Stepping by Simon Webster

I curse the creak. I’m up the steps and out but he opens the door. I look up at him, he looks down at me and he says, You going out? and I know he means, Where are you going? so I say, I have to get the milk. There are cracks in my voice I’ve not noticed before. My mouth’s closed and my tongue’s moving about inside. He’s seven stone steps away. I’m not within his reach but I’m close enough to see the hairs up his nose. I can’t smell his morning breath but I can see all his crow feet. He’s scratching his arse like he always scratches his arse. His trousers are baggy and made of this thin striped cloth and I don’t know if they’re trousers or pyjamas. I never say it. I never say it because I know they are trousers. He wears nothing in bed.

I have my hand on the top of the black gate. The fingers of my left hand are wrapped around the historic metal that has browned and rusted and has been painted over and the rust has burst through the paint and it has been painted over, again and again it has been painted over. My fingers are wrapped around the top of the gate. I can feel the cracks from layers of paint applied through history. Sharp edges biting into my palm privately. The gate sits at the top of the stairs that lead down to my basement flat. The lock is gone on it. The hinges are stiff and I can close it shut even though there’s no lock. It creaks. It’s not a loud creak but there’s a vibration that comes with it and that vibration rattles through the black railings and into the seven stone steps that lead to his front door. My leaving vibrates into the rest of the house, where he lives, and shakes him awake. I curse the creak of the black gate.

I’ve got milk, he says and the moment I felt the creaking I heard him say, I’ve got milk. Before he opened the huge door at the top of the seven stone steps I heard him say it. The door is wood. The wood is painted yellow. Bad weather has eaten into it, has gnawed into the bottom of it, eaten the yellow paint. Redness is peeking through even on a beautiful Spring morning such as this. He loves his door. He loves possessing the main door to the house. He loves possessing, possessing the things he loves. He is standing there scratching his arse with his right hand and the fingers of his left hand are wrapped around the edge of the historic wood. Beyond his scratching, probing fingers I can see the carpeted steps that go down to the basement, my basement, his steps that end at my door that I don’t use any more. His side of my door. I clean my side, the inside. I use kitchen roll and window cleaner because I like the smell. The window cleaner is green and I spray it on my side of my door and I eat away at the surface layer of dirt. I’m left with sodden balls of kitchen roll paper at my feet. It fills the black plastic bin bag in my kitchenette. I try not to think of the other side of my door, his side. I hope he cleans it but I know he doesn’t. I tell myself he does but I know he doesn’t. I try not to think of his side but I do. Sometimes I can hear him breathing.

I’ve got milk, he says, Come and get it. He means, Do you want to come and get it but he says, Come and get it. The gate holds on to my left hand and it will not let me go. I will the seven stone steps before me to sink into the ground so I would need a ladder. The huge door would help me too and slam itself shut if he wasn’t holding it open. This house has always helped me, is on my side when my body is not. I have to get the milk, that’s what I say. If only I’d said, I have to get milk. Calling it The Milk makes it something shared between us. I’ve run out of milk, that’s what I thought. I boiled the water for coffee. I need coffee. It’s another addiction. I’ve run out of milk. I opened the back door that’s become my front door. The back door at the front of the house and I climb the steps that lead to the gate. I’ve run out, I think, I’ve run out. I curse the creak of the black gate.

You going out? I have to get The Milk. I’ve got milk, come and get it.

I should’ve said Milk, not The Milk. I should’ve said, I’m running out to get milk. He wouldn’t have stopped me then. So shocked with the image of me running he would’ve just stood in silence scratching his arse, watching me run away. I’m running out to get milk, I’ve run out of milk. I have misspoken and my right leg moves forward and my foot lands on the first stone step. My mouth is closed and my tongue is moving about inside. It is flexing at the sides and the tip is running freely about the roof. My mouth is closed and I am bringing air up from my lungs into this space and out through the other exit of my nose. I am trying to feel the cracks in my voice without speaking. The tip of my tongue climbs up the steps it feels on the roof of my mouth. The air from my lungs climbs up the steps it feels in the cracks of my voice. I am in control. I am in full control. I will have milk.

Simon Webster is an Irish writer whose stories have appeared in many journals including Visual Verse and Ellipsis Zine. He is also editor of The Cabinet Of Heed literary journal. Some of his shorter work can be found on his website here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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