By Fraser Malaney
It begins as soon as it gets dark.
You can hardly hear it at first, just a gentle tap-tap. It could be the pipes, branches from the tree, anything.
But then it grows louder. More insistent. And the sound will change as it grows. The wrap of knuckles on wood will become a frenzied drumming. As if there are fists beyond the door. Trying to beat the dead wood into submission.
Desperate for her to open the door.
She stares at nothing as the kettle boils. The gathering rush of boiling water. The sound of ignition as the heating comes on. The television in the next room. White noise. She wants to fill the emptiness with noise. To drown out the waiting.
A mug of tea gently warms her trembling hands as Strictly comes on, brash and safe. Comforting primary colours. Some celebrity is doing the two-step to the same old tunes, and yes, it’s obvious there’s something going on between those two. All these things are reassuring. Familiar. They distract.
There it is again. This time it is louder. As if someone is striking the wood.
Every night it is the same. From the time the sun goes down. She dreads the dawning of another day; she hopes for it. She hopes and prays it will pass her by.
Please. Pass me by.
A hollow sound. Bone on wood. Then, silence. She thinks she can hear voices in the silence. There, beyond the door.
She looks longingly at the phone. But she doesn’t call. Not yet. This, too, has become a ritual.
And she does not open the door.
She glances at the television, but the spell is broken. She goes back into the kitchen. She chops onions. Scrapes them from the chopping board into the frying pan before she realises that the hob isn’t switched on. She switches on the hob. Gradually the onions sizzle.
Ten minutes pass. She adds mince and a jar of sauce. She puts on a pan of water to boil. Ten more minutes.
She adds the pasta. She watches as it dances in the salty water. Listens to the bubbling surge. Breathes in the smells of cooking.
The pasta is ready. She takes the pan to the sink where the colander is waiting. Knock-knock.
Then, suddenly, a thunderous banging. They will wear their knuckles out and still they won’t stop. They will beat their fists bloody.
She screams and covers her face in her hands. The pan falls onto the floor. Boiling water spills over the kitchen as it clatters: her ears ring. Her hands are suddenly cold. She looks down. Eddies of swirling water; pasta shapes are scattered around her feet.
Finally, she makes the call.
‘Yes, mum?’ A weary, familiar voice.
‘They’ve started again.’ It is hard, so hard, to get the words out.
‘Look, we’ve gone over this.’ Her daughter’s voice is slightly slurred. She’s been drinking again. ‘You’re safer indoors. We can get you anything you need, you know that. Just ignore them and they’ll go away.’
‘But you don’t understand.’ Her voice sounds pathetic, even to her. ‘It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t ever go away.’
Over the phone, her daughter makes soothing noises. She doesn’t hear them.
‘Why are they doing this to me?’ She says, ‘It shouldn’t be allowed. You don’t know what it’s like for a woman like me to be on her own after – all that’s happened. No-one does. A woman my age, living on her own.’
She can still hear her daughter making those noises. Not listening.
‘It’s been like this ever since it all began. I can’t cope with it any more, I just can’t. I’m scared. I’m so scared of what’ll happen if I open the door.’
‘Then don’t open it.’ Her daughter says. ‘You’ll be alright. We installed that security system last year, remember? And the front door,’ Her daughter pauses, just long enough to take another drink. ‘Reinforced steel, six hundred quid. Nothing’s going to get through that.’
‘Anyway, it’s probably just kids. They’re idiots, but they can’t do anything. Nothing’s going to happen.’
‘Why don’t you understand?’ The woman’s voice rises. ‘It’s not kids. It’s someone else. It’s something else!’
‘Oh, come on, you don’t know that –’
‘But it’s not coming from the front door! That’s what I’m trying to tell you!’
Without warning, there’s a violent banging. She screams and drops the phone. Trembling she tries to pick it up. As the knocking begins to subside into a rhythmic pounding.
Bang-bang. Bang-bang. Bang-bang.
From a closed door. Inside the flat.