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Out on the Tiles (a short story)

We slammed shut more doors than we’d opened.  It felt that way, what with there being more purpose in one action than the other.  In my defence, an attempt was made to slam each door as softly as I could, but we were both hell-bent on decibels.  Inevitably, this whole furore escalated and culminated as door frame-bending slamming madness.  There were lots of things to throw – in fact, we were spoilt for choice - but we both had a great respect for the antiques in the house.  Neither of us dared touch the china, but I’d imagine we shook the blue and white to the bone, and those dainty porcelain figurines may have complained over a peculiarity of feeling had looks not been shooting all around them.  Indeed, if the Wade Whimsies could have been woken from their still glaze, I don’t suppose they would have worried themselves over witnesses.  Personally, I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had marched in twos back to where they came from.  All throughout this episode, the unspoken rule remained: don’t chuck the old stuff.

We lived in a semi that we’d bought off her Nan, bequeathing all her antiques in the process.  At eighty, Nan Tom announced that she’d outgrown her house and the curiosities stored within it and went to live with her “beau” somewhere in Tewkesbury.  She’d sold it to us at one hundred below the guide price.  We did all we could to try and haggle the deal up, but she was like a talented car salesman who negotiated in reverse.

We continued to slam those doors like we’d forgotten the house had another half.  It was when the broken tiles were brought into the argument that I decided to leave, and she drew back the netting of the upstairs window to watch me do it.  But she didn’t see me go by witnessing the burning of six month’s worth of tyre because I don’t drive, and I wasn’t picked up by a lover I had left her for because no one else was involved.  I left her on a bicycle no one had used in years.     

It was a racing bike that could have easily been a generation younger than it looked.  It felt post-war as I left the lane, but someone’s awful attempt at a re-spray rather crudely glossed over a younger-looking model.  It was a truly rigid structure, mapping out every crevice, pothole or hint of a pothole that the road presented.  It went from one to the other like an evil dot to dot in which the prize was several patches of grazed skin.  I may well have won.  I felt like winning.  I’ve no idea who originally owned the monstrosity: it was another thing Nan Tom left behind when she went to Tewkesbury.  And it certainly wasn’t hers; she had always been wary of things that could move her faster than she could carry herself.  It may have well been one of the bikes Uncle Gabe had stolen after returning from a tour of Northern Ireland.  Only one so ugly that Nan Tom didn’t have the heart to make him return it.

After the turbulence of Operation Shaking Door Frame, the weather took me by surprise.  It rained for most of November and it snowed on two separate occasions during advent.  The snow had a way of sticking when it first stuck, and I pleaded for the sight of grass when I opened the bedroom curtains on Christmas morning.  Whilst planning my departure, I had picked up my waterproof jacket and assumed that the weather would pick up this year where last year had left off.  I had hoped that it would do me the courtesy of twisting the heavens and wringing it dry of its dregs until my mind felt me fit enough to unknot itself.  But the day was as fresh and as still and as welcoming as a Sunday could be.  It reminded me of childhood, of riding to the Sunday morning football match when I was in the Hucclecote under-13s.  So clear a day that you could kick a football high into the air and never once lose sight of it.  Not when your goalie did it, not when your top striker did it, not even when your dad did it.  If you let a blade of grass fall, it would land between your feet, however tightly you managed to close them. The weather was so infuriatingly perfect for cycling.

I cycled over the motorway bridge and then the two miles to mine and Emily’s old place.  The front garden was twice as big as the back, which set the building back from the main road by about twenty metres.  We’d never had a problem with the noise from the traffic as the stone wall that fronted the garden was tall enough to block out the sight and sound of the constant stream of cars and some of the smaller vans that drove past.  If these drivers ever cared to look, they may have supposed a young family milled about inside a two storey family home.  In truth, it was just the two of us loitering within a converted maisonette with a communal front and back garden.  We’d already started making plans before we decided that the maisonette - while roomy for two – wasn’t suitable for anyone else.  We pre-empted events and bought her Nan’s house that would have gone on to contain them.  Four years on and we still have money left over after all the bills and the mortgage is paid.

The rent at the maisonette had been cheap at the asking price.  It dropped by a further fifty pounds per month when the landlord agreed to have me as the maintenance man for our building and the one adjacent.  It meant mowing the lawn occasionally in the winter and regularly in the summer.  The only other job the landlord asked of me was to rip out the fireplace in the property opposite ours.  The tenants had been a lovely Ukrainian couple with a four year-old boy called Olek and a baby girl called Sofia, whom Emily doted on whenever we were invited over for tea.  The mother had baked us an apple cake when we first moved in and the father always invited us to join their family for barbeques in the summer.  When they moved out, the landlord had designs on a more modern look for the maisonette, so he told me the fireplace was one thing that had to go.  Its inlaid wood surround were all completely original and not entirely easy to remove.  The surround featured seventeen equally-placed tiles, each depicting a famous scene from twelve of Shakespeare’s plays.  The comedies and tragedies were represented almost in equal measure.  I had always given them the reverence they deserve, but preservation wasn’t at the top of my list; I didn’t want to risk losing our monthly discount.  I was equal to a book-burning terrorist when Emily realised I’d destroyed them.
“Em: what would we have done with them?” I said, having asked twice before.
She sighed, “I can think of a number of uses more positive than lining the bottom of a bin.  Frankly,” she said, hands on hips, “I’m surprised your sledgehammer didn’t turn its head and object.” 
I shrugged, “If I knew you liked them so much-”
“This isn’t about value or possession or taste.  I think you could have dealt them a little more respect.  Those tiles were older than our parents.  They had fifty years on us!” she said, suddenly sounding weary, “Would a child of yours not be fascinated by them?  Because a child of mine would.  We can only hope that one day somebody’s child might dig them up.”
Even though this was almost four years ago, I still remember that it took two weeks before the conversation returned to normal.

I wheeled the bike through the front gate and down the path to the lockups behind our old maisonette.  I still worked as an occasional maintenance man for my old landlord and I unlocked and lifted the door where he had let me keep all the gardening equipment.  I took out a metal file from the toolbox.  A heavy-looking Sainsburys bag full of sorry-looking ceramic sat in the far corner.  I removed it from its second-longest place of residence and set to rounding off all of the sharp corners.  I was no closer to knowing what to do with them than when I first dug them out of the skip four years ago.  I didn’t know much about the scenes they used to portray, but decided to make something of them.  At the same time, I knew how easily I could insult Emily with their re-emergence.  It then came to me that I could store them where only a child of ours would look.


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