Light stains the late afternoon sky.
“Look at the sunset,” he says, “The light is painting the clouds.”
He is doing what he always does. Behind us I feel the mound we dug, his spade tearing the gravelly ground. Then softer, finer. Crumbs pattering the clean white sheet we wrapped her in.
He takes my hand, it feels familiar. The gap where his middle finger should be. Something missing, always a part of him.
“Not too long now,” he says, “and this will be over. I promise you.”
He opens the back door. The kitchen air heaves towards us, breath thick with frying. On the table a plate of egg and chips. Round yellow in pools of shiny white albumen. I try not to think of them slipping into my mouth. At the sink we wash our hands, whip pink soap into a thick lather to the tune in our heads. The way we were shown weeks ago. My mother sits at the table, the shell of her neck pale in the windowlight. Next to her, on the ledge is my favourite photograph from the time before me. Dad with his good teeth smile and my mother, in a beautiful way, like a painting she once took me to see. A woman, hair streaming in water, surrounded with flowers. I asked her once why now it was cut so short.
“Knots,” she said, “Too tiring to cope with.”
She is writing. For weeks we have found her lists all over the house. Dates in order of time. Names of flowers listed alphabetically, girls’ names, book titles. Sometimes lists of words where we could see no connection.
“Leave them” Dad says. “So, she can find them when she needs.”
He dries his hands and then goes to sit with her. Her head leans towards him, a flower turning to light. He strokes her hair.
I watch the simple way he does it all. How he lifts the world from her, takes the weight. How he can make her fit the shape of him. Just for a while.
One day, when this is all over, I will walk along the road past rainbows fading in windows and the ‘stay safe’ words curling away from the glass. At the pink house Lila Jones will at last hold my hand and take me into the kitchen that smells of lemons. We will chat and laugh together, although she will cry a little when I tell her how we buried my dog one late afternoon. And when Mrs Jones asks, I will say my mother is fine thank you because there are some things you never tell grown-ups. She will smile and reach for the ribbon holding back my hair. Loosen it, tease the knots with her fingers.
“Such beautiful hair,” she will say, “Don’t let anyone cut it. Not ever.”
And later, perhaps the sun will blaze before it sets.