvian prints, mobiles of the planets, an old CND necklace hung on a nail, a Friends of the Earth poster curling at the edges, an ashtray filled with badges Save Water – Bath with a Friend, Free Nelson Mandela, A Woman Needs a Man like a Fish Needs a Bicycle. Then there was the general muddle: books stacked on the floor, boxes of papers, cushions, candles, basically just clutter and mess. Josh was the only one who could tease her about it,

‘I bet it’s dangerous too.’ He was sitting on the floor, his back against the settee on which Kate was lying.

‘Josh! Don’t be so silly, how can my summerhouse possibly be dangerous?’

‘All those candles. Some of the windows don’t have all their glass and wind could blow in and fan the flames. We were learning about oxygen and naked flames in Science today.’

‘Well, don’t worry my darling. I’m always very careful.’ She flung her arm over the arm of the settee and ruffled Josh’s hair.

I loved listening to exchanges like this. I loved watching her taking pleasure and pride in her son. When she was in one of her states she’d accuse me of being jealous but I honestly wasn’t. I didn’t mind staying in the background, quite content to sit in my armchair with a glass of wine and the evening paper or a book. Of course I only pretended to read because that meant I could watch and listen.

‘Why don’t you get David to build a proper extension to the house?’

‘No need.’

‘And that paraffin heater whiffs.’

‘I like it there. You know I need to be separate from the house.’

Then Josh, seeing that the laughter had gone and that her eyes had begun to darken, her eyelids fluttering, backed off, ‘Course you do, Mum. Only teasing.’

Both Josh and I were skilled at picking up on these almost imperceptible signs: the slightly increased pulse in her throat, the stroking of her cheekbone with her forefinger. Danger signs. The texture of the air would change. My grip would tighten on the stem of my wineglass and the paper’s print would blur. Not that I’ve ever taken drugs, but what I felt is what I imagine the experience of being high is like, a sort of sharpened sensibility. I’d become aware of the pattern of the cushion fabric, its red and gold brocade melding into a bloody emblem of pain, I’d hear the movement of the wine in my glass as it became thick and clotted and it was if I could smell my own sweat, my own piss and shit churning inside me. I realise that sounds fucking ridiculous but she and I were so in tune, that’s what it was like...

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