The small lights are on, don’t put the big ones on anymore, they glare off the TV screen and I want to see everything. We keep the curtains shut with blackout blinds to keep the outside out. I got one of those surveillance cameras installed last year after our neighbour, Polish Peter, put one up. He’s a pumped-up, strong guy and he owns a gym. If he didn’t feel safe then how could we? Jim is small and would be no good in a fight or if a man broke in and tried to attack me or rob us.
The camera starts to record when there is a movement outside and I can pause and play it back. No matter what Jim says, it’s been worth the money. It flicks back and forth from the view of outside to whatever is on the TV. Right now, it’s showing the weather forecast and I’m on the old armchair in my pyjamas. I fondle the spring that popped out of the arm of the chair years back. I like the cold feeling that comes off it at first and then when it warms up under my touch. The weather lady is dressed in a tight navy dress. Her hair is glossy and long and she’s got some sticky-looking lipgloss on.
‘Look, Jim,’ I say. ‘This one says that the snow will get heavier this evening.’
He doesn’t reply and I’m not sure if he heard me so I go to him, to hold his hand, but I get only his little finger and I hang onto this as he stands in front of the fire with its fake flames running up his legs. The fire plays an image of flames on a glass screen. It tricks the brain so that when the central heating comes on in the evening, it feels even toastier than it is.
‘You can’t believe those weather people,’ he says to me at last. ‘They always get it wrong, there’s a man up the country who can tell the weather just from how a bird flies in and out of his garden. Even he is better than them folk.’
A canvas portrait of us on our wedding day is hanging above the fireplace. I’m wearing a dress that sucks my chest in and Jim is in a grey suit, a purple rose with a light sprig of baby’s breath taking over his jacket. We are not looking at each other. The photographer had told us to imagine we were looking into our happy future. When we looked over the top of the hotel’s gardens, I could see a garage, a pub and a roundabout. I never asked Jim what he could see.
Jim steps away from the fireplace and rubs his bottom like he can feel the heat and goes to the shoe rack, gets his trainers out.
‘We looked well,’ I say. ‘No one can say we didn’t look well that day.’ I go back to my armchair and find the pokey-out wire, watch the ads. I pull a woollen, blanket over myself. Jim ties his shoelaces and again I’m not sure if he’s heard me.
‘If the snow gets very heavy,’ I say, louder now, ‘you may not be able to leave the house and we could sit together by the fire, watch TV and chat.’
‘I couldn’t stay cooped up in here. I’d go mad,’ he says to me. ‘I couldn’t sit watching the estate on that TV, making stories up.’ He’s looking in his jacket for his keys. ’I’m going out for food.’
His words go over me, the TV screen has switched to outside, something is moving out there and I shush him before he speaks again. It shows our driveway where it is snowing and our car is parked in our space. A blue car pulls in beside it and the new young couple from across the way get out. The young man smokes the last of a fag, throws the butt down, it glows as it lands. He’s a little man and nicely built but not good-looking and he walks ahead of the young girl.
‘She is definitely pregnant,’ I say to Jim. ‘Isn’t it typical the way she can get pregnant and someone else who might be a good parent wouldn’t? She’s probably smoking too. I’d place a bet on that, so I would.’
‘You spend too much of your time watching that thing, that’s not what we got it for,’ he says, putting on his jacket. ‘I’m sure they’re grand, I knew loads of them when I was a lad.’
‘Oh, yes, they are* grand* people. Well, you can be friends with them,’ I say. I start to rub my finger against the end of the pokey wire. It’s hurting me and he knows this, but he doesn’t tell me to stop, so I carry on. ‘Be friends with them. See what happens. Why don’t you move in with them? See what they are like then?’
He frowns, shaking his head, zipping his coat up tight. ‘Don’t start, I’m not in the mood. Calm yourself and stop with that bloody wire, your finger is raw from it. I’m going to pull it out one day.’
‘The Nigerians were the first in this estate and then the Poles after that and now them,’ I say, not wanting to calm down one bit. ‘At least the Poles will work and the Nigerians are happy, in a way. At least there is that. But these people are different. They just blame everyone when it goes wrong, drawing the dole and taking everything they bloody well can and sitting on their arses all day long. They’re all the same.’
Jim looks down at the carpet, he hears me all right and I might get through to him today. ‘She has never worked a day in her life and she never will now. All the rubbish in their garden. That bloody caravan with no wheels and the old bath and the deck-chairs and the chandeliers. It’s not normal to put things like that in your front garden.’
He keeps quiet, going to the door, keys in his hand. The TV is showing the weather channel again.
‘Look, they’ve gone in now and I’m going out for the food,’ he says. ‘Nobody is normal according to you.’ I let him go out the door and I lock the two bolts. He can wait for me to let him back in.
I go back to my armchair. The TV shows Jim walking to the car, scraping some snow off it and he glances back at me before he gets in. I turn away as if he is actually in the room. He reverses out, making a soft skid in the driveway. I’m feeling better, no need to take the pokey wire out. When Jim has gone, I feel like I’m a child that can explore their parents’ bedroom and the contents of their chest of drawers. I stand at the fireplace, keeping my eye on the weather lady and the front door.
The weather lady is telling me that there will be fresh winter misery for many people and that there will be bitter Arctic blasts coming in, with up to two feet of snow and minus ten degree temperatures within days.
There is no evidence of this outside. The words ‘up to’ mean nothing.
