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The door slams and the house flinches, knocking the girl to the stone floor. She doesn’t rise, but waits, knowing that he has gone. She will be locked in. For a while, she is safe.
She sits back on her heels, rubs the base of her spine, and looks through the window. Sunlight peers round the corner. It never reaches this side of the house, even to kiss the panes in midsummer. She remembers the heat of home, the sea and rustling palms. The whispered promises that brought her here, promises that turned bad, like rotten mangoes.
The girl has learned what she must do to avoid a beating. Although she doesn’t always get it right. Picking up her cleaning things, she walks down the dim passageway to the front of the house – his part of the house.
As she turns the corner, the girl sees the door is not shut. Sunlight forces its way through the narrow opening. She watches. The light balls up and nudges the door open further. It moans softly. She stares into the light and then closes her eyes. It is so bright. It paints golden orbs inside her skull. It is so warm, so soft. It sounds like carnival. She raises her arms and begins to dance, turning, leaning into it. The girl dances along the hallway, the heat at her back, buoying her body.
At the corner, great globules of light pull away from the unsheathed rays and bounce, roll at her feet as she dances up the stairs. The staircase forms and reforms itself, leading her higher and higher until she bursts out of the attic into the heart of the sun.
The stairs relax. The door swings gently shut.
At first the man does not realise she has gone. Then he rages, hitting the walls, the door, the stairs. The floor shrugs. He falls heavily. The furniture winces and shuffles out of reach. His curses slither off the damp walls to pool on the flagstones. He feels the walls moving in on him; pressing him, pushing him. He is rolled faster and faster, bundled up the stairs from the bowels of the cellars, banging his arms, legs, head against newel and door frame. The heavy oak door catches his head a final blow, sending him skittering on the gravel like an empty barrel, down the path into the stream outside the gate.
A warm wind bustles through the house, dusting and brushing the debris away, rearranging the furniture and drawing curtains back from the windows. It swings out, leaving the scent of pine needles. The door closes with a firm click of the iron latch.
The house eases its timbers, settles down quietly, and waits.
About Romola Parish
Dr Romola Parish is currently studying for the MSt in Creative Writing at Oxford. She specialises in short fiction and poetry. She is also a textile artist and loves the interface between words and image. Landscape, environment and borderlands are an important theme in her writing and professional work in environmental academia and law.