Painting the wall seemed like a good idea in early spring. We didn’t exactly have time on our hands, but some had been freed up by not having to commute. As it had become necessary to spend so much time within the same walls, we thought it might be nice to make them more appealing.
They were stained, you see: grubby little fingerprints from when the children couldn’t hike their knees up high enough to clear each stair and had hauled themselves up, instead, with the support of the right wall and their not very clean mitts. Other smudges joined in over the years: Jimmy’s nosebleed, Sally’s blackcurrant drink, which she wasn’t allowed to take upstairs, and a brown stain that didn’t bear thinking about.
John, being a perfectionist, made us cut in for hours before we could even get started. The paint had waited impatiently, in its dusty, dark, and forgotten corner in the cellar, ready to lick our walls clean.
The children had also felt forgotten: they were hungry and thirsty, despite the constant stream of snacks I had been serving since breakfast. I tended to their needs, or rather Sally’s desperate cries of imminent death due to starvation, leaving John to start the whitewash: the part I had been looking forward to most. I needed a feeling of achievement, something that had been sorely lacking since the switch to home-office.
Two hours later, John had finished and looked immensely proud of himself. I felt frazzled, after having spent the whole time feeding, watering, and entertaining our children; these tasks were regularly interspersed with breaking up their many fights. I thanked God for the nice weather and sent them out to play in the garden while the wall dried.
Our hallway felt bright and clean again, and I thanked John for his hard work.
“I could have done with a bit of help in places, what were you doing the whole time?”
This became a frequent question thrown backwards and forwards at each other over the remainder of the year, a little more resentment inserted each time.
None of us expected it to drag on for quite so long. Of course, we were grateful that we all remained healthy; in fact, none of us got ill with anything, not once. Maybe disinfecting our hands is a habit we will keep when this is all finally over.
But when will it be over? A question the children repeatedly asked, along with when their friends can come over, when they can go to the playground, and when we can go on holiday.
By the time winter arrived, we were no longer holding China, but each other, responsible for the incredibly tedious situation we all found ourselves in. It was animosity pure in our house, and we were stuck inside.
Even the wall got dragged into the firing line. On being told that she wasn’t allowed to watch television for any longer, Sally scribbled on the wall. Jimmy alerted us, thinking that by playing the good guy he might earn himself another couple of minutes of airtime.
John looked like he might explode when he saw her artwork. I am glad he didn’t, as that would have made even more mess. Sally was sent to her room.
“What are they, anyway?”
“If you spent more time with your daughter and not on your laptop, you would know that they are her hearts,” I shot at him. My only connection to the wall was one of resentment, after not being able to join in its return to splendour.
“They’re hate hearts,” Jimmy corrected me. John and I both took a closer look and saw that the hearts had big crosses inside them.
The hate hearts appeared regularly after that, we rubbed them out each time and forgave Sally. Jimmy also got in on the action, at one point, and tried to deny it, but, at seven years old, his heart shapes were almost perfect and his crosses quite menacing. A grey shadow grew on the wall and spread throughout our house.
The day an even longer extension to our confinement was announced sent us all over the edge: hate hearts galore. None of us was looking out of the window when it happened; we were all looking accusingly at each other or past each other into nothingness, I am no longer sure.
“It’s all white,” John announced.
“Oh, stop going on about your poxy wall!” That was me, not the children.
But he wasn’t talking about the wall. He was alluding to the pristine white landscape that awaited outside our terrace doors. Nestling like a peaceful blanket, I thought. Clean, unstained, and perfect, I am sure John thought. Snowball fight, the children thought.
None of us uttered a further word. We bundled our chunkiest coats on, an assortment of scarves, hats and gloves, no-one checking which belonged to whom. Then ensued a race to get out of the door.
“It’s like glitter, mummy.” Sally was right, it had a jewel-like sheen in the weak winter sun, a precious gift from nature, when really nature owed us nothing.
The snow stayed around for a week, giving us, and the wall, a welcome reprieve.
The children used sticks to draw in the last slushy remains on our terrace.
“Love hearts,” they announced.
Claire Schön started writing early last year and carves out small pieces of time, when she’s not running around with, and after, her young children, to put together short pieces. Claire has a piece of flash about to be published in Pure Slush volume Birth and was longlisted for both the Grindstone Flash Fiction Prize and Cranked Anvil Flash.