I pause the forecast to see if the weather lady is telling the truth today, she has lied before and it all shows on the TV. I go right up to scan her face, but I see nothing so I sit and watch it through again.
There is nothing on the TV and the camera is showing no movement outside and I wonder where Jim might be, what he could be doing. I feel tense and bunched up and I loosen my top to cool down and turn off the fire. I go to my handbag, get my mobile and call Jim. There’s no connection. This can only mean a bad thing. He might be hurt after a crash or having an affair or something else altogether.
The TV screen is showing the driveway and the young, pregnant girl is at her car, trying to get in. She’s got a long duffle coat on and it’s wound across her bump and the hood with its fluff is pulled up round her face. She could be off to have the baby. I watched Baby Hospital one time and it said that those women tend to have their babies early, never late and they don’t have overly painful labours, it’s only ever a couple of hours and the baby is out and then they leave the hospital and go home as quick as they came in. They have to. Their men don’t help them very much and she is so young, she wouldn’t feel it anyway.
She must have forgotten her keys, she will have to go back in and she heads off to her house, walks out of my view. Is she going back to the house or what is she at and why is he not with her now? It’s all a bit of drama for them, they take nothing seriously. The snow is falling nicely now, there is a white glow off the snow that has been forming all day. I shouldn’t care about the likes of her, but I need to see if she has gone back to the house or the caravan.
I pull the curtains back, roll the blinds, peel them up to peek out. She is outside her caravan, at its door. This is too dangerous, the camera needs to do its job, I need to turn away. Jim will be here and he will want to eat and not speak about what’s outside. Suddenly she sees me and she turns, moving towards here. I let the blinds back down and pinch the curtains together. There is nothing but the snow falling on the TV screen and then a knocking at the front door, a few taps, almost normal sounding, like I would make.
‘Hello, Missus, I see you looking there. I’m in bother. I can’t get into me house.’
She has that accent that you can tell right away where she is from and what she is like. She has the cheek to stand on my doorstep, looking or selling something or wanting to come into my house and rob me.
She’s stamping her feet and rapping on the door. She’ll ring the doorbell next and I won’t be able to take it. She looks up at the camera, pleading.
‘I don’t let anyone in. That’s my policy,’ I shout out and I go to check the bolts.
‘You can’t just watch and do nothin’. He won’t let me in. The baba’s comin’.’ She’s putting it on, like she’s in danger, but I won’t give in. It’s a trick, what they do to get their feet in. It won’t work on me.
I go back to the kitchen, turn the light off, and the sitting room and the hall lights too. The girl’s screaming now, knocking and pleading and doing a great job of being angry, swearing and grunting like I saw on Baby Hospital. She’s heaving her body off the door. She could break it. I think to ring Jim again, but he would just tell me to let her in. If I’m quiet, she’ll go away. She can find someone else.
I sit and watch her on the camera out in the dark and the snow. She stops a bit then and I find the pokey wire and pull it out to the furthest it has ever been and it’s long and bendy enough to stick into the top of my finger. I’ve never gone this far with the wire before and she’s crying and screaming so loudly that I have to go for it and finger the wire up and down to get some blood out and relief comes from it and I go right up to the TV screen to see her. She is dressed for the weather and will be fine and anyway she should have thought about it before she got herself into this mess. I imagine the doorstep if the baby comes and everything spills out from the girl. Jim will have to clean it up, I don’t want to look at it, I’d get sick.
It takes forever, but at last I see our car pulling back in. I go to the door, press my head up against its coldness and Jim is outside murmuring to the girl, asking her where it hurts and she is cursing at him that it hurts all over every bloody place. She is not grateful to him and is like a dog who’s nursing her puppies and if you went to stroke them, the dog would snap her teeth right into you, but Jim is dumb to this and shouts out to me: ‘Angela, open up. There is a girl here locked out, having a baby. This is the real thing now.’
He’s sticking up for her and wants to look after her and help her have her rotten baby, but I’m starting to see what he’s really like. I cannot let Jim in. He will bring that girl into our house and once they are in, that will be it. He did that with a little cat before, but these people are very different from cats, they will just want to come in everyday and get into your head and wreck your house. A cat can be put out and kept out easily enough, but these people are not normal or even one bit like a cat.
‘Use her caravan. That’s what it’s for,’ I say. ‘You have a choice, Jim. Look after her or me.’
I turn the camera off and put the the weather back on. I turn it up high so I cannot hear her yelling with a baby coming and Jim out on the path with her like a fool with the whole estate looking on. When things are quieter and they have moved away to go somewhere, anywhere, I don’t care, then I turn the volume back down to a normal level and play the weather back and forth. The weather lady was right after all, things are about to get worse, but it is all about how prepared a person is to protect themselves and their house. A bit of snow and cold never harmed anyone and that girl would be well used to it where she was born in the caravans. Jim can do what he wants, he can be friends with them if he wants to, but he knows that I will never let them in here.
I go back to the fireplace and turn it on. The image flicks on and I stand with my back to it, in front of the wedding photo where we were looking into the future. It didn’t rain that day even though the forecast had said there would be heavy downpours. Even back then you could not trust the weather forecast. This will all be over by this time tomorrow and we can get a fresh takeaway in, my treat. I will say this to Jim when he gets in and finishes up outside with the lies and treachery of that girl and her kind. I will order a new armchair too, that one is no good, it has wrecked my finger with blood all over it now and I check the front door and the two bolts drawn right across and I get my blanket and throw it over the pokey-out wire and wait for him to return, keeping my eye on the screen.