Things Said and Done by Frances Gapper

At night she hears a scratchy skittering, mice inside the wall. An owl hoots in the copse; the mice fall silent. The owl hoots again, close to her ear. It’s him, not an owl. They laugh until he can no longer hoot.

She climbs a field to the road. Passing a lichen-covered slab, she wishes the farmer wouldn’t drive his tractor over it. She heaves up the five-barred gate and wrenches back the spring bolt. Unlocks the post box, its padlock needs some more WD40. Examines the post, it’s just rubbish. Pauses to gaze at the river snaking through the valley.

He watches her descend the muddy track, post in hand. Wonders if that cheque’s arrived yet. Thinks about re-routing the track and paving it, so their car won’t get keep getting stuck.

Off on a work trip, he leaves her a load of chopped firewood. But the kindling is damp, the wood-burning stove hard to light and keep going, so instead she retreats to bed with a hot water bottle. He won’t be pleased. You didn’t use any then, he’ll say.

He remodels the L-shaped kitchen by knocking out a shower room and putting in a support beam. Levels and re-tiles the floor, rips out the skirting boards. Slaps concrete into holes, leaves raw scars.

They try to unfreeze the pipes in the byre under the barn, using her hairdryer and his blowtorch. But the main supply pipe, inadequately buried by a previous owner, is frozen all the way to the spring. They buy drinking water in plastic bottles from the Co-op and she takes a bucket to the river for water to fill the toilet. She grabs trees to stop herself slipping down the bank. Hears his panicked voice calling her.

Between Christmas and New Year: drip drip drip. It’s the kitchen tap, which he’s left turned on a bit so the pipes won’t burst when it thaws. They loop arms, dance round and round.

Watching the snow from their bedroom she remembers the block of flats where they used to live, the lifts with built-in niches for coffins.

Frances Gapper has published three story collections: In the Wild Wood, The Tiny Key and Absent Kisses. Her story ‘Farmer’s Wife’ was shortlisted for the Desperate Literature prize 2019 and published in the shortlist booklet Eleven Stories, while ‘New Ancient Husband’ came second in the 2019 Faversham Lit Fest competition and appears on their website. Her 100-worder ‘Plum Jam’ is included in Best Microfiction 2019.

A pastoral farm with a tractor in a field and a farm house in the distance

Low Cowgap Farm by Oliver Dixon is licensed for use under CC BY-SA 2.0

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