He looked out the living room window past the small front lawn and over the bare hedges, their leafless winter gait. It was too cold to snow, the sheet-frosted windows of parked cars and the stark grey paving stones told him so, told him just in the way his father had instructed last winter, when he was talking. He was awaiting the arrival of his brother, his sister-in-law, his baby nephew, and of course the other two. They were to bring with them joy, something to make something out of everything, nothing – he was much too young for.  The apple trees by the kitchen window were as naked and inanimate as the frozen wind. She was too busy to cry, otherwise she may have cried. She had to organise, prepare, clean, mediate, delegate, control, think, she would have cried otherwise. He sat watching the tape reel go round and round, anger clenched in his teeth and fists, pulled off the earphones, slammed them down on the desk in the loft. He told his brother to stop looking out the window. He was fourteen now, getting towards that age. He looked across at the Christmas tree, as high as the ceiling in the corner of the room, its lights off, presents gone, redundant. She berated him for smelling of smoke, she was no fucking idiot he was told. She composed herself behind the wheel, restored her smile, and took in the tower blocks she passed in quick motion with a gentle sigh. He knew the roads, the roads of old, past the primary school, up the hill. She twisted her neck again, he was still asleep, head slumped on his chest, drooling perfectly across an orange bear on the bib. The ladder fell to the floor with a bang, just outside his sons’ bedroom. He lambasted their ignorance with fuming sincerity as he looked down at the old forest green carpet which awaited his descent. He checked again, was told to sit down by his brother, he was watching the world cup video on the family present. He couldn’t sit still, he was excited, he smelt the leather of his new boots again, pressed his finger into the logo on the studs. She screamed as the dog thudded against the front of the car and bounced off onto the grass, its legs a tangle above its beige coat. He would comment later it looked like a spit-roast pig at that precise moment, before it was up and off down the hill with the pace of shock and all the likelihood of imminent death. She presented her son to her mother-in-law, understating the pride she felt at this new role in life. She looked into the infant’s globule blue eyes, and when the tears began it took several minutes to contain them. He listened to the muffled high-pitched sounds as the razor grazed across his face, short sharp bursts of committed dexterity. He threw his younger brother over his shoulder onto the couch, they would watch G’olé!, or whatever was in the parcels, he continued the mock fight, to wrestle, just for his eldest brother’s entertainment, adrenalin and happiness radiating in his face. They both breathed visible air quickly into the sudden silence and turned to look deep into each other’s eyes, eyebrows stuck in a raised position, looking for answers to obvious questions, obvious answers. She composed herself with one final deep breath and slowly pulled across, lodging the pavement clumsily with two wheels. He pulled layers of water over his face and hair as if a headdress, gazed purposefully at the little purple arteries, skin deep on his aging neck and jaw line.  He joined them in the kitchen, they all smiled in his direction, all three of them. He took his pinkie to the boy’s nose, rubbed it gently, again he giggled.  He turned back to the window, for all the usual nothingness in everything, he pictured colours in the future, now they were here. She stirred the soup and tasted it, carrot and orange, just right, rubbed her fingers on her apron, told herself not to think about the footsteps on the stairs. He stretched out his hand with the wriest of smiles, between embarrassment and tears, envy and gratitude. He took himself upstairs not knowing that he’d always take himself upstairs in a way, until of course he could no longer take himself upstairs and his anger at being upstairs for so long would have to express itself to those he loved. She took the key from the ignition and the engine stopped. He patted her on the shoulder and she took it the wrong way, shrugged him off. He walked around the front of the small red car as if taking an estimate – damage, cost, life and death. She caught the ladle on the top of her apron, the orange liquid falling through the air in slow motion under the fluorescent strip light, splaying on the linoleum like the first rains of the monsoon. He let go of the curtain as they walked from the car, he’d run out and meet them. She knew what would happen next. He couldn’t help himself.

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