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The Split – Gillian Wills

Jun 19, 2021 | Fiction | 0 comments

“I want to buy this house?” Jo yelled at a real-estate agent standing in the doorway of a weatherboard house.
He cupped his hands to shield his eyes from the sun’s glare.
“What did you say?”
“You heard me.” Jo said.
Sunlight licked the square lawn which dazzled like a neon postage stamp. White graced the hoary federation house with its white lace iron, white picket fence, white cottage roses spilling from the flowerbed onto the cobblestone path.
“Hello, I’m Colin. You’re welcome to take a look.”
She joined him on the front porch.
“No. I can’t, I’m in a rush. But please, put my name down. I’ll bid for it at the auction.”
“It’ll take five minutes to check inside.”
“I’ve a long drive.”
“Come on, don’t saddle yourself with a house you’ve never seen.” A raffish glint danced in Colin’s eyes.
“The dog will have to come in.” Jo said.
“Sorry, you can’t…”
“He’s a Schnauzer-Maltese cross and unlikely to do any damage.”
Her cream terrier would blend perfectly with the property’s snowy look and the thought amused her.
Colin made her jump when he suddenly slapped the sheath of glossy rolled up fliers onto his open hand like an auctioneer about to launch the speedy spun garble on the day of a sale. He looked to his left and to the right. Was it such a breach of protocol to let a viewer bring a dog inside? She followed his eyes and saw for the first time the ugly block of 70’s brown-bricked apartments on her right and yet on the other side, her cottage’s charming twin also championed an ivory palette but was topped and tailed with green trim.
“Yep, bring him in. But on the leash. Please.”
Jo stepped into the light-streamed hallway and inhaled the scent of freshly painted walls. An aroma of hope, she told herself. Curled timber shavings littered the recently stripped floor, no doubt imprinted with footsteps from a century before and yet a paeon to the future. Standing inside an empty dwelling with proud high ceilings where last century’s ornate cornices colluded with the brighter paintwork of the present was a comfort. How she longed for a blank canvas on which to paint new dreams.
“When did the occupants move out?”
“The owner left six weeks ago.”
Colin undid the top button of his shirt, loosened his dark green tie and fanned his face with the fliers.
“She’s in her late thirties. She wants a quick sale. She’s getting a divorce.”
“I see.”
“Check out the bedrooms, the living room and bathroom then join me in the kitchen.”
Jo checked her phone. Surely, another ten minutes wouldn’t hurt. As the house looked onto a park, the disadvantages of the master bedroom’s modest proportions were outweighed by a deluxe outlook. She watched a young man walk his black and white greyhound along the tree-framed pathway which sliced the park’s green expanse in two.
Meanwhile, the busy traffic hum from the nearby arterial was a riff to the house’s sonic theatre—a carolling butcherbird, talk back radio, a mewling cat, the shrieks of children, the cadence of a motorbike spluttering to a stop.
She peered into the master’s built-in cupboard and was startled. Startled because it only contained a riding crop, a safety hat, a driza-bone knee-length coat and worn polished boots. It was odd because she had the same items in her own bedroom closet. A sudden blast of wind gusted down the hallway. Her dog barked at the open window and when she turned to look, the peaceful parkland a moment before was a wild conflation of jiving boughs which scraped and shimmied and tickled the air shedding a storm of fluttering leaves.
“Is something wrong?” Colin asked. “You’ve been looking in that cupboard for quite a while. The color’s drained from your face.”
“No, but the riding gear…”
“Are you into horses too?”
“Yes.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“No.”
She lifted her head, walked each shoulder back. “I’m at my happiest riding a horse.”
Colin shook his head, bunched his lips, “Come through into the kitchen.”
She followed him down the hallway. Stood at the kitchen’s threshold.
“Oh no, it just isn’t possible. How creepy.”
She stood by the kitchen sink, looked into the weedy garden, harboring discarded fridges and a dilapidated shed.
“What’s the matter Jo?” Colin stood arms crossed.
“You see these Delft tiles,” she ran a finger over one, “these miniatures patterned into the blue splash back?”
“Yes, but the eye isn’t drawn to them,” Colin said. “No one would notice unless they’re from Holland.”
