“Eurgh, you again.” He thought he was there, but wasn’t sure at first. He’d left the backdoor open, though the day was bitter, winter already licking at them with its frosty tongue. He’d popped out quickly to refill the bird feeders he had hanging in his garden. The seedy offering had attracted a number of birds recently, and he was keen for the blue jay to return. He had seen it there recently, resting on the roof of his shed before going for some seed at the feeder by the bottom of the garden. The one towards the house, dangling off an old hanging basket, was territorially protected by a small puffed-up robin who he’d taken to name Carol, the traits of an old neighbour which seemed fitting as she flittered and fussed from one garden to the other.
“Make yourself at home then.” He said, astounded at the brazenness on display. Sitting at the kitchen table, the man creaked back on the wooden chair, a hand-me-down from his mother; he could see the spindly farmhouse legs straining under the weight of the man.
“Don’t mind if I do, my place as much as yours.” The man said, reclining back further; seemingly to prove a point.
“You’d like to believe that wouldn’t you!” He replied, angrily, shaking the packet of tea at him that he’d been holding; a few green tea flakes spilling over the side and tumbling to the floor like emerald snowflakes.
The man said nothing, and looked away.
A cold burst of air flooded the kitchen and the door creaked back. Where as before the nice fresh air had been welcomed in the heavy stone lined kitchen, a chill now shivered up the man, but he was hesitant to shut the door. He knew the man would be here too long as it was. A second wave of cold left him no choice, and he stepped angrily towards the door, slamming it was a force that shook one of the display plates on the wall.
“Mine’s black, no sugar. And none of that healthy Asian crap. Normal tea.” The man said, kicking his shoes off.
“How did I know it would be black!” he replied, walking back towards the kettle which had whistled a while ago on the stove.
“You’re not staying, so have your tea then piss off.” He said, taking down some PG tips from a small cupboard. He had this for whenever his sister ever came over; a builder’s brew she preferred.
“Well, as we always know Jake, that is entirely up to you.” The man leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. He stroked his beard philosophically, as if he’d revealed some great wisdom. Jake stood there, the kettle in hand, and waited for anything else from him. But that it seems was all.
“You always do this, just when things are going well. Why don’t you go and bother someone else for a change?” He said, turning back to make the tea.
There was a small silence before the man spoke again.
“I’ve known you for a long time, we’ve been friends Jake. Closer before, but you have drifted. You’ve pushed me aside. I won’t say it didn’t hurt. After all we had been through, and all I’ve done for you.”
“Done for me?!” Jake seemed to roar into the kitchen.
“If you please. Yes, all I’ve done for you. When everyone left you, I was there. When the money was gone, I helped you. You seem to forget all this in your peace of mind and holier-than-thou state.” The man said, his brow furrowed.
Jake had stirred the tea cup, a dainty little thing that seemed small and precious in his huge hand. He put it on the table and it looked like a dolls cup next to the huge frame of the man who sat there. He’d been sitting there, only a few minutes, yet his stature seemed to have grown slightly. The weight of him and his words dominating that space of his kitchen. The man seemed to loom over the table, but he took the cup in his hand as if to warm them with it.
“Ta for the cuppa.” He said, smiling.
“I’m not holier-than-thou, I’ve just moved on. Outgrown all that other stuff, made things better. You just can’t seem to deal with that. If you feel left behind, I’m sorry; but it’s your choice to move forward or not.” Jake said.
The man at the table thought about this.
“You think you’ve moved on, you haven’t Jakey boy. You’re still the same. I can see it, I know it. How do you think I even got in here?” He said, taking a sip of the tea, the cup seeming to disappear into the great mass of beard that swallowed it.
Jake turned then, looking out of his kitchen window. He could hear the man at the table, sipping the tea and heaving on the chair. But he hoped that if he’d turn back, he would be gone. He tried to find the birds in his garden, the grey clouds above blanketing the world in a white canvas of light. But nothing, the garden seemingly devoid of life now. Not even the squirrels which were forever darting about, hiding bulbs and chestnuts.
The cup clinked on the table, and he turned back around to face the man. He’d risen from his seat and had stepped towards Jake, his arms outstretched.
