Susan swept the last flecks of dust off with a flourish, and stepped back with a relieved sigh. All spotless, her living room immaculately arranged. Salmon-pink walls dotted with perfectly-aligned picture frames. Shafts of sunlight sliced through her curtain blinds onto the maple coffee table placed just so in the centre of the room. A carefully ordered bowl of plastic fruit adorned it.
The front door slammed. The heavy thumps of Martin, her nephew. Slouching into the room, he dumped his school bag onto Susan’s plush carpet. Susan winced.
‘Hello dear!’ she ventured. ‘Hope you had a nice day?’
Martin grunted as he slumped into an armchair. How could school possibly be construed as nice. He switched the TV onto the cartoons, turning the volume up loud and snorting at the feeble jokes.
Susan closed the kitchen door dejectedly and eased down into a chair, head in her hands. Just a ‘hello’ would have been enough. A ‘how are you?’. ‘How was your day?’. Little things. Just to show that Martin cared.
But no. Expecting those simple words from him was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.
Losing interest, Martin stomped upstairs to his room. Two clean towels and his laundry were folded neatly at the end of his bed. Tucked between the crease-free pillows was a teddy bear. He groaned and swept it onto the floor. Not even a TV or Playstation in sight. He poked his head into the ensuite bathroom, wrinkling his nose at the bittersweet scent of potpourri. Just a week more of this bullshit before his mum and her boyfriend returned from Majorca. He sat down glumly on his bed, staring out of the window. Outside, the apple tree’s leaves rustled against the window. The boughs were laden with deep red fruit – many of their fallen brethren littered the grass below, brown and shrivelled. Most of them already raked up by Susan earlier, that fussy old cow.
A slow smile spread across Martin’s face. He opened the window and reached out his hand to a waiting apple. Its top half was still luscious deep red, yet its lower half had begun to rot and decay. Tiny bugs rippled across it. A maggot writhed in the brown mottled flesh. Martin cradled the apple delicately by the stem and tiptoed downstairs to the sitting room, straight towards the awaiting fruit bowl. All clear. Now…
Susan dropped the bulging rubbish bag into the dustbin at the end of her driveway. She shivered a little in the evening chill and hurried back to the house. Almost 7:30, time for her favourite instalment of Coronation Street. She snuggled into her slippers and collapsed into her armchair, staring contentedly ahead. Another week, another rubbish collection tomorrow. Perfect.
A shimmer caught her eye. An apple tilted awkwardly in the fruit bowl. She stretched out her arm to correct it…
Martin lay on his bed, idly stabbing the buttons on his phone to pass time. A shrill shriek from downstairs, closely followed by a prolonged wail of anguish. A grin crawled across his face. He settled back to watch the next programme, satisfied.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Susan shuffled into Martin’s room, bearing a heaped tray of steaming food. Martin stared at her warily, but not once did she met his gaze, placing the tray on the bedside table and slipping out the door, eyes down and subdued. ‘Enjoy your dinner, dear.’
Main course soon devoured, Martin turned to his favourite: dessert. A large slab of apple pie, drizzled with honey. He dug in eagerly. Cracking stuff! Quite…tangy taste, really. Nice brown colouring too. Probably the sugar or something. He scraped the bowl clean, placed it on the side before settling back against the headboard, smacking his lips.
Through a crack in Martin’s door, Susan watched him.
© 2019 | Tom Burton