Grace sat in the back garden, enjoying the soothing feel of the afternoon sun warming her old bones. It had been a while since she had been well enough to get out of the house. Leg ulcers had a way of doing that to you. The washing fluttered in a light breeze. She let her head go back and closed her eyes, listening to the bees buzzing around the flowers and a bird chirping in the apple tree. She drifted off, dreaming of a time long ago when Andrew played football in this garden. She could hear him call, “Mum, Mum, look at me.”
A tear rolled down her cheek as the memories flooded back. But the voice got more strident.
“Mum, Mum” she heard as a scream.
Andrew, was that Andrew? No, it couldn’t be Andrew. She opened her eyes with a start. Just a dream she thought to herself.
Andrew had been conceived under that apple tree she recalled, with a wicked gleam in her eye. Grace sat back, reminiscing to herself. Those years of marriage with Charles had been wonderful, but he was long gone now. She missed him and the life they had together with their son. She wished Andrew could come to visit. She would love to chat with him again. She missed him so much. It was harder as you got older. Friends died, family moved away. Even the neighbours next door were different from when she first moved here with Charles. Grace couldn’t figure them out at all. Being at home all day, she didn’t miss much in the neighbourhood but they never seemed to go to work. She never saw them bringing in shopping. She had never even seen those online delivery vans. She wondered, what did they eat? And the twins. Grace liked children, she really did, but those two little boys. They were what she called screamers. Then she heard the cry again, “Mum, Mum, Noah pushed me.”
“Get in your paddling pool now,” their mother shouted.
Grace heard more screams and shrieks. Goodness, the water must be cold. Lots of splashing as the boys thrashed around. The screaming intensified. The twins seemed to be trying to outdo each other in volume. Suddenly it went quiet, eerily quiet. For several blissful seconds there was tranquillity. Then an almighty clatter as the back gate next door almost swung off its hinges. A car door slammed, followed by the angry revving of an engine and the screech of tyres as a car raced away. The flash of red that Grace saw through the hedge made her think that the mother had gone out again. She had a red Mini Cooper and she always seemed to be in a hurry.
The red car came back and stopped with a screech of brakes. The gate banged again and there was the sound of urgent, muffled voices from the garden. Adult voices, a man and a woman. Then the digging started. She could hear the thud of a spade, the grunt of a man, the scrape of metal against stone. She wondered what he was digging. Maybe it was a pond. Some of the other neighbours had a pond. One even had koi carp. There was a heron that sometimes came and perched on the roof of the house awaiting it’s opportunity to strike. She was sure it had more than one tasty dinner from that pond. Maybe he was building a water feature. That would be nice. The sound of water running in the background would be lovely. Bar the digging next door it was unusually quiet now, no sign of either child. It was as if they’d suddenly disappeared.
Grace slowly got up from her chair and went inside. She put the oven on to cook a chicken. Roast chicken was always Charles’ favourite. With sweet carrots, crispy roast potatoes and rich, succulent gravy. She thought about the children next door whilst she was cooking the tea. It was all very strange she thought, the screaming, the thrashing, then the silence. She wasn’t sure what to make of the digging or the muffled, urgent voices. She wondered if she should call the police or maybe social services. But they might think she was just an interfering old busy body. She put the kettle on and made herself a cup of tea. Charles always said she thought better with a cup of tea. Darjeeling was her favourite. She sat down at the kitchen table, drank her tea, and soaked up the smell of the roasting chicken.
Unexpectedly the doorbell rang and Grace got up excitedly. Visitors she thought. To her great surprise she opened the door to the mother and the two boys. They wanted to go into her back garden and retrieve their ball. Grace opened the side gate to let them through. The boys followed their mother into the garden where she soon found the ball. It was a red one which had landed on top of the leylandii hedge. The hedge had got out of hand since she had been poorly. It really needed a firm pruning again. She loved that hedge because it reminded her of Charles. He had planted it and cared for it. But it grew so quickly. It did give great privacy and they had often needed that. Charles had loved the outdoors. He loved to eat al fresco. And he loved al fresco sex too. Many a night they had made love under the stars. Her old mind recalled their young, nubile bodies, coming together in the garden, under the apple tree, the scent of apple blossom mixed with the smell of sex.
As their mother shook the hedge to dislodge the ball, Grace called to the children, “Would you like some sweets?”
They both came running towards her. They were dressed alike, in football outfits, red tee-shirts and black shorts. She held out a bag and the children helped themselves, stuffing as many as they could into their mouths. As ever with those two they were competing to see who could get the most.
“I like the blue ones,” said Jonny. “More,” he demanded.
“Me too,” said Noah. Then Noah spat at Grace and they both ran off with their ball, their mother following behind them without a word of thanks.
Ungrateful little beggars she thought to herself. Her Andrew wouldn’t have been like that, if he had grown up. If he hadn’t been hit by the car, that red car, all those years ago. Grace detested the colour red. She felt so angry and so cheated by life. It had broken Charles when their son was killed. The doctor said he had a stroke but Grace knew it was his broken heart that had killed him. Not her though. She took the medication the doctors prescribed but she grew stronger on the anger and the hate in her heart. She resented the fact that others had so much and she was left with so little. She resented the fact that others didn’t know how lucky they were. She resented other people’s happiness. They took everything for granted. They took life for granted. They assumed they were in control. Grace knew you weren’t ever really in control. You were a victim of other people’s recklessness.
When it was ready Grace carefully took the chicken out of the oven and left it to cool. She reached for her tablets and realised there were none left, even all the blue ones were gone. There had been plenty this morning. Sirens blared loudly in the road outside. There were urgent shouts followed by the sounds of running feet and doors slamming. As she watched from the window two small bodies were carried to the waiting ambulance. Peace at last she thought.