A HOUSE, A HOME • by Valerie O’Riordan

Oh, love. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. I must have packed my bags twice, three times a week, those first six months. And your dad, he’d rip off the wedding ring, fling it on the floor, kick it into the corner, curse the day he’d met me.

Sunday mornings were the worst, after Mass, both of us knackered after Saturday night down the dance hall. Terry’d stagger out of the church, reeking of sweat and beer, the priest on the porch shaking his head like Jesus himself, meek and mild, and we’d barely get home before a row would start over nothing at all. Terry would roar and stamp about and punch the walls, and I’d be throwing the crockery — the old plates, now, never the good ones; I was hot-headed but I wasn’t daft. Then he’d storm off down the pub, and I’d fiddle about the house, sweeping up the mess, and then I’d come and find him. We’d have a bit of a chat, a bit of a cuddle, maybe a dance to the jukebox, and then we’d stop off at the chippie on the way home for a battered cod.

We got along okay, in the end.

I remember when we bought the caravan — the mobile home, as Terry said. He couldn’t get enough of it. It cost us a year’s worth of fish and chips, nights down the bingo, fancy shop cakes on the birthdays — but it was so flash, love, when it arrived, that your dad almost cried. I could see his lips about to go, his eyes were all watery, and I clapped my arms around his shoulders and squeezed.

Oh, it was something else. We drove it to France every summer for ten years, slept and screwed in the fold-down bed, fried snails over one of those little blue gas fires. When you were little you used to call it your hotel house. We’d park it out the front at home, and it took up the whole drive so you could barely see the house behind it. Terry used to say it eclipsed the house.

When he was feeling off, or when we’d had a row, or if he only wanted to read the paper in peace, he’d lock himself out there. He was like a turtle, with his special little house wrapped about him. He’d poke his head back out when he got hungry or lonely.

On a Sunday, the lads would come round and they’d sit out there till all hours, playing poker and smoking cigars. I’d hear them arguing and laughing from the kitchen. Their smoke would drift out from the mobile home like a smoke signal to their absent wives. Here we are, men together.

When Terry was dying, later on, his lungs packing in, he’d go out there to sleep if he thought he was keeping me up with his retching and heaving. You were gone by then, and I’d lie in there on my own, shivering to myself and picturing him coughing up blood all over the horrible fake leather couches.

When he passed away, everything felt unreal, sort of static, like there had been a spell cast over my life, and for months, I was afraid to go into the mobile home. I thought it would be like poking around inside Terry’s brain — gruesome and indecent. Sometimes I dreamt I could hear him calling for me, and I could see smoke rising from the roof of the mobile home, and I’d think, Jesus, those damn cigars, he’s finally set the place on fire, and I’d wake up, half out of the bed, sweating.

But when I finally went in there, it was like coming home. It smelled like him, it looked like him; the silence in there even sounded like him, the way he’d sleep, his breathing shallow as a baby so you could barely hear it. It felt comfortable.

So, instead of selling the mobile home, I sold the house. I packed a small suitcase, and set up camp in the caravan. Everybody thought I was crazy, except you. They mostly still do. Edna, stop it, you’ll die of pneumonia out here, it’s awful, you can’t live in a trailer like a gypo. They send me estate agents’ brochures in the post.

What do they know? My life wraps itself around me, between these walls. I feel embraced. My heart doesn’t rattle about, lost; it feels secure. I’m teaching myself poker. I smoke the occasional cigar. On a Sunday night, I eat battered cod from the newspaper, and remember some glorious old fights.

Life’s not bad, at all, out here.

Valerie O’Riordan writes in the West Midlands.

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Every Day Fiction