Keys missing the lock, scraping.
The house echoing darkness, dread seeping up the stairs.
Crash! The front door banging back against the wall. A light flaring on.
“Bloody fucking bird, shut your gob, shut your beak!”
Mum’s left the cloth off.
Daren’t go down.
Heavy footsteps, cabinet door slamming, crash, yell, splintering wood.
I strain in the dark to hear. I imagine the whisky glass upended on the floor. Him, sprawled on the sofa.
I daren’t go down.
Quiet. I need to get to sleep before the snores, to close my eyes and pretend I don’t exist.
New light picking coldly over the floor. Grey.
Church bells ringing. Sunday. Him, all day.
Dread seeping under my door.
Get dressed, hold breath, foot creaking on a floorboard. Careful!
Down one step, another…I freeze at the bottom.
Light washing over sleeping body, head lolling, mouth open, drool. A snort; it turns over.
The coffee table I made at school, smashed.
Not that I care.
A foot through it, more than once.
Mum’s face imagined. I’ll make her another.
Tiptoe, tiptoe, fist clenched.
Budgie. Who cares about a stupid old table.
Cloth off, seed upset, water spilt.
On his back, claws curled upwards.
Cold dark inside me, dangerous patches, black ice. Monster. Murderer. Drunk.
Mum. Hush, hush. Quietly shutting the kitchen door.
Stone face. Hot, cold, inside.
Tea, toast, sausages, beans, eggs. Silence. Monster’s fat lips, open mouth chewing.
Him, having a swift one, or two, or six, down the pub.
Quiet in the house, waiting.
Table tidied into a pile outside the back door. Meat, potatoes, almost ready. Must be ready.
Mum. Don’t say anything. Anything.
Silence threatens to burst.
“More gravy,” says Mum.
“Cheers,” he grunts, as if we should be fucking grateful.
Old dominoes box, a scrap of white sheet pressed in. Winding cloth.
I straighten a claw. In budgie goes.
Cloth folded over him. Grass, water in small dish at his feet. Last song sung.
I press the button on the player. Amazing Grace.
Box on my shoulder, held in place with one hand.
One step, two. Slow, solemn.
Mum hovers in the back doorway. Don’t worry, Mum. He’s upstairs, sleeping. He hasn’t noticed.
Come and see what you have done, you prick.
I put down the box.
I turn up the volume.
I dig a hole with a fork. I loop shoelaces under the box. I lower Budgie in.
“Let us pray,” I say, and when Mum’s head is bowed, I dare to glance up at the window where he sleeps on soundly, dark and oblivious.
Church bells dim in the background. Something rushing at me. Tears dripping onto my shirt.
Clods over his everlasting peace. One of us is free.
The house waiting to breathe.
Giselle Leeb grew up in South Africa and lives in Nottingham. Her short stories have appeared in The Best British Short Stories 2017 (Salt), Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Ambit, Mslexia, The Lonely Crowd, and other places. She is an assistant editor at Reckoning Journal. Website: giselleleeb.com. Twitter: @gisellekleeb.