We Keep Ourselves to Ourselves by Rhiannon Jones

My parents bought the house cheap, thinking they’d got a bargain, then found out years later it was built over a disused mine, there had been a disaster there, people drowned, which nobody ever spoke of because it had long dissipated from living memory. All my life I expected the ground to fall beneath me and to find myself in the dark, damp pit.

Despite this, I recently moved back into my teenage bedroom, on the proviso that I wouldn’t contact Danny. ‘For Bethany’s sake,’ my parents said, and made me repeat it like a wedding vow. When I told them I was pregnant, their jaws clenched. 

On Christmas morning Danny banged on the window, making it rattle. His polyester Father Christmas outfit was already split at the crotch. He knew about the baby, he shouted.

I’d told Bethany about the baby at the beginning of December. There had been a flurry of snow, and Bethany’s cheeks were rosy; I felt briefly sentimental. ‘You’re going to have a brother or sister,’ I’d said. ‘It’s growing inside Mummy’s tummy and it’s about the same size as a…’ The websites I used as a guide compared the foetus at seventeen weeks to things neither Bethany nor I ever ate: a pomegranate, a pear, a bell pepper. I held out my fist. ‘It’s this big,’ I said, but she wasn’t interested. She could be difficult. Some days she screamed and I shouted, and I knew that despite what anyone told me I was an incapable mother. I hadn’t meant to get pregnant again.

‘Go home, Danny,’ my dad said. ‘D’you really think we’re going to let you see Bethany when you’re in this state?’

‘Ho ho ho-o-o!’ Danny called, and Bethany’s eyes lit. ‘Santa!’ she gasped.

Danny pulled down his beard, held to his face by a string of elastic. ‘It’s me, Beth!’ he said. ‘It’s Daddy!’ Then my dad appeared beside him, and Danny pulled a face at Bethany – he crossed his eyes, he stuck out his tongue – as he was marched out of sight.

I’d spent much of school staring out of windows, and Danny’d had a way of appearing outside them, doing a silly walk or pulling a face, always trying to make me laugh.

My mother pulled the blinds closed with a practised movement.

‘The baby’s moving!’ I said to Bethany. I snatched her hand and placed it against my stomach. She looked repulsed. ‘Can you feel it?’ I asked. ‘No, thank you’ she replied, as curt as if it were a well-known scam.

She looked at my mum and said, ‘Daddy come see me.’

‘Daddy and Grandad need to talk about a few things,’ my mum said.

Outside, Danny and my dad talked, but mostly my dad. ‘Oh for God’s sake Danny… you’re ruining your little girl’s Christmas… Danny! Danny! Get off those bins, what in God’s name are you doing… Look, you’re pulling the gutter off the wall, you are paying for the repairs…   I am not going up there after you, Danny!’     

The floorboards creaked and sagged as I stood. ‘I should go out there.’

‘Maybe you can talk some sense into the  –’ My mum glanced at Bethany. ‘Into him.’                                     

Danny was perched on my parents’ roof, one arm wrapped around the chimney. His hat hung from the drainpipe.  He waved to the neighbours with his free hand. ‘Merry Christmas,’ he called, ‘one and all!’

He grinned when he saw me. 

‘Tell him to get down from there, Catrin, for goodness’ sake,’ my dad hissed. My parents did not like to be associated with anything or anyone who might attract attention. They liked to say, ‘We keep ourselves to ourselves.’ 

It had been two months since Danny threatened to kill himself if I didn’t let him see Bethany, and maybe he would have managed, had there not been so many chemicals in his bloodstream that night. His stepdad found him in the cellar, sleeping beneath a noose.  Danny wouldn’t be the first: in my bedside drawer, between the dried-up lube and my school diary with Danny’s initials inked inside a heart, was a collection of orders of service, each with the name of a school friend in looping type. I’d stood in cemeteries where people spluttered ‘Why didn’t he just tell me?’

‘I’m coming down the chimney,’ Danny said, ‘to see my daughter.’

‘I’m getting the ladder,’ my dad flustered.

Danny didn’t move. He held my gaze.

‘When were you going to tell me?’ he asked.

The wind lured a tile from the roof, let it fall and shatter on the drive. I stepped back before it could hit me.

‘Soon.’ I coughed. ‘Soon.’

‘We’re so good together, Cat. Me and you. You know we are.’

Another tile fell, and another, and another, and the bricks tore themselves from each other, and Danny’s bones cracked and deformed against concrete, and I cried, or was it a scream, something not human or else my most basely human, and I ran into the falling house before I knew what I was doing, I ran into the wreckage to find my daughter, into filthy water rising to my mouth, while Danny’s blood spilled and darkened and the baby ripened inside me like a pomegranate.

Rhiannon’s work has previously been published by Hobart, Maudlin House, Reflex Press and elsewhere.

Image: unsplash.com