Jo’s fingers clawed at the chunky red beads of her necklace.
“Well, my Dutch in-laws, soon to be exes, gave us a selection of these very tiles as a wedding present.”
“Wow. Another serendipity.”
“Only ours aren’t tiny,” Jo continued, “they’re more the span of my outstretched fingers in width and height.”
Colin’s eyes widened.
“We hung them on the structural beam where the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room had been knocked out. Colin, did you know each tile has a narrative?”
The agent tapped his iPhone. “Jo, are you keeping track? Don’t want you to be late.”
“Never mind, I can’t go now I’ve taken far too long.”
“Well, first up. What’s the verdict?” A gleeful Colin rubbed his palms together.
“Please, let me finish.”
“Right.” The agent’s foot pressed on and off the skirting board.
“I’ve a couple of months before I have to move. Ironically, your real-estate company sold our house a month ago, it’s merely a three-minute walk from here.”
“Well, that’s handy. You won’t have far to shift.” The agent grinned.
“Every evening, I pack storage boxes for our inevitable move,” Jo said.
“During the day, I sleepwalk through work.”
Colin rubbed his eye vigorously.
“Go on.”
“A few weeks back, I was acutely anxious. Revved up. I’m convinced my intensity was to blame.”
“For…?” Jo had his full attention now. “My children were downstairs with Fiona, my sister. The sound of them fooling around filtered upstairs. I’d asked Fiona to give me a thirty-minute window to recover from a tough day. Nothing bad had happened except I was edgy, dogged by despair.”
She paused.
Colin gestured for her to continue.
“At work, a long-winded colleague and several letters of complaint had made me snap. I had a bad headache like someone drilling for oil behind my eyes. When the day ended, I sprinted to the tram stop.”
“Fair enough.” Colin turned his phone on silent.
“I was angry, super angry. Jack gave me two weeks’ warning before he left Australia to start a new position in London.”
“You had no inkling?”
“None. Clearly the children and I weren’t invited, and we’d just sold our house.”
Colin dabbed his forehead with a cotton handkerchief.
“I was livid. How could he abandon us?” Jo brushed a fly off her arm.
“Would you like a glass of water?”
Jo shook her head.
“Anger’s better than brooding. When I got home, I sat on the floor and hugged my son and daughter. Then, I lay on my bed upstairs wrecked by rage. My spirit fizzed like a shaken can of coke. My chest so tight I thought I’d explode. Sweat sluiced off me, I hauled myself up, clenched my fists and yelled hard until my throat was ragged. Afterwards, the agony had gone.”
“Did they hear you?” Colin adjusted the knot in his tie.
“No. Because my scream coincided with an explosive bang downstairs, an ear-splitter. Fiona cried out. I bolted downstairs and found her staring at six of the Delft tiles which had shattered on the floor.
I asked what had happened.”
“Mum, those tiles jumped off the wall,” said my five-year-old, a half-peeled banana in his grubby fist.
“I made Fiona sit down, she was trembling. I whipped a throw off the sofa, wrapped it around her and put the kettle on.”
“How could six tiles fall simultaneously?” I asked.
“Fiona pulled the rug tighter around her shoulders.”
“Actually, it was seven. Take a look at this.”
“She showed me two triangular pieces. When she pieced them together, I saw how the split had separated a man and a woman who shared a yoke to ferry milk pails.”
“Wow. Presumably, you don’t want to…?”
“She was comfortable here.”
“I suppose.” Colin scrolled through his messages.
“If she can move on then so can I.”
Colin frowned, arched his back and knuckled his hip.
“But that freaky tile thing…?”
“Is irrelevant. The tile which divided the couple isn’t here.”

 

 Gillian Wills is an author and arts writer. Her memoir Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescued each other, Finch Pty was published in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, USA and Canada in 2016. Her short stories have been published in Unbelievable Stories, Writers Underground and recently, ‘The Challenge’ was long-listed in Fiction Factory’s short story competition. She has published with Griffith Review, Australian Book Review, The Australian, Weekend Review, Limelight Magazine Arts Hub and Artist Profile. She lives with her artist husband, Elvis and three other rescue horses, three ducks and a greyhound in Brisbane, Australia.

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