The rain spattered softly onto the stacks of bin bags outside the old terraced house. The summer downpour had driven away the flies, and a lone spider clung to the underside of the windowsill as stubbornly as the flaking red paint. Cars sped by, spitting at the stray mongrel drinking from the gutter. The street lamp glowed orange against the darkening blue sky, its reflection bouncing across the wet pot-holed tarmac, like a pebble skipping across a pond, before settling on the roof of a battered Ford. The house itself was silent.
Inside, a lone man slouched, his sagging face illuminated now and again by the muted, flickering television. His peaceful morning in the shed had been ruined by an afternoon that brought him nothing but stress. First came a gas bill which he knew was twelve pounds too dear. Then he spotted last night’s dirty teacups sitting in the sink. He took his frustration out on the lawn. His mood much improved, he tramped back inside, careful to deposit his grassy gardening boots on the doormat. Newspaper stepping stones led the way to the kitchen, where the teacups had been joined by a glass and a plate. He ground his teeth. Would it really kill her to clean up after herself? He could hear her, on the phone, tittering away without a care in the world. He leaned forwards against the worktop, his hands gripping the edge. Sugar! She had spilled sugar and not cleaned up. Did she want an ant invasion? The sugar stuck to his fingers, coarse and gritty. He couldn’t stand the feel of it. He scrubbed at his hands, rinsing off the last of it under the tap.
The confrontation hadn’t gone well but it was history now. Peace reigned at last. After a thorough clean of the kitchen and a quick shower, he settled down in his armchair for his favourite programme. Somewhere between Gardener’s World and John Betjeman’s Metro-Land, his aching muscles had relaxed, his thoughts had stilled and he had drifted into sleep to the sound of the rain. He didn’t hear the hungry mongrel tearing at the bin bags outside, nor see its wagging tail as it dashed away satisfied, a woman’s arm clamped tightly in its jaw.