Keeping Watch

A housewarming present starts an unexpected sequence of events.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

It was Maggie’s present to them, Maggie who should have known better.

“It’s great,” Laura said blankly.

“Thank you,” Cliff added in the little silence that followed after.

“It’s a goddess,” Maggie said, too brightly. “For protection and holding back misfortune. You can put her in the hallway, and she’ll bless people who pass through the threshold.”

When Maggie had gone, Laura put the figurine on the little table by the front door, and she and Cliff stood there for a moment and looked at it.

“Well,” Laura said.

“It was nice of her to think of us,” Cliff said.

They looked at it for a little while longer. It was about a foot high, and shaped like an egg with a flat bottom, the body smooth with a blue marbled glaze and the face unglazed and rough, the features carved out of the blue clay. Its expression was serene, the eyes slightly downturned, the lips full and neat.

“It looks peaceful,” Laura said.

“It’s calming, I guess,” Cliff said.

They looked at each other from the corners of their eyes.

“Well, anyway,” Laura said.

“Yeah,” Cliff said, and they went back into the kitchen where they still hadn’t finished unpacking the cutlery.

That night, after Laura had switched off all the lights, she came into the hallway and jumped, her heart leaping into her throat.

The goddess was a smooth black shape on the table, but the sudden light from a car outside shone through the glass, throwing shadows under the goddess’ features so they leapt free, seemingly mobile and alive.

Laura let out a long breath. “Fuck,” she said, and carried on up the stairs.

* * * * *

The goddess was still there the next morning. At this time of day the light was clear and bright and honest, and the goddess seemed to shine with a special glow, the marbling on the glaze rippling in the early warm sunshine. Laura smiled to herself, and carefully ran her fingertip over the goddess’ smooth sleek side.

Cliff was on the phone in the kitchen, but he hung up when she came in.

“Who was that?” she asked, sitting down at the kitchen table.

“Just Lorraine, the agent.” He stood behind her chair and slid his hands down the sides of her face, then her shoulders. She tilted her head back to look at him, and he smiled down at her, kissed her quickly.

“Love you,” he said.

“Love you,” she said, and pulled him down for another kiss.

* * * * *

They’d gone out for a drink with Julie and Sam. Julie asked whether they had unpacked everything, Sam asked if they’d got many housewarming presents; and then Laura was telling them about the goddess.

“It’s just, it’s a weird present to give someone, I guess. But it’s so well made, it’s really a work of art, it’s just—”

“It’s bloody creepy, is what it is,” Cliff said.

Laura looked at him, startled. “I didn’t know you thought it was that bad.”

“Oh come on.” He laughed. “It is so creepy. I don’t know what Maggie was thinking giving it to us. We’re not soy milk and amethyst types, and we don’t need a lump of clay to protect the house or hold off evil or whatever.”

“I think it’s really pretty,” Laura said.

“You said it was weird.”

“Well, yeah, I did, but now I really like it.”

Cliff rolled his eyes. “Fine. But it’s fucking creepy, and I don’t like it.”

Laura took a long drink from her purple gin.

* * * * *

When they got back home, Cliff gestured to the goddess on her table. “Look at it. Come on.”

“Yeah, alright, I get it, you think it’s creepy and weird.” Laura sat down on the stairs to unlace her shoes.

“It’s not just that I think it is, it actually is.” Cliff nudged the goddess so hard it toppled over. He caught it and thumped it back upright.

“Cliff!” Laura shoved him out of the way and ran her hands over the goddess’ flanks. “Fuck’s sake.”

“Oh come on.”

“No, don’t tell me to come on.” She rounded on him. “I get it, you don’t like, but I like it, and it was a present, and you don’t have to be a dickhead about it.”

Cliff gave her a swift angry look, then shoved past her and went upstairs. The bathroom door banged shut, and she heard the shower start running. Laura sighed, and sat back down on the stairs to tug at her laces. She glanced up, and the goddess’ blue face was very calm.

The atmosphere was cool for the rest of the evening, and that night Cliff drew away from her in the bed and slept with his arms wrapped around himself, his head buried deep in the pillow.
Laura stared up at the ceiling through the darkness, and thought about crying.

* * * * *

The goddess wasn’t in her normal place the next morning. She was too close to the edge of the table, dangerously close to overbalancing. Laura couldn’t work out if that was just because Cliff had put her back in a different position last night, or if this was a new act of aggression. She set her back against the wall, turning her face up to the light.

* * * * *

It became a ritual, one Laura hardly realised she was taking on. Every morning the goddess would be out of place. Sometimes off-centre, sometimes perilously close to the table’s edge, sometimes turned all the way around so she was facing the wall. Every morning Laura would readjust her, turn her face to the light, gently touch her smooth blue sides.

One morning she came downstairs, and the goddess was lying on the floor, face down. When Laura picked her up, there was a fine crack in the marble glaze.

Laura went into the kitchen where Cliff was eating jam on toast. She put the goddess down on the table.

“Morning,” Cliff said.

“What the fuck?” Laura said. “Look, okay, you don’t like it, but this is ridiculous. How old are you, five?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Cliff said, chewing toast.

Laura made an inarticulate noise of frustration. “Look, if it bothers you this much, fine, alright, we’ll get rid of it, if only so I can have some peace around here.” She stamped on the bin pedal and dropped the goddess in. The lid clanged back down again. “There! Are you happy now?”

She grabbed her shoes and stormed out.

* * * * *

She stayed out late that night, going to the pub with her friends after work, putting her phone on silent, not even checking social media. When she came back to the house, it was almost midnight.
It took her a moment to realise what was different, what was missing, and then she remembered the goddess. She went into the kitchen and opened the bin, but it was empty, filled with nothing but a brand new liner. She turned around, and saw the note on the kitchen table. She sat down and opened it.

Dear Laura,

I tried to phone you but you didn’t pick up. This isn’t working anymore. Whatever was keeping us together just feels like it’s gone now, and I don’t see any point in prolonging the inevitable. Lorraine and I are going to build a new life together. I don’t care what you’re going to do with your life, I just don’t want it to contain me.

Cliff

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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