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The Telling

The Telling

Titel: The Telling
Autoren: Jo Baker
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We’re doing fine.’
    I couldn’t settle after that. I had one of Mum’s comfort reading books – Pride and Prejudice – but even with that I couldn’t get comfortable. The top of the breakfast bar was only slightly wider than the base; my legs were twisted around to one side. I fished around for a toehold, glanced down, saw that the bottom of the breakfast bar was formed out of the old back wall of the house; where I was sitting had originally been the garden. The wall was a good two-feet thick, made of great big undressed stones. It looked like a tree stump; rooted in the earth, organic, cut abruptly off.
    I felt it for the first time then. A faint electrical hum in the room. The fridge, perhaps. The cooker. The TV.
    I turned a page and took another sip of wine. It was sour and dusty on the tongue. The hum continued, and I ignored it, but it soon became intrusive, irritating. I slipped off the stool and crossed the kitchen to check the fridge. I switched it off at the socket, and there was a kind of wet, settling rattle, but the hum didn’t change. I switched it back on again. The cooker was off at the wall. The little portable TV was off, no standby light glowing. I was puzzled. I stood a moment, breath held. The hum was still there: if anything, it had grown. It wasn’t even a noise as such; it was a tingling, an agitation; it teased the hairs up on the backs of my arms. I switched off the downstairs lights. In the sudden dark, my eyes swam with coloured amoebic plaques. I stood and listened. The room seemed to soften in the darkness. The fire’s glow took on a new intensity, and I was aware again of the old smell of the place; of damp and someone else’s cooking and the faint sour greenish smell. It was not a scent I associated with my parents. It must, like the carpets, the wallpaper, and half the furniture, come from the time before, from someone else.
    I brushed my hands down my arms, rubbed at them.
    The wiring must be dodgy. Or someone was vacuuming in a nearby house. Or it was internal; post-motorway tinnitus. It could be anything, really. The fridge clicked into gear; it hummed a slightly different note, as if in confirmation.
    The fire had crumbled down to glowing coals. I dropped on another log and put the fireguard on. I left the lower floor in darkness. It felt quieter up in the Reading Room. Gentler somehow, more welcoming.
    I wasn’t really asleep. I was conscious of the space beside me on the mattress, the dint in the flocking where my ankle pressed, the give of the springs beneath left hip and shoulder. I was listening to the darkness. Amazing, just the distance of it. Here and there, a splash of sound. A fox’s bark – I recognized that – and a bird’s cry, and the sheep in the field behind the house calling back and forth across the dark. And then just as I was drifting off to sleep, there was a screech so loud and sudden that it startled me bolt awake, and I was staring around the room in darkness, my heart going like a train. I reached for the bedside lamp, but it wasn’t there, of course; it was back at the flat. I lay in the bed just looking into the black, and there was nothing: no movement, no further sound, and my heart began to slow and settle. I got up out of bed and went to switch on the light. The bookcase stood solid and dark and stacked full of shadows.
    An owl, perhaps; or something killed by an owl, up in the fields behind the house.
    Daylight. There was a sense of weight beside me in the bed; if I just reached out a hand, Mark would be there. Cate down the corridor in her little room: a mutter; she’s about to wake. The day teetering on its brink, ticking towards the shriek of the alarm. The race of it all ahead of me; a battle with breakfast and with the pushchair and bus, and Cate’s clinging at the childminder’s, and then work; and the books dragged home from work, and lugging Cate on to the bus and she’d be tired and starting a cold, and holding me responsible. Feeding her, and bathing her, and putting her to bed, and feeding us, and getting on with the marking or reports or lesson plans, and an exhausted slump in front of the TV, watching the news with the sound turned down, ice shearing into the waves, blood in the dust. Hurtling, unstoppable change. Night, and bleached sleeplessness. Hours staring into the dark.
    There was no alarm clock. The space in the bed was cool and empty. The house was silent. I didn’t have to be awake, not
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