All she wants is to get her own hack. She tries; you can hear her thinking: At least I have tried.
She lives for that moment, and has been trying, she thinks, too long.
The garden is still, the air unassuming and clear. This is where she works, out of the house. Away. She fills it with her imaginings, her bewilderment. Understand, you can trust her, but him, you wouldn’t trust him to tell you daylight was daylight.
She clips the hedge in a hurry to get it done, elbows echoing the blades. But there is always more to do: the lawn, the weeds, the border of lavender, laburnum, poppies red and yellow; the umbrella willows, the handkerchief trees. A woman’s work. The hedge itself is shoulder-high, a privet, two colours green. A shelter and a harrier, its damp autumn fragrance arousing and a comfort.
Inside the house, she is the holder of postcodes, phone numbers. She alone listens to the news and tells the time. He has no memory, no eyes, no ears, no legs. He gets what he wants, always. And finds it funny.
Hard to withstand, hard to understand.
He pesters over the space for a painting, the rectitude of its hanging. He is disturbed by the shape of the bread she has cut, the structure of a fire, and bullies over pronunciation; he has a hatred of open doors and weak tea. Laughs at her.
He can see no way other than his own, is not conscious of another-his way being correct because that is all there is. She won’t argue, goes quietly as no scene must he made. She has to live, after all. In sin, no doubt-selfishness is a sin, resentment is a sin, no doubt-but she has to live.
Once she loved men who made her surrender, who made good excuses, and lived full of dreams and getting away. But when the men departed she was left behind. They had different minds from what they showed her. This taught her revenge. They made her tough, all those surrenders.
Her job was to cut men’s hair.
Nothing very exciting as they were always losing what little hair they had. This disappointed her because she could not show them how good she was. They called her ‘Dear’ or ‘Woman’ or ‘Pet’, touched her and asked would she love them tomorrow when they were bald. Yes, she said, though in the end they left her, each in turn, three scaldies, drawn to younger blood.
Yes, she would have loved each of them whole-heartedly, but now she doesn’t want to hear how it might have been. Love dwindled to the colour of a carpet, the planting of seeds, the warmth of a meal. Impatience replaced love. Then came the anger. Yes. And yes, a smidgen, a pinch, a merest hint of cruelty.
Ever since then, no one has been allowed to touch a hair on her body.
The sunlight reaches down and pats her head.
She flicks the top of the hedge to get the clippings onto the path for the brush later, remembering it was here, this exact spot, a week ago, where the crazy-paving becomes decorative brick, that she met the cat with a wood pigeon in its mouth, a flurry of plumage leading hack to an explosion of feathers at the bird table.
What she rescued she put in the bin; the cat, annoyed at her rebuke, vanishing through the ankles of the privet with its take-away still warm. She spent the rest of the day with a small scapular clinging to her skirt. She let it go, finally, in the darkness. Went outside and threw it over the hedge, and stood there listening for any noise it might make, hut it fluttered back to her. Three times she tried, and each time it landed close to her. She ended up putting it between the pages of a hook.
The cat is now at her feet, at every turn, as if trying to trip her up, an enemy. Maybe it wants to show her things. However, in her mind the animal, the terror, is evil and should be shot. No blindfold. A bullet between the eyes. Splat! Point-blank. She would then be throwing its guts, its hones, into the wheely bin.
Yes, only victims make sense of the imbalance of the world. Inevitably, the scales will tilt in their favour and luck will have nothing to do with it.
Absent-mindedly, she runs a fingertip along the lighted edge of the blades he has sharpened many times (part of that desire to be of use, to have the moral high ground), sharpened to a sliver of shine, a hair’s breadth, almost nothing…
She opens and closes the V, wide, narrow, biting and yawning, a mouth the width of the necks she has shaved. The risk is sweet, the clean edge satisfying.
Beyond the hedge, the broad trees-elm, ash, beech-rattle with grey squirrels and commando magpies all the way to the hack of the house. His house.
The foliage glitters like a reflection; the sky is tranquil with drystone Irish clouds. She struggles to keep her head motionless w judge their direction and speed-that is, if the weather will change-and instead hears the footsteps of her heart.
A blackbird sings ironically, and stays put.
Slightly in awe this time, she strokes the blades again, following their V, and misinterprets their fine edge. The metal is so sharp she feels no pain as it slices through the index finger un her left hand. Deep but clean, a flap like a small white gill.
Blood then, her own, in the hairline crack, the wedge of flesh. And yes, still painless. She licks it like a cat, then ignores it, letting it heal of its own accord. That much is encouraging. And again she listens to her heart.
She must fetch the brush, get the clippers from under the willow, and gather ur the tools and dead things. All her own work. Then she will go in.
The bleeding stops as quickly as it began. Her finger doesn’t hurt at all; the sharpness, the sharpness he made, is nothing but perfect. That alone is worth knowing. Something that would be news to him. A smear of red marks the warm wooden handle of the shears.
The air is changing. By not watching them the clouds have moved. Soon she will have to go in. Go from her shoes to her slippers at the hack door, take off her jezebels, the working clothes, and put them in the wash, quickly covering her underwear, embarrassed by her own exposure.
Standing there in her dressing gown at the door to the room, a plater on her finger and the blood-flecked shears outstretched, opening and closing the blades, she tells him the time, the weather, and the headlines, ventriloquising with the movement of the blades.
He smiles and nods.
She sees he needs his hair cut – well, what remains of it? And she volunteers. He has enough for her to show him what she was really like, how good she once was.
They talk then, and the clouds and the trees figure. And how she hates the cat with her whole being. She opens her heart, and he just sits there, laughing his head off.