The box sat between us on the kitchen table. It was larger than I’d expected. A splintery wooden thing, speckled with nails, and barred with shadows where the sunshine fell in slices through the blind.
“Well, it’s here,” she said. “Arrived at last!”
She swished from foot to foot on her side of the box and her peach-painted mouth twitched as if with a smile, but I wasn’t convinced. Her eyes remained dark and wet. She was doing too much blinking.
“I can see that,” I replied.
I’d wanted to keep the atmosphere light, casual even, but my voice came out higher and frailer than I’d intended. I sounded like a child. A little boy, with a trembling lip and a crumpling chin and two grazed knees. Barely even pretending to be brave.
I cleared my throat and for a moment, thought that I smelt something beyond the sour mop bucket and old bacon fat, something beyond the synthetic roses of her perfume.
A forest smell, a black leaf smell. Could it truly be coming from within?
I saw that she had taken the hammer out already.
As she raised it slowly in one milk-white hand, I heard her cotton skirts whisper and the creak of her bodice, or of a stiff, pink sleeve. She turned the claw-end carefully to face me.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” she asked.
She held herself still now, waiting. From the world behind the blind came the ordinary morning sounds of birds twittering and car engines’ coughing. There was the panicked scuff and scurry of late-to-work feet. I let the clock tick once, twice, and then again before reflecting back her empty grin.
“You do the honours,” I suggested. And took a small step backwards, towards the door.
Your turn . . .