‘Finished yet?’ said his brother.
‘I finished an hour ago,’ said Philip.
‘You finished on the day 12 months after.’
Philip adjusted the phone so it was more comfortable.
‘I only had to tidy today.’
Philip looked around the pristine living room. The paint was clean, the furniture new, the carpet and rug deep and the prints on the walls were large and expensive.
On the phone, his brother spoke as if he could see the room. ‘I still think you should have saved the money.’
‘I didn’t want to profit from her death. I have my own money. We had money saved for a holiday in the States. Money is not a problem.’
‘How do you feel now it’s finished?’
‘Like I need to do something else,’ said Philip.
‘Well, think of something cheaper next time. You could throw a party.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘You can’t keep grieving, Philip. You said you had a plan.’
Philip remembered when his brother had revealed that he was worried about Philip coping after the accident.
‘I was told,’ Philip had said, ‘that you should allow as a recovery period a month for every year you were together.’
Philip and his wife had lived together for 12 years.
‘I will completely refurbish the house,’ he had explained. ‘I will build a new garage, conservatory and study.’
‘You aren’t a builder, Philip,’ his brother had said.
‘I will learn. It will take me 12 months. It will take my mind off her, and in a year I should be strong.’
The refurbishment had been successful. Philip had acquired new skills, and the house was impressive although he had spent so much time working that he had lost touch with friends.
‘I’d like a look,’ said his brother.
‘Not today,’ said Philip.
‘Perhaps today,’ said his brother.
‘You think I’m going to do something stupid?’
‘I’d like to see what it looks like.’
‘Something really odd has happened,’ said Philip.
He heard his brother pause between breaths.
Philip said, ‘I was taking some rubbish to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden.’
‘You have a compost heap?’
‘I do now, and a barbecue.’
‘You hate them.’
‘Michelle always wanted one, so I put one in as a memory.’
‘That worries me, Philip,’ said his brother. ‘You haven’t built a mausoleum?’
‘I was walking back from the bottom of the garden when I saw it in the grass.’
‘You saw what, Philip?’
‘My wedding ring.’
‘This worries me,’ said his brother.
‘We had the big argument that night, before she ran out the house.’
‘Before the car crash?’
‘Before,’ said Philip. ‘The argument finished with me throwing the ring out the kitchen window and in the back garden.’
‘Well, we all do things in temper.’
‘She hated me for what I had said but she still looked for that ring.’
‘You should have helped her, Philip.’
‘I did but I didn’t look as long as Michelle did. It was hopeless. It must have been past midnight. Michelle was screaming and crying. I told her it was a waste of time. I’ve looked for it since and never seen any sign until today. It had fallen on the ledge behind the wooden skirting around the lawn. I saw it in a crack in the wood, shining in the sun.’
His brother said nothing, breathed slowly.
‘If I’d kept looking for the ring, who knows? If I’d looked properly.’
‘She’d have still dashed off in a temper. Be honest, Philip, this woman was not perfect.’
‘No,’ said Philip, ‘it wasn’t a load of fun.’
‘It must have been a terrible death. She would have gone up in flames.’
‘Philip, where’s the ring now?’
‘I’m wearing it.’
‘That worries me, Philip. I think I should come over.’
‘It’s too soon for a house inspection. Spooky, isn’t it?’
‘I knew it would be like this as soon as you’d finished,’ said his brother.
‘You didn’t know I’d find the ring.’
‘Philip, put the ring somewhere safe. Imagine if you lost it again.’
‘I’ll put it in the drawer.’
They said goodbye. Before Philip had married Michelle, the two brothers had been close friends but Michelle knew how to make his brother sound silly, and the relationship between the men had become formal. Philip put the phone back in the cradle and took the ring off his finger. He walked through to the kitchen and the large expensive table in the middle of the floor. He pulled out a giant drawer and put the ring inside. Despite the strong sunshine at the back of the house, he suddenly felt cold. He put the ring back on his finger and walked back into the living room where he sat on a sofa. He thought again about that terrible night. After Michelle had slammed the front door, the car had disappeared within seconds.
In the living room, wearing the ring, he was warm again. The living room had suddenly acquired a yellow glow from extra sunshine. Philip looked at his hands. He was beginning to sweat. He rubbed the back of his neck and was surprised by how damp he felt.
The room needed some cool air so Philip tried to open a window. The windows refused to move, and Philip cursed the new double-glazing he had installed. He stepped into the hall. A draught from the front door would help, he thought. Like the window, the door would not budge. The door in the kitchen led to the new double garage. The handle would lever but the door stayed put inside the frame. Philip tried all the windows. None would open. He realised he was afraid. Philip recalled how he felt when he first began refurbishing the house and doubted whether he would be capable. He tried both doors again and all the windows. The handles moved but nothing opened. He was sweating more than before. He sat down on a sofa to think. He gathered all the keys he had and put them on the kitchen table. He tried every door and window with each key even though he knew it was something else causing them not to open. The house was becoming warmer, and he sweated more. His watch said 12.15. The day was now really hot. He sat at the huge kitchen table and stared at the door to the garage. All his tools were in the garage. If he had his tools, perhaps he could prise a lock.
Philip was so warm he removed his shirt. He saw his body in the mirror. The work on the house had made him lean and strong. He had not told his brother but he had thought that the next year he might make his own body a project.
Philip looked around him. The warm yellow light had spread throughout the house. Philip imagined he was living in another country or even a continent, remote South America. He tried to escape, threw furniture at the windows. He was unable to cause a crack, not even a scratch. Philip took off the ring. The house became cool, and he attempted again to break out. He hurled the base of one of his bedroom table lamps against the windows. The house was invincible. He sat down again on one of the new sofas. He saw goose pimples on his arms and put his shirt on again. He still felt cold, so Philip put the ring back on his finger. He decided that if he had to be helpless, he should at least be warm. The yellow glow returned to the house, and Philip imagined again that he was in another continent, some welcome oblivion where he would soon be forgotten.
His brother did visit the house that day but only after the police had called. There was nothing left. In front of one of the fire engines that blocked the street, a fireman told his brother that everything had perished in the fire.
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