painted red

by James

Not the choke of father has he struggled for another breath that woke her, nor the whimper of her brother snuggled next to her in the straw. Elli slid from beneath the ragged blanket then slithered to the bare wood floor. She paused in the cool and the silence, and there it was again – that whispering sound of something.

Barefoot and clad in her night rag dress she crept carefully from the family sleeping chamber, pausing at the bottom of the stairs, looking both ways at the early morning light creeping grey over the wood trestles serving as doors to the outside.

The rustle of old bones rose again and Elli shivered, seeing fingers and eye sockets, the horrid grins of the former owners clawing their way back home. She ran and mounted the trestle and the words were out before she could clasp her hand to her mouth.

‘Bloody Dyfrig!’

She looked fearfully back at the stairs, hinging on one hand and foot. But silence. Elli grinned and peered again over the trestle at the strange shaped ball Dyfrig had found then abandoned without thought. It was egg shaped, the ball itself as big as a chicken, and now it was moving in the breeze, tip of one end rasping against the brickwork.

Elli laddered the trestle rather than lever it open. She cradled the ball to her body as she moved along this terrace of houses, past the matching wood trestles that blocked some of the doors. She paused for a moment at the square of earth Heulwen claimed for her own. It cut the shared path neatly in half. Father said that once there had been real walls and real gardens, not this square of dead earth that forced them to edge awkwardly alongside the pile of rubble if they wish to avoid the wrath of Hell-wen.

Elli marched straight. She paused in the middle of this pathetic square of earth. She hefted the ball once, then twice, then grinned. She stepped carefully across the edging of stones as father insisted, then paused, just outside. She shuffled both feet, just enough to mar the careful line, just a little.

Elli grew in confidence with the ball, tossing it higher and higher. Same as she always did, she stopped at the end of the terrace and gazed solemnly up at the expanse of once white wall streaked with grime that had been painted with a map of the world. The seas blue, sort of. Most of the land was red, flecked here and there with hints of green. Over the top in brown crude lettering was daubed “liars!”.

Elli stared long at the map of the world, their home somewhere under the letters, and of course theirs was a huge blob of green, because all this they had now father said, you wouldn’t get that in a place painted red.

Elli screwed her eyes shut, she squatted down low, ball between her legs. She exploded tall, launching the ball as high and as hard as she could. The breeze across her face was bright, the silence glorious, and she was rising on wings, soaring with the ball, higher and higher, gone from this place, this pathetic scrap of brown painted green.