That

A prose poem.

That

All afternoon the tank fills, as, drip-by-drip, the faulty valve lets in more water.

In the yard, the family goes about its business:

Mother hangs washing, mutters over grimy collars, threadbare sheets. Jack kicks the ball on the flagstones – that for the wall, that for the ball bouncing back, a whack on the shin, a stifled yelp. Jill sits on the coalshed roof, saying nought as she picks the crumbs from a slice of bread. No school today. It’s the summer, and kids roam the streets – but not these two.

At four o’clock, the first little spurt – no more than a tearfall, a wetness on the stone, like a blotting paper stain; and Jack looks up at the overflow, dodges the dribble, kicks his ball to the other side of the drain. That for the wall, that for the ball bouncing back, a whack on the chest, another on the mouth. Jill looks up, a fret of crumbs on her lap, a hole in her frock from climbing the shed. Mum’ll give her one for that. The little talk on women’s things does not exempt her from that.

Mum sweeps the lino, prepares tonight’s rehashed dish of Sunday roast.

The water’s peeing from the thin pipe overhead. Jill watches as the little stream soaks the flags like bedsheets. Jack skirts the problem, skidding round it, playing a game with it, getting wet, laughing.

Mum runs the tap, the dribble stops, for now. She has a ritual – let out some water once an hour to keep the level down, and she ignores the drip, drip drip drip drip that goes on all the while. Mostly it’s all right, it stops for a bit – a week, perhaps, then starts again. Today, she forgot to run the tap, too much going on. The ground below is mossy green, treacherous. A flabby washer, a leaking ballcock – simple to fix. It’s something Jill’s dad could do if he chose. Mum’s asked him often enough – threatens to get a plumber in, but they cost. She looks at the clock – the hand reaching up. She’ll hear the gate open at six o’clock, get that feeling of heartsink. Jack’ll scoot off and miss his tea, but he’ll get one for that. And Jill – she’s sat there all day, what use is a girl who moons about, tears her frock, won’t talk, let alone help her? As useful as knife without a fork. The big hand grabs the twelve.

That for the wall, that for the ball bouncing back, that for the rattle of a garden gate, that for a slow, slow drip – that for a knife without a fork.

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