“Jakey boy, come here.” He said, and embraced him in what should’ve been a warm hug, owing to the size of him and big woollen jumper he had on. Instead, the icy coldness ran through Jake as the man’s arms secured themselves around his back and pulled him in, the beard scratching the side of his face. The coldness travelled all throughout his body, as If little icy daggers were swarming his blood stream. He was stuck with the man holding him tight, squeezing now and talking. Mumbling words into his ear.
“You and me, forever. You can’t deny it, we work well as a team Jake. I’ll move in, take the smaller room. Plenty of space. I’ll help you with the job thing, you can quit that new one, it won’t work out for you, so fucking hoity toity them people there. And as for you know who, well you’re better off without them. You don’t need them around here, you can’t be they man they want you to be, so best to give in before they hurt you. That pain Jake, you know that pain. You don’t want that again.” The man hissed, his words seeming to smoke around his head like a hazy cloud of distaste. Jake tried to pull away, but the man pulled tighter.
“Don’t struggle, you did that before and remember what happened. They all thought you’d lost your fucking mind. Those bastards. Off your rocker, breakdown. What do they know? Jakey, you don’t want any of that. Let me come and stay, let me in; you know what it will take for it to happen. You know what I need for you to say.” The man went on, his mouth ever closer to Jake’s ear.
They both turned to look at the kitchen window. A Small sparrow had smacked into the glass and tumbled to the windowsill beneath where the spring plants were usually planted. He’d had tulips there this year, and Jake had a flash of the red and purple flowers in his head momentarily before the bird, seeming to have righted itself and with little damage, took off again out into the world.
This was enough for Jake to pull away from the man, and he shoved back, the black jumper turning to a black treacle in his palms as he pushed back and stepped away from him. He turned quickly, time being essential he knew. His strength wouldn’t last, he knew this was the test, and his resolve was shaken. Even now those words the man had spoken were coursing within him, finding pathways to his mind and heart. He sped quickly to the kitchen drawer, pulling it out so fast it tumbled to the floor, spilling out the cutlery like a vomiting mouth.
“Jake?” the man said, but he was as shocked as Jake was as the carving fork was rammed deep into his throat. Jake’s hands, black with the treacle, pulled back and plunged again, deeper this time as if hoping to break through to the other side. Darkness there, suddenly in the eyes of the man. The pupils just pits of despair, a pulling planet hauling him with its own gravity. Shaking, Jake turned away, stumbling on the knives, spoons and forks which had spilt across his kitchen floor. He slipped on a small cheese knife, another hand-me-down from his mother’s house, and his head found the side of the rustic sink, the white porcelain smudged now with a bloody smear, like a crimson fingerprint as Jake found his own way to the floor.
The birds had returned, Carol was flitting back and forth from the fence to the feeder, flicking seed on the ground as she went. A blackbird watched Jake from the bushes, her tail seeming to bob in time to the motion of his digging. A small hole, no bigger than a shoebox, freshly dug in the cold ground; taking longer than usual in the frozen soil.
Jake was on his knees down at the bottom of his garden. He put the trowel to one side and laid the heart carefully into the ground. It was blacker than he’d imagined it ever could be, and he shivered slightly, the motion hurting his head which now sported a huge wrap around bandage. He pulled the cold soil over the hole, the blackbird watching as he did, keen to seen what would happen if anything.
Nothing of course, with little ceremony Jake stood, brushed down his knees and returned to his house. He’d picked up the spilt cutlery from the floor and popped it on the side, they’d need sorting in to the divider properly before going back into the drawer which he’d already slid into place. The carving fork had tumbled under the table, and he reached now to retrieve it. It was clean, only a tip of blackness stained the tip, looking more like old age than anything else.
He’d been surprised to wake and find nothing but the heart on the floor, the life of the thing clinging on as it beat a few more times there on the kitchen tiles. Jake determinedly killed the thoughts once more in his head, the swarming doubts and darkness, and with a final flurry the heart had heaved to a stop.
Placing the fork on the side with the others, he breathed out, a long deep breath that let the weight of everything escape. He scratched his beard and glanced out again into the garden, his eyes finding where he’d buried the heart. And he smiled, knowing now it would remain buried.
“Now, finally for my tea.” He said to the thankfully empty kitchen.