Footsteps thunder down the stairs as Jean opens yet another packing case. Ivy round the window casts a green gloom into the kitchen featuring a genuine Aga, which she plans to keep, and hideous 1950s cabinets she can’t wait to replace.
Adam is supposed to be sorting out the cupboards in his ‘new’ room?
“Never guess what I found!” he gushes at the doorway.
“You’re supposed to be putting stuff away, not dragging more things out.”
“OK, go on. Tell me.”
“Ta da!” says the boy, pulling a large wooden disc from behind his back. “Isn’t it cool? Can we hang it on the front door for Hallowe’en?”
The size of large tea tray, but thicker and much heavier, it’s been carved from a solid piece of wood – oak or beech, perhaps. Intricate leaves and tendrils surround a man’s face leering up at Jean. Something about its grin makes her want to laugh, with unease. Dust blurs the lines, but does nothing to soften the gaze of the man staring out of the age-blackened wood.
She shudders. “Ugh. Creepy.”
“Exactly. Perfect for Hallowe’en!”
“I don’t want our new neighbours judging us by some old tat on our front door, so you’d better clean it up before I’ll consider it. You’ve got two weeks – plenty of time.”
Adam grins agreement and gallops back upstairs. Jean returns to her work, confident that his new find will be forgotten the minute he unpacks his GameBoy.
The afternoon passes in a blur of sorting and stowing in unfamiliar cupboards until the dying light of the watery sun reminds Jean of her rumbling stomach and the leftover shepherd’s pie in the fridge.
When Adam fails to respond to her shouts, she climbs the creaking stairs to his room. An involuntary ‘tut’ escapes her lips as she opens the door to a tsumani of Lego bricks. She stands for a moment, watching her son’s back as he sits cross-legged and intent in the corner, wondering if he’s too young for his fourteen years - and if it’s her fault for not bringing a father figure into his life. But no father’s better than an abusive one, isn’t it?
“Adam! Look at the state of this place,” she snaps. “Put that game down and come and have something to eat. Then, I want you to come straight back up here and sort your room out.”
“Not playing a game,” a sulky voice replies. Its owner doesn’t turn or stop its steady, repetitive, rocking movement.
Jean picks her way through the Lego minefield to Adam’s side. To her surprise, his hands aren’t busy with his Gameboy, but are doggedly rubbing with a damp cloth at the grime on the plaque he’s found. She can see it’s a good piece of wood.
“That’s a good start,” she says, touching his shoulder. “But you really need to get your room sorted out. And you must be hungry.”