Break, break, break
‘Shit! Bloody impossible to roll a spliff when you’ve got gloves on.’
‘So don’t. Don’t even try. I’m telling you – keep those fucking gloves on, and forget about a joint.’
‘But what? Take those bits of magazine with you, and the book cover. They’re for later. That’s it – just stuff them in your pocket.’
‘A Prayer for Every Day.’
‘That’s what the book’s called. The one that hasn’t got a cover any more.’
‘Yeah, it looks kind of naked. Serves it bloody well right. I hate religion.’
‘No need to throw it on the floor.’
‘It can keep that photo company.’
‘You certainly enjoyed chucking it off the table.’
‘Made me want to puke. I hate weddings.’
‘Would have been a laugh to sit here and chill…’
‘I told you. We gotta keep our minds on the job. And leave no traces.’
‘The window’s open. There’s a fucking gale in here. Look at the way all that… what is that stuff?’
‘Let’s have a sniff. Oh, you know, it’s that crap women put in rooms to make them smell nice. Must’ve been in that bowl you smashed.’
‘We could try it in the spliff.’
‘Will you shut the fuck up about that spliff? Perhaps the bowl was valuable.’
‘But like I’m saying… the wind’ll blow the smell away.’
‘What? This stuff?’
‘No, you cretin. The smell of weed.’
‘Christ, will you…? And what about bits that get dropped? Traces of spit?’
‘Anyway, can’t do it in gloves.’
‘So they’re God squad people here? I’d like to see the look on their stupid faces when they come in and find all this. That photo over there – Mummy, Daddy, kid looking like a hobbit – it’s getting on my nerves.’
‘I think it’s her graduation.’
‘Right, that’s it. Knock it over, will you?’
She knows something is wrong the moment she walks through the door of the flat. At her feet lies something brown, wooden. She turns it over. That beautiful photo of Alice on the beach. It must have fallen off the ledge. But how? And what’s that confetti-like trail on the stairs? Red confetti. It seems to be goading her to keep climbing – and she already knows what she’s going to find. The bookcase, from whose ledge the picture of Alice fell, blocks her view until, at the top of the staircase, she rounds the corner. And there’s the sitting room. It lies before her and at her feet like a wounded lover. It has been lacerated.
The early evening light smiles through the south-facing window, oblivious to the carnage it illuminates; or mocking it. She drops her bag and takes a step forward. Pieces of white wooden shutter have been felled to the ground. She can see through the window that more shattered shuttering strews the balcony. The painting Rob did a few years ago of the family sitting round the table in their old house – that’s been torn from the wall. The small oil landscape she bought for Phil hangs crooked, a see-through plastic wallet protruding from behind like escaped underwear. All stripped out, the contents of the upper shelf of the CD cabinet scatter the floor. The lower shelf remains curiously untouched. The tall pillar candle with the garden flower design Jack gave her for Christmas lies by a broken shutter. It has been hurled a long way. Amongst the detritus of CDs and DVDs she spots the remains of the yellow dish the family bought in Barcelona when they were there on her birthday. When was that? Fourteen or fifteen years ago. She sees instantly that its jagged edges can never ever be fitted back together. And nearby, hiding its humiliation beneath Bach’s violin concertos, crouches the porcelain bowl her late mother-in-law gave her, smashed into two pieces. It’s broken along its crack – the crack which, so she’s learned, makes it worth very little, despite the Royal Copenhagen crest.
She’s filled and re-filled that bowl with pot pourri. So this is the red confetti that now lies sprinkled all over the carpet like the spores of some vile plague. Its colour reminds her that it was a ‘Christmas’ mixture. She bends down to feel a scrap. Dry as a crisp. And then she’s on her knees, picking up the CD that’s been flung far away from its companions. Summer of Love. The piece of paper detailing its contents has been pulled out of the plastic case and torn in half.
Then, remembering that she mustn’t touch anything, she quickly straightens up. It’s tempting – necessary, even – to re-arrange the family photos, all of which have been flipped over, only the back of the frames visible. But she manages not to. Instead, unable to look any more, she turns her back on the scene. Wanton destructiveness, she tells herself. God forgive them. With surprise, she registers that the bedroom, potential trove of money and jewellery, seems untouched.
