Gill’s ‘Something Overheard’ conjures an atmosphere of menace from the start:
I was checking my bank statement, staring glumly at the dismal state of my finances, when it started again. First his raised voice, then the thump and clatter as the dish or mug or whatever was slung from the table, quickly followed by the sound of moving furniture and the cry of the woman as flesh met flesh. Then silence until the slam of the door caused objects to shake in my kitchen and my teeth and hands to clench in sympathy for her.
It has been this way this since I moved into the flat some two months ago: the regular Saturday night – and occasional Sunday morning – domestics from my neighbours. Since moving in I had rarely seen her, and then only a glimpse as she put out the milk bottles. I wondered if he kept her prisoner. If I ever met HIM, the brute, he would push past me on the landing as if I were just as irrelevant as I imagined he thought her and most women to be.
I wished that I could avoid hearing these acts of violence from next door, but I was too wary of this neighbourhood to venture out on any night. My circumstances were that my mother, who I had cared for most of my adult life, had finally succumbed to the disease that had wasted her body and mind for so long, leaving me with no job prospects and no home, her funeral expenses eating up the last of her depleted savings. I had never known my father, who left for another woman shortly after my birth. The council had given me this place, far away on the wrong side of the city: a rundown flat, eight floors up with a few sticks of furniture and sitting tenants that scuttled about, thankfully, mostly at night. I had long ago lost contact with friends from school; I don’t think my circumstances suited their lifestyle and ambitions.
I did not hear him return that night, which was unusual as he would generally stumble and swear, interrupting his rendition of some song heard on the pub jukebox that night. More slamming doors and cussing would follow. Perhaps he had fallen into a ditch or, better still, the river. I determined to speak with her the next day while he was out to offer some sisterhood, although I doubted it would be received.
In the morning I unchained my door and peeked outside, where, to my surprise, she stood, staring over the railings at the murky skyline. I coughed quietly and she turned a bruised and worn face toward me. But she was smiling and urged, “Please come in and have a cuppa with me.” To my surprise, she led the way into her kitchen, switched on the kettle and spoke: “He’s gone, you know, dead drunk in more ways than one, stabbed 20 times at least.” She took my hand in her blood-stained one and laughed. “‘E always said I’d be the death of ‘im.”