Beach House by Jack Wildern
I lay in bed listening to the wind push itself through the walls. As if the bricks have holes in them. I’m imagining Helen blowing kisses across my face in the dark.
“But she isn’t here is she.”
Laughter greets this. Familiar yet alien. That’s my voice. But it doesn’t belong to me. The anxiety creeps up in my throat.
I throw back the duvet and I’m instantly cold. The house is an ice box. My feet on the wooden floor give me a shock.
The hallway is pitch black. There are no windows. Feeling my way across the wall, half expecting it to open up and swallow me where I would stay, trapped forever.
“Where you belong.”
The spare room door creaks on rusted hinges. Inside is a pale light. The curtains are open. They should be closed. I closed them.
Helen sits in a rocker by the window.
In the corner a cot. I sink to my knees, white knuckles gripping the bars. Black, glassy eyes staring at a wailing bundle.
Singing. Faint and far away. Helen cradles the baby. Soothing, reassuring. The moonlight paints her face a pale blue.
“Hush. She’s sleeping.”
“I can’t do this anymore.”
The walls close in, suffocating me.
I don’t sleep. But the morning light is here. A reluctant grey face weeping tears across the window. No footsteps. No crying. They’ve left me alone. It’s early. If I get out now I can watch the tide come in.
On the beach the waves climb the black, crooked limbs of the pier. Like a spider drowning in a puddle of water. The thought makes my throat run dry. The spray soaks my jeans. I put my face to my thigh. Damp. Salty. I breathe in hard and let it the fabric block my nose and mouth.
In another time and place I’m laughing, chasing Helen. Her brown hair escapes through my fingertips. The sunlight warms our skin as my hands close around her waist. My world fell apart when she smiled. It collapsed around me and I let it go. She rebuilt it for me. A better place than before. We filled it with people, places, memories and a perfect face that stared up in wonder at this new world and the people that built it.
When I open my eyes she is rocking the pram back and forth.
“Why are you here?”
She doesn’t answer. Just rocks and smiles, rocks and smiles.
“Moving here. It was supposed to be a new start.”
She looks at me then. The same look I ran away from.
“I’m sorry.” My eyes glance toward the bundle in the pram. She starts to pull back the blanket.
“No Helen I can’t. Jesus Christ you know I can’t.”
I walk away. Her eyes boring into my back. Watching. Judging.
I wake up in darkness with my head resting on the kitchen table. They move about upstairs. Hands clap. Helen’s voice carries a nursery rhyme.
“Listen to how happy they are Jack.”
The rain starts to fall. Tiny fingers tap on the windows and build into fists that hammer on the glass. I cover my ears from a scream, vaguely aware that it could be me. The room starts to shake.
Upstairs water runs down the walls. A gale blows through the hallway carrying a stench of sea water and petrol. There is something else too, something sweet and rotten. Screaming from inside the spare room. I throw open the door and headlights blind me. My old ford. Submerged in water. It’s horn blaring.
I go to the window. The water rises. My own face stares back at me, stupid and terrified. In the passenger seat is a rag doll that used to be my wife. Slumped over the dashboard, hair floating in the water.
Nothing but darkness again and the moonlight cutting a shard across the damp floor. A sweet song drifting up from the old rocker. I am mad. This is not real. I am not real.
I close my eyes. Shaking my head.
“Look at the life you made for them.”
“Leave me alone.”
“She’s so pretty isn’t she Jack?”
Helen is in front of me. Her face bloated. The bundle in her arms writhes and thrashes beneath the sheet. Water in her lungs. Gasping for air.
“Look at what you did.”
She pulls back the sheet and my world falls apart again. Only this time I fall back into the nightmare. The walls are screaming mouths. The wind breaks my skin and the water washes my blood away. I am a skeleton, a fragment, nothing. I am lost in an ocean.
“Stop it. Fucking stop it!”
I wake up on the floor.
There is no wind. There is no rain. There are no headlights. There is no cot.
“You are alone.”
Jack Wildern is from the UK. He writes short fiction and lives in Hampshire with his wife and two children. Most recently his work has been published in The Book Smugglers Den and Parhelion.