the idea of tragedy

M was trying to help him understand why she had been so moody, she was trying to explain that it wasn’t his fault. ‘My entire life is leaking,’ she said, again. But he would only look at the heavy cat asleep on his lap, not at her. She told him about the pale blue tiles that lined their street. ‘They look like they are made of marble,’ she said, yet she’d never noticed them before this winter. ‘Because they weren’t there before this winter, John. I know it. I would have seen them because I look down.’ She sensed he was puzzled, but still he wouldn’t look up. ‘I’m afraid, John. I’m really afraid. It’s like the Victorians are coming back to get us.’ Her shoulders began to shake, and she wept onto the back of her hand. Still, he didn’t move. He didn’t think to comfort her. Ever since the big storm, their bedroom had painted itself in yellow and brown stains. It happened in the space of a single night. They woke to find the walls either side of the chimney stack covered in swirling patterns that reminded John of an old tye-die T-shirt he’d had as a boy. ‘It’s just a spot of damp,’ he’d said to M. ‘It’ll dry come the summer.’ But she wouldn’t hear of it. She’d started to pick at the worst spot, obsessively, like it was a scab on her knee, and eventually she’d dug a small channel into the outer wall. Now, when the heavens opened, the water found the crack. It dribbled through, in a small stream, and ran down the wall towards the carpet. John had put an old ice-cream tub down to catch the worst of it, but it wasn’t really working. Back in the day, they would have put aside some time at the weekend and fixed the hole together. They would have laughed and played music and turned the DIY into a game. They would have sorted the damp, and had a whole lot of fun. But it wasn’t like that any more. M seemed to have reached a point of saturation, and instead of fixing things, she worked to speed up their decline. ‘It won’t help either of us,’ John had found himself repeating over and over. ‘It’ll just make things worse.’ But, deep down, he envied her decision to bend with the times. When she spoke of her life leaking, he knew that he was the one being washed away. Not her.

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