Blue Screen Error
I’ve never met you.
If I had to pick you out of a line-up, I think I would actually struggle. Yet I’ve memorised your profile. If I close my eyes, I can trace your outline, that perfect line from your forehead down your nose to the curl of your top lip, your broad shoulders and large hands. The pronounced indentation in the middle of your brow, where you often plant your hand whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. I imagine that your eyes are brown, flecked with flashes of yellow and amber, like the markings of the stray cat who has made the wall below its playground. I can almost see your eyes widen and glint when you speak on the phone each night. I can hear your voice, its deep beautiful sound, reassuring those on the other end of the line. I can feel your hand on the small of my back, a self-assured, comforting gesture. But I haven’t ever met you, so I can only imagine this.
I first noticed you one evening after bedtime, it was the faint blue glow of your enormous TV that caught my eye. My eyes lingered on your window; it was a welcome interruption to the chorus of chores that my life now seemed to revolve around. I’m not sure why it had taken me so long to realise you were there. We’d been living in our flat for over a year and from my kitchen window one can see straight into your lounge. Yet, I hadn’t ever looked out and across properly until that evening.
Now each night, I linger in the kitchen and wait for the glare of the television to light up your profile. It’s become my little secret to watch you as you settle down in front of the TV. A moment amid the madness, when the end of day fumes fuel the children with one last gasp of energy that expands into shouts and fights. I retreat to the kitchen, supposedly to clean up but my motive is ulterior.
Over the weeks as I’ve awaited your arrival, my eyes have taken in the buildings that surround yours. To the left of your block is a ramshackle structure that really should be condemned; it’s home to an elderly couple. They are the only occupants in the decaying shell. On its roof there’s a weeping slit in the tin metal sheet that has at some point been hastily fixed to cover up the gap. Swallows have made a nest in the crack, as the sun rises, they dance in unison, criss-crossing over the TV aerials and telephone lines. I watch the lady as she hangs her washing out on her small balcony, meticulous and precise. And every evening the man stands there smoking a cigar, savouring each puff and creating smoke rings that rise in the setting light, watching the swallows as they return. I often pass the lady on the street. Her beautiful dark mop of hair a flash against the pastel colours of the apartment blocks that line our neighbourhood. She’s a regular at the tiny coffee kiosk in the park and has a smile that stretches over her dentures. We nod as we pass each other. On some occasions, I can see her trying to place the familiarity of my shape, her mouth ready to utter something, yet politeness prevails in the form of a gummy sunny smile.
Above your flat, there’s a young couple whose daily rhythm and routine is much more predictable. During the weekends under curfew, they play video games, cook elaborate feasts or smuggle in family members to join them while we all have to stay at home. Yet for each joyful interaction there are splinters of frustration as the long period of confinement warps the edges of the everyday. Early one Sunday morning, I watched the young girl in floods of tears while he sat at the table, eyes down forlorn.
But it is you who intrigues me most.
Your ease in confinement and seeming contentment with solitude ignites my curiosity. You disappear with the swallows in the early morning, I imagine you heading out to some incredibly important job while the rest of the population is confined behind closed doors. Each evening my anticipation builds, like that secret feeling before a first date, the flutter ripples across my stomach. I wait for the light and for your profile to reappear. The glow and expectation expands, moving aside the anxiety that has gripped me for so long.
Today is no different. The flicker and glimmer of anticipating your arrival home keeps me in the kitchen. I ignore the build-up to bedtime that plays out in the background, knowing I should really get the children into the bath and ready for bed but I wait lingering in my little square, wanting to shut off the noise and chatter, even if only for a moment. To erase the monotony and imagine myself in another life. The bubble of excitement prickles and tugs at me, a thread wanting to be unspooled. I watch your lounge waiting for the light to come on. The thought of turning up at your door, of stepping into your sanctuary of solitude, of stroking your face…
A crash in the background wrenches my attention back to the lounge. Inhaling sharply, attempting to push down the plumes of frustration that threaten to surface, I open the door and find my eldest has scattered her lego across the table knocking a glass onto the floor.
‘Sss…sorry, Mummy.’ Her voice clipped, eyes bright, tears bulging.
My instinct is to shout but I remember Dan is on a conference call. Picking up the broken glass I repeat some inane platitudes.
‘It’s ok darling… It doesn’t matter… No one’s hurt.’
My youngest is glued to her device, the temptation to pick it up and hurl it out the window is huge but I refrain, mentally sellotaping my lips together, fearful of the plumes of frustration and anger that will otherwise escape. She looks up from the blue glow, her gaze watery and blurred from concentrating on her screen for too long. I see her wide-eyed, watching, trying to anticipate what I will do next. A shiver snakes between my shoulders, they can sense my detachment now, I can see it in their eyes. Dan laughs in the room next
door, the papery walls are poorly insulated, yet they are an unkind reminder that the divide between us is fully formed. Two separate lives lived under one roof. My hands absentmindedly grip on the broken glass in my hand, my barely contained frustration at keeping it together flexes in my joints.
Pain flashes across my hand, I wince as I realise I’ve gripped the broken shards too tight. Blood weeps in a line across my palm. I rush to the kitchen, my oldest tailgating me, worried and concerned. I place the glass on the side, reaching for some tissues as bloods run from my hand into the sink. My daughter stands behind me, stroking my back, mimicking my manner when she’s hurt herself.
‘There, there Mummy.’ She whispers, ‘There, there.’
I stand at the sink looking out, holding on to the tissue to stem the blood.
Condensation trails down the windows obscuring the view. Drops pick up speed racing one another. I wish to join the drops, to run away from the tenderness of this moment. Tears appear on my cheeks and a wretched feeling stirs in my stomach.
‘It’s ok darling.’ I manage to mumble, ‘Mummy’s ok, it’s just a little cut.’
Content with the fact that I am not badly hurt she strokes my back one last time and retreats. I look at my hand, cursing myself for being so clumsy.
Through the condensation, I notice the light on in your lounge, I see your outline. My excitement rises again. Yet there’s no blue glare tonight, instead candles line your windowsill and I see you checking your watch. You turn around and catch me watching you, something distracts you and makes you leave your lounge, a moment later I see a woman enter, you join her with a bottle of wine and close your curtains. I begin to laugh, a shrill loud giggle that turns into a fit of snorting. I’ve never even met you, I think.
From the lounge I hear Dan call my name as the girls chatter and clamber around him.
‘I’m here,’ I say, calling from the kitchen as I bandage up my hand. ‘I’m right here,’ I say.
About the author
Lucy Beckley is a writer, wanderer and wonderer. Her writing and poetry has appeared in a range of publications including Lionheart Magazine, A Thousand Word Photos, The Mum Poem Press, Popshot Magazine, Reasons to be Cheerful and Strike Magazine. She was shortlisted in the Renard Press New Beginnings Competition in 2021 and is currently working on her first poetry collection, Rainbows In Washing Lines. She has an MA in European Cultures and is studying for an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. She loves to dive behind the everyday ordinary and find something extraordinary. The stories that interest her the most are the ones hidden away in plain sight, scribbled on the back of a hand, stuffed in a drawer or filed away in a library of memories. When she’s not writing or running after children, she is also a freelance marketing and communications consultant and has worked for businesses in Germany, the UK and Portugal. She lives in Cornwall with her husband and two children. www.lucybeckley.com Twitter: @lucybeckley Instagram: @lucyabeckley