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Aftereffect: An Essay Involving the Senses (1991)

Dad's been drinking again. I can tell that by the pungent stench of alcohol surrounding the front room like a fine, choking mist.

I walk through into the lounge. It's worse than I thought. The furniture is all messed up - the sofa and worn, mottled armchair are overturned, and the armchair has been split, spewing disintegrating grey innards all over the floor.

The carpet is stained dark - probably from the beer Dad has spilt on the floor. The coffee table lies on its side. I feel scared - the table is heavy, Dad must be stronger than I had thought. I don't usually think of Dad as dangerous, even when he has been drinking. But this is different. He's never smashed up the room before.

All the pictures are off the wall too, tiny shards of glass from the frames mixed into the carpet, reflecting the grim scene before them, distorting it. Some of the glass is from the mirror, its gilded frame bent out of shape amongst the rest of the debris.

He's even torn up the plants. Mum's pride and joy, her little "children" - little moist bits of greenery - once spider plant, cheese plant, weeping fig - maliciously destroyed. The glass tinkles under my feet as I walk further into the room, my brain dimly registering the need to clean the mess up. Yes. I whirl round and move quickly into the kitchen in search of a broom, dustpan and brush, anything with which to erase this mess before Mum gets home.

Oh, God. He's been in here, too. The cupboards and drawers are open, the contents forming a bright array of shining metal on the linoed floor - saucepans, spoons, forks, knives -

Knives. I bend down and gingerly pluck the largest from the floor and run my finger gently along the blade, glinting like an evil eye under the dim light, feeling its sharpness, feeling its lethal quality.

No. Not yet. First I must clean up the mess in the lounge. I take the dustpan and brush from the cupboard, stepping over hundreds of kitchen utensils and smashed pieces of crockery in the process. Then I go and face the disarray in the adjoining room. The lounge looks like a bomb has hit it, and I remember stories of air raids in World War Two, only it's worse, because this time it's happening to me.

I must work quickly. I kneel on the ruined carpet, careful not to put any parts of my exposed anatomy on the sharp shards of glass.

I sweep the shattered glass, torn pictures and ripped pieces of shrubbery into the pan and tip them out into the small wastebin in the corner of the room, which, ironically, has been left standing upright.

I repeat the action several times, till I am satisfied that there are no pieces of waste which the eye can discernibly see - though I would not walk this room in bare feet.

I push the sofa and armchair back upright, stuffing the spilt foam back into the chair. It should be properly patched up, but there is no time.

Now the coffee table. I did not underestimate its weight and it takes several shoves to get it back into its original position.

I glance at the beer stain on the carpet, leaping out at me like an ocean in a golden bay. Ah. The cleaner in the bathroom cabinet. Hurry, hurry! I race out of the lounge and up the stairs.

A quick check of the bedrooms for evidence of Dad. Mark's room, meticulously neat as always, books displayed on the shelf in exact order of size, bed neatly made.

I peep my head round the door of my parents' room. A sigh of relief. Nothing untoward there. I want to check my own room but there isn't time. I fetch the cleaner from the bathroom which, except for the towels on the floor - which Mum is forever ribbing me about - seems in order.

I creep downstairs and run into the lounge, panicking now and scrubbing at the dark patch feverishly. The carpet turns a darker hue, but I don't have time to stick around to see if it works properly. I dash into the kitchen and start picking pieces of broken crockery off the floor, feeling pain as I cut my hands, but not caring now.

The fragments of plate make a sharp thud as they meet with the bottom of the kitchen bin. I turn back to the assorted melee of cutlery and saucepans on the floor. I glance at the floral wall clock. Mum will be home in about ten minutes. I grab the cutlery and shove it hurriedly into a drawer. That can be dealt with later. There is something else I must deal with first.

Saucepans in the cupboard. Knives and forks in the drawers. The plates which didn't break in...

There's someone outside. I can hear their heavy footsteps crunching into the hard gravel outside. I run to the window and look out.

Dad! What's he doing here? I can see by the way he is stumbling slightly that he is still under the influence of alcohol, but I am no longer afraid.

I run back to the kitchen and take the evil-looking knife from the sideboard.

Then I am back to the window. I stand next to it. I can see a distorted image of my father through the frosted glass front door. The door swings open.

I gaze at him for a moment - collar up, tie askew, breath like poison, trying to pretend that he's been at work all day. Then I find my voice.

"Hello, Dad," I say with false cheerfulness. "Have a nice day at work?"

He never got a chance to reply.

After Effect


Robin Tamblyn (author)