Somewhere to sit down, at last.
They must have come in through the French window at the front, she realises. The lock never has been very reliable. They evidently closed it behind them when they left. How polite. But to scale a fifth-floor balcony? They’d always imagined their height makes them safe.
Are they still out there?
She pulls her mobile out of her coat pocket and, for the first time in her fifty-nine years, dials 999
It’s been a hard climb over the roof. Getting up the fire escape at the back was easy – though, it being the middle of the day, they had to keep checking for busybodies. But to be on the roof of a building – what? Six storeys up? And in such strong winds, too. Just as well neither of them has a fear of heights.
It’s difficult, too, to jump lightly onto the balcony, but they do their best. His ankle’s now sore from a bad landing. As he suspected, the lock on the French windows is useless: all that exposure has warped the wood, and it’s no challenge at all to wriggle his gloved fingers between the two doors and prise them open. It’s been raining, and he feels the damp on the soles of his shoes smear the step as they enter.
Immediately he knows they’re not going to come away with much. A sea-view apartment in a Regency building… They assumed the owners must be wealthy, and the place teeming with treasures. Instead, they find themselves pitched into a narrow sitting room which runs alongside the three windows and speaks, not of affluence, but gentle eccentricity. He feels prickled by an atmosphere of inward-looking cosiness. On the lemon-coloured walls hang several paintings which might be valuable, but that’s not something he knows about. In any case, how are they going to clamber back over that roof with a haul of oil paintings? Still, there could be things hidden at the back of the frames – banknotes, drugs (though his instincts here tell him the latter is unlikely).
‘Have a look behind the pictures. See if you can find anything.’
On a window shelf and along the skirting board a trail of objets trouvés skulks silently: sea-shells, pebbles, the jawbone of some small creature, the skull of one still smaller… From every other surface, cheerful faces smile at them from framed photos. Opening his gloved hand, he takes a swipe. One; two; three; four; five. They tumble flat, crashing onto their smug faces. The picture of a teenage girl in a hairband snapped on the beach he flings into the stairwell, waiting for the thud of its landing. No sound of broken glass, so it must be plastic. And he checked the frame before he threw: fake silver. He spots a large wooden-framed photo on the table: looks like the same girl, a few years older, on her wedding day. That one he flips onto the carpet.
‘Nothing behind this one.’
‘Leave it like that. I can’t stand to look at it.’
He’s registered that it’s a painting of a family, grouped round a table. That girl again. Face down is best.
‘Nothing behind this picture either. I thought there could be something in that plastic whatsit – but no such luck. Bloody useless.’
Suddenly he’s furious. There’s a large candle on the ledge. He hurls it across the room.
‘Too much noise.’
‘I don’t give a shit.’
A yellow dish sits on the CD cabinet, alongside a bowl filled with bits of red stuff that looks like those posh vegetarian crisps he tried once at a party he crashed. It smells sickly sweet. He smashes the bowl; he smashes the dish. Flakes of vegetarian crisp whirl across the room, driven by the wind that pummels through the opened window. The carpet has already taken on the look of some blood-stained horror. The window bangs, and bangs again.
Now they’re scooping CDs and DVDs from the cabinet. Nothing of interest. Nothing hidden behind them at the back of the shelf.
‘What’s a requiem?’
‘Forget the other shelf. What crap taste. The Summer of Love. He breaks it open, slings the offending CD towards the window and, snapping apart its cover, pulls out the paper tucked inside it. The tearing sound makes him take a deep breath: he’s inhaling the fragrance of his own fury.
‘What you do that for?’
‘Fucking love songs. Fucking hate them.’
And now, high on the thrill of destruction, they each tear a shutter from the wall. These didn’t hinder their entry, but they still need to be taught a lesson.
He hurls one onto the balcony and hears it splinter into fragments.
Then, casting his eye over their handiwork, he gives the room one last inspection. Kicks over a footstool.
‘What you doing over there?’
‘Just thought this book cover might come in handy. And these two bits of magazine someone’s torn out.’
‘”The Dilemma of Liberalism.” They’re up their own fucking arses, this lot. OK, we’re going. Stuff them in your pocket.’
That’s all they take. Thoughtfully, he closes the French window behind them. Then delivers one last kick.