It’s perfect, she says, as she stands outside, keys in hand. The house has classic proportions, a pillar either side of the front door, well groomed box trees, a semi-circular drive. It is perfect, or very nearly perfect, she thinks as she notices the leaves on the lawn, swirling in the first autumn winds. She walks closer, raises her hand to insert the key. The door is perfect, anyway, a matt grey finish, framed in white, exactly as she’d specified. No chips. No scratches. She looks at the edge of the brushed chrome lock more closely. She can see a scratch where someone else has put their key in, a clumsy, hurried builder perhaps. That can go on the snagging list that extends to three pages. Inside the rectangular hall, the smell of new paint reassures her. She is careful to wipe her feet, it would be a shame to get dirt on the ethically sourced coir mat, but more of a shame to damage the perfect lines of the oak floor. She slips off her shoes and pushes one French-manicured finger against the shoe rack door. That fits perfectly, works perfectly, as the soft touch open and close mechanism glides, offering her a pair of soft cream leather pumps. Indoor shoes. Everyone should have indoor shoes and she wonders for a moment whether she should get a set in every size, in case of visitors. Because there will be people coming inside, and she shivers. Perfect. This house is perfect, with large reception rooms, plenty of spare bedrooms, perfect for visitors yet still she doesn’t want anyone else here. Perhaps another few days and she can think about … She shivers again. She should slip her coat off now, coming into the house that’s what you do, but the house is cold, she’s cold, so she goes to the kitchen. It is easy to turn the heating on, harder to fill the kettle because that makes splashes, and she has to wipe them up, and the counters show where she’s wiped so she polishes them again while the kettle boiled, soft pink microfiber cloth, only for polishing the counters. And it’s easy to get into the rhythm of polishing, following the long lines of the black marble counters, and she startles when the kettle clicks off. Earl grey, lemon, no milk. She wipes the cup before she pours, wipes the square chrome tea caddy, wipes the teapot, wipes the kettle. Perfect again. The aroma is nothing like the stink of the tea from that machine, at that place, or the cup the nurses brewed for you, it’s from the staff room, love, they mean to be kind. She sits at the glass table, and runs a nail along the scratch. She should have replaced it really, nothing to remind her of … She doesn’t know why she kept it, everything else is new. She puts her cup on the place where the scratch is deepest. It’s a good thing it’s glass, so easy to clean. Really hot water, some bleach, and you can’t tell that there was blood. Maybe she needs one of those ultraviolet lights, like on the crime show, so she could see if the blood really is gone. She looks at the walls. Matt White. They’d stripped everything out. She stayed in a hotel near the hospital while the builders were in, making choices, visiting every day, without getting too close. Even in hard hat and overalls she had to shower when she left, shower before she made her other daily visit. She felt dirty after that too, but in a different way. Wash your hands, it says on the way in, and she wonders whether the visitors would object if she offered hand sanitiser in her own hall. Stop the spread of infection. A shudder. Thousands, no millions of tiny germs spread on her skin, his skin, on the kind-meaning hand of the nurse, of the doctor, and did gloves really act as a barrier, how did you know if the gloves were clean too? She sips the tea. This mug is clean. Bone china. She always soaks the dishes, and when it is just her it is easy. It will be better now she can sleep at the house again. It will be better as long as there are no visitors. It will be better until he comes home. Bile rises in her mouth and she tried to settle herself with another sip. He will come home and she wants him to, and she can’t bear to imagine him here again. They talk about it, with him, without him. First, a visit. They will see how he reacts. Then maybe a weekend. Then every weekend, and she digs her nails in as she thinks about his presence. Perhaps if she takes him clean clothes, ones that haven’t been in the hospital for months, ones that haven’t gone through some communal laundry with everyone else’s, ones that she has washed herself. She thinks of the soft grey joggers and cream cashmere jumper still hanging in his wardrobe. She didn’t ask them to redecorate the bedroom, but she had cleaned it, cleaned it until she was sore, and the mirrors shone, and every item had been dry cleaned, and it was all in bags. He won’t find anything amiss when he comes back, when he goes upstairs, their room is just the same, because it happened down here, and she thinks again of the ultraviolet light. Were there any traces of blood still, even after the walls have been re-plastered, the floors re-laid? Will he be able to tell? She had explained to him about the new kitchen, but she doesn’t know if he took it in. He just sat there, but that was at the start. He is better now, he responds when she speaks, but she hadn’t mentioned the kitchen again, nor the lounge. She stood up and put her cup in the sink, ran the tap until the water was scalding, added bleach. It could soak. She thinks about sitting in the lounge, reading a magazine, until it is time to visit. The new Elle thumped through the door this morning and it is sitting on the new wooden coffee table, perfectly aligned to the table edge, which is perfectly aligned to the rug that sits square in the centre of the big, light room. She stands at the door to the lounge, grips the white door frame, but she can’t go in, can’t sit there, hasn’t sat there since, since he … He’d started in the kitchen, taken a knife to his arms, sat at the table, stabbing, slashing, but that wasn’t enough and he’d walked, run, stumbled into the lounge, and at some point he’d fallen onto the coffee table, knife still in hand, and she couldn’t get rid of the image, blood crimson on the cream carpet. Redecorating should have solved that, the new carpet is beige, not cream, the table wood not glass, but she can still see the giant shard of glass penetrating his gut, as blood streams from his arms, and she turns away. Standing at the hall window she looks out on the lawn, stretching out until it reaches their woodland, trees thinning until they become farmed fields. The gardener would be coming later, restoring perfection to the soft green lawn. It’s everything, this house, she has everything that money can buy now. And he’ll grow to appreciate that again, won’t he? The clock chimes in the hall. In another hour she can climb into the BMW, set the satnav for the hospital, and visit him. She doesn’t want to go, knows she should. He’s not allowed out, not yet, and she should bring in something from outside. But she stays at the window because she can’t face the florist, because she’d have to speak to them, and if they ask, ‘Is it a gift?’, she’ll feel like they know, and what does she bring him anyway, when he’s shown that he thinks the life they had together, however perfect, is worth nothing, when he says it’s not how he thought life would be, that no amount of luxury and leisure can replace the tiredness that comes from graft, and that no amount of money, no possessions can replace, for him, a messy family home, bursting with the children she can’t have. She breathes in deeply, and runs her fingers down the hand woven damask curtains, dyed to match the rugs on the beautiful oak floor. She keeps on looking out at the fields, and for a moment she wonders why she’s still wearing the coral cashmere angora mix coat, and she isn’t crying, because how can you cry when everything is perfect?
Perfect (FIRST EDIT)