In the Walls

Konstanz Marie


Content Warning: Domestic violence, Animal death

‘Mum, I need you to listen to me. I need you to focus.’ 

From a distance, the women might’ve looked at peace. Enjoying the stillness of the living room, basking in the afternoon sun that bleached the furniture. The scene would take place sometime during the weekend. There would be baking and knitting involved, or tea and biscuits, or all the above. Both would be grateful to be in each other’s company. 

‘I’ve invited some people over for tea.’ 

 The mother’s eyes wander towards the kitchen, its bench visible through the arched doorway with columns littered with lines and numbers. ‘Strangers,’ her eyebrows crinkle up, forcing the creases of her face to reach for her hairline, ‘you know your father doesn’t like strangers, Cathy.’

Friends, rather.’ Cathy speaks gently, hoping the change of word choice is enough to persuade her mother, but her attention has since been lost. 

‘The bananas, they look a bit weird, don’t they? They don’t sit nicely anymore.’ 

Cathy notices her mother gently pulling at the collar of her cardigan as she speaks, drawing attention to the green bruise near her collarbones. She knows better than to ask. Instead, she unclenches her jaw and takes a deep breath before continuing with the matter at hand; ‘These friends, they might want to ask some questions. About you and dad.’ She feels the sweetness in her voice turn sour. ‘They just need you to help them understand, that’s all.’ 

Growing up the house had always felt too big for the family of three. Cathy thought there were too many rooms, but, funnily enough, not enough space. The walls of the house were thick but hollow. They withheld noise tentatively and sometimes not at all. Somehow, her cries were always silenced. Her parents’ fights, however, could not be muffled by plaster nor floral wallpaper. 

‘Don’t you think the bananas look strange today?’ Fruit senselessly weighs on the forefront of her mother’s mind. 

‘They look fine, mum. Just, please… about dad.’ The air is stiff now. Her speech gains speed and volume, ‘You’re the last person that saw him-‘

‘No, it’s not right,’ her mother interrupts, raising her voice to match hers, ‘they’re in pairs but they don’t sit nicely. It’s not right Cathy, it’s not normal.’ 

‘Christ, can you just stop talking about the fucking bananas please, Mum.’

 A lapse in judgement; she’s lost control. 

Her mother flinches. 

‘You’ve been acting like a bloody cactus since I got here, Mum,’ her voice breaks as she whines, ‘and now this.’

There is no response. 

Cathy used to find solace in household pets when she was younger. After a big fight, her father would buy her a hamster or a dog. The animals never stayed for long. They were kept just long enough to distract her, until they chewed the dining table’s wooden legs or became an unavoidable inconvenience. Eventually, she grew tired of the toxic, vicious cycle. Underwhelmed by the ordeal, she decided, at a young age, that it was best not to get too attached. 

‘Mum, I…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have, really, I-‘ she stops. She holds her breath and paces the floor. Once she’s counted 7 strides, she lets it go.  She’s spent many long nights talking to plaster and floral wallpaper, she realises this isn’t much different. She also knows, however, that no matter how heated the one-sided arguments got, she had never needed the wallpaper to talk back. 

‘Oh, puppet,’ her mother sighs, ‘what’s wrong?’ Her gaze returns now to the living room, still dazed, leaving the kitchen behind. 

Out of all the pets she was gifted, only one left a strong impression. A guinea pig named Chester, whose coat was speckled white, brown and black. She found his beady eyes fascinating. She tried to train him like Pavlov’s dog. Even after he disappeared from his cage, she kept trying.

   A mixture of wheeze and laughter escapes Cathy’s throat as she repeats her mother’s words, ‘what’s wrong?’ It would be easier to ask the opposite. The answer would be significantly more concise. 

The family became convinced Chester managed to survive inside the hollow walls, living off the food scraps Cathy left for him behind her chest of drawers, because a month into his disappearance a smell began to brew. When it became unbearable, her father broke a wall and crawled inside. He expected to find Chester with a trail of faeces and rotten food. Instead, he found the remains of his small, furry carcass and a mischief of rats.

Although disturbed, Cathy couldn’t shake the feeling of success. Every night she  rang the bell and every morning the food had disappeared. Although not Chester, she had unknowingly managed to condition several other subjects. After the incident, there were no more pet rodents. 

‘We could go to the market tomorrow,’ her mother stated suddenly. ‘We can get some oranges, some grapefruit maybe. Your dad’s been working so hard on the house, Cathy. He deserves a treat.’

Cathy avoids her mother’s foggy gaze. Instead, she fixes her eyes on the large family portrait that hangs above the faux fireplace to her left, remembering the day it was taken. It was the first time she saw her mother’s bruises after catching her applying concealer in the bathroom. They never spoke of it. 

The painting is dull and lifeless, but something feels off. The more she stares at her father’s face, the more his eyes remind her of Chester’s. Beady and black, piercing into her as if they weren’t there at all, but rather, holes that allowed her to stare into the dark cavity between walls. A curious thought. Then, a stench: Faint, but potent. 

‘Have you been feeding the rats, mum?’ 

Her mother’s eyebrows crinkle up once more while she repeats the word, ‘Rats?’ She pauses before filling the room with giggles. She exclaims, ‘Why would I be feeding rats! What a childish idea. Oh, if your dad heard you…’ Her face morphs into an empty smile. 

 ‘Where is he mum? Where’s Dad?’ 

She pauses and tilts her head, her eyes rolling in time. A wide smile slowly accentuates the deep lines around her mouth. ‘He’s here, of course.’ 

Cathy sighs. She can’t feel her face, but imagines it dampened by salty tears. Behind them, the sun sinks. They wait for her friends to arrive. She thinks of the little information she’ll be able to provide. 

Then, disrupting their silence, faint ringing. It only lasts a moment, but it’s enough. She wonders if her mother heard it too. She waits. It comes again. Her mother smiles.

‘Dinner time,’ Cathy says, carefully studying her expressions. 

She responds slowly, ‘And for dessert,’ her smile twitches, ‘bananas.’

Author: Konstanz is a third-year creative writing student with a passion for magic realism in all its forms. Sometimes, she likes to write short stories that are creepy and unexplained. You can buy her chapbook and read her published works and passion projects online at @konstanz.marie or @KonstanzMarie | Linktree 

Artist: SaBelle Pobjoy-Sherriff is a third year fine arts visual arts student. Her art practice uses narrative and mythology to create obscure illustrations and sculptures. Using acrylic paint and coloured pencils she creates vibrant worlds and creatures. Her current work focuses on the current climate crisis and the idea of corrupting escapism. You can find more on her Instagram @SaBelleeee.

Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz