She doesn’t hear his key, the latch, the charm-like jangle of the forgotten chain. She doesn’t hear the back-and-forth rasp of boot soles on brown bristles, WELCOME trampled underfoot. She only realises he’s home with the bark of a televised shout, and then an eruption of orchestral strings that crest up through the living room ceiling, through the bathroom floorboards, an exultant fanfare for a shiny new car, or a packet of razors –
The commercial thrums in the gaps between her toes.
It’s more than enough. She throws the test into the cupboard beneath the sink and slams the door, catches her grey face in the dusty mirror. Her lips in the twilight are almost blue.
Her hair splashes over them as she swings away. She’s been in the bathroom for long enough. She’s thought for long enough. Nothing will change unless she starts it. And yet everything is different no matter what she does –
But before she can barrel downstairs, before she can rush him, the sky snatches at her. Blind-less, it forms a perfect panel in the neat white tiles. Not a true blue this evening, but a silky, opening mauve. Veined and deep and delicate, like the layered heart of some tropical flower. She feels a chill dab her collar, though the dusk doesn’t appear cool at all, but warm, and secretive.
Like flesh, she thinks and then hastily un-thinks it, drawing back the bolt and crossing the landing, but walking – walking now, not running – down the stairs.
She supposes that this is better, to appear calm. At the living room door, she pauses. Rakes her fingers through her hair, the strands more silvery than blond in the bleary, static light.
Not that it matters; he scarcely glances from the screen. She perches on the armchair at his side.
The programme is familiar. Yet another narrative about people circling their dreams. Every week, the same formula – a bright young couple or sometimes a family with mysteriously disappearing children, strive to build a house. Along the way, inevitably, things go wrong, with building supplies, and with builders and architects, bills flutter out of control – except it is almost at its end now. It’s the moment when everything’s resolved and the mellow-vowelled presenter (Cloud, she thinks his name is?) is led through a glittering palace of glass and clever, winking halogen. The fantasy-house (they’ve done it! Against the odds! What a surprise!) is revealed, as it always is, against a backdrop of incoming night.
The surrounding trees smear beside the building’s gleam; they bow respectfully, shuffle back. And it’s not the vast windows that are blue of course, but the world beyond their clean-cut gold. It’s as beautifully shot as ever and yet she thinks how her own bathroom sky was so much more palpable, a living thing –
“What now?” he says, and she jumps.
The remote’s clenched fatly in his fist.
“Shall I switch channels?” he asks “Or d’you want it off? Do you still want to talk..?”
She opens her mouth to begin it. She needs to explain.
About the test tossed with the unopened tampons beneath the sink. About windows, changing colour. She tries to imagine how his face will transform too, with her confession, but instead becomes distracted by the TV’s glow, the way it slides across his well-known features, remaking them already. And that blue flickering in his eyes. It brings to mind her Nana’s gas fire – the one she reached into, when she was five. She remembers how, because it danced so prettily, like water, she’d kept her fingers there, unbelieving, even as her skin began to curl.
“I,” she says, but finishing off, the Cloud man interrupts her.
“This home,” he says, “is an act of faith.”
And for a moment, she watches her lover’s thumb hover, considering Mute, before he shrugs forward. Breathes out. Turns over.