The seeds made a light pat as they fell out of the junk drawer. Sandy sighed as she bent down to retrieve them, her knees clicking as she did so. Sandy hated sunflower seeds; she thought they were too big and flashy. Her sister had sent them, and so she had promised herself she would find a secluded spot for them somewhere in the garden. But years later she still hadn’t planted them, and now every time the seeds fell out of the crowded drawer, they were an unwanted reminder of the garden, and the broken promises it contained. The garden had looked beautiful the summer she’d given birth to Beth. The Technicolor petals had bathed the living room in a warm reflected glow, but now the garden was a mess, overgrown and neglected. Sandy still loved the garden, and had been meaning to tidy it up, but years had passed since she had last turned over the soil. She wedged the seeds back into the drawer along side dead batteries, instructional booklets for electrical items she no longer owned and Christmas cracker gifts from various forgotten years.
‘Don’t do that honey, you know it annoys me.’
Sandy had placed her hand over Bobby’s fidgety fingers, which were tapping the handle of the trolley as they waited at the checkouts. They still went to the actual shop, as Sandy liked to feel the fruit and vegetables for herself. Sandy knew Bobby hated shopping, but she was adamant that going to the actual shop was better.
‘They palm you off with the rubbish people in the shop don’t want.’
Sandy had based her entire opinion of Internet shopping on one bad peach out of a net bag of a dozen.
‘Honey, don’t do that.’
Sandy shot Bobby a loaded look as he hummed a tune she didn’t recognise. Sandy didn’t like treating her husband like a child, but he was always making some kind of noise: clearing his throat, drumming with his fingers, or fidgeting with things. It drove her nuts, especially when they were in public.
Bobby sensed the molecules had rearranged themselves differently when he entered the bedroom. His wife sat at the dressing table with her back to him.
Sandy looked at him in the mirror.
‘She’s gone out.’
This was always how it started. Sandy picked up on the last thing Bobby said and repeated it.
‘I don’t know. I think she’s with some friends. Don’t make this into a thing.’
Sandy turned to face Bobby. ‘A thing?’
‘It’s not something to worry about, Sandy. If she hasn’t learnt how to look after herself by now, she never will.’
‘So you don’t care if she’s out getting molested by teenaged boys?’
‘Well I’d rather they were teenaged than middle aged.’
This was a mistake. Joking around with Sandy when she was in a mood was a bit like trying to play kiss chase with a lion.
‘It’s always such a joke to you, isn’t it?
Bobby saw Sandy’s face tighten in the mirror like a steel cable under tension.
‘You’re always making out as if I’m flying off the handle for no reason. I care about our child’s wellbeing, Bobby. Does that make me a terrible mother?’
This was of course an impossible question to answer. She always did this, loaded the dice against Bobby so he was forced to pick the worse scenario.
‘Sandy, you’re being ridiculous.’
Sandy got up from the dressing table with a tub of face cream clutched in her hand.
‘I’m being ridiculous? If I’d left it up to you she would never have survived infancy!’
Sandy threw the tub at Bobby. He ducked. The tub thudded into the wall, leaving a semi-circular dent.
‘Jesus, Sandy! Just because I don’t go crazy doesn’t mean I don’t care.’
The tub rolled across the floor and under the bed. Bobby inspected the dent in the wall.
‘That’ll never sand out. I’m going to have to fill that.’ He turned to his wife. ‘Throwing shit at me is really very grown up, isn’t it?’
‘Well, since when did you grow up?’
Sandy’s face had taken on the shade of a poppy.
‘Come on, be reasonable.’
There she went again with the repeating. Bobby walked across the room to try to calm her down, but Sandy had grabbed another pot of cream and threw it at him. The pot thumped him in the chest, hit the floor and burst open, spilling white gunk over the carpet.
‘You never fucking listen to me!’
‘I’m listening to you now, aren’t I!’
‘All you care about are holes in the fucking walls!’
Bobby tried to grab her, but she turned away from him, and swept her arms across the dressing table, dumping everything to the floor, smashing perfume bottles and the china ornaments of ballerinas that had been her mother’s.
He’d been trying to stop her from cutting her bare feet, but her flailing arms resisted his attempts to calm her down. Suddenly his head was bleeding; he’d heard the thud before he’d felt the pain. Maybe it was the sight of the blood dripping onto his shirt that had done it. Sandy wasn’t shouting anymore. She wasn’t shouting because Bobby’s hands were around her throat, pinning her to the oak wardrobe door.
Sandy thought he was just trying to scare her at first, so she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of submitting, but then he started to squeeze her throat. Stars twinkled across Bobby’s face.
Her bare feet were thrashing against the wardrobe door as she tried to gain enough purchase to push him off of her. Her eyes locked onto his as she struggled. Bobby kept squeezing.
She looked into his narrowing eyes, and realised he wasn’t going to let go. Bobby kept squeezing. Now she only had enough air for the first syllable of his name.
Her peripheral vision had started to close in. It was like she was falling down a well, with Bobby’s face becoming smaller and more distance by the second.
Bobby felt Sandy’s slender shoulders go slack, and her white-knuckled fingers flop down to her sides. For the first time in their twenty-one-year marriage, Bobby was in control of her. A bolt of energy surged through his limbs, making him feel taller and stronger. He was in control of her. It wasn’t until he noticed that Sandy’s face had gained a blue tinge that he snapped back to reality. He was killing her. He was killing his wife. Bobby heard Sandy coughing and gasping for breath as he bolted for the doorway.
He tore out of the driveway. His wife’s panicked face nestled between the heads-up display and the weaving road markings. He turned the radio up to distract himself from thinking about how he liked the power, but he couldn’t get his wife’s pleading eyes out of his head. He should have left the house before things had come to that. He should never have allowed her to goad him.
Through her polka dot vision and gasping breath, Sandy heard Bobby’s car tear down the street. She should have called the police, but a thought held her back: Bobby had been such a quiet and reserved man when they first met. She had thought it endearing then, but after twenty-one-years of marriage, never knowing what your husband may be thinking was just bloody irritating. She hadn’t meant to become a tyrannical leader in her own home, but it was easy to rule when there was no opposition. At last though she had cracked him, broken through that outer coating of apathy, or politeness, or whatever it was to get at some real emotion in him. She had never expected him to explode, but as she passed her slender fingers over her scarred belly and stretch marked thighs, she felt a serenity wash over her. Bobby throttling her was the most they’d touched in years. They still slept in the same bed, but they only grazed one another now and then: an elbow, a foot, or a buttock, accidental contact that was swiftly retracted. Maybe it was marriage, or the kids, or just boredom, but over the last ten years they had become virtual strangers to one another.
The sun was just peeking above the surrounding hills when Bobby returned. He’d expected to be met by the police, but the house was dark and still, only the boiler firing up broke the silence. Sandy looked like she was asleep when he entered the room, but when he eased himself into the bed, the antique springs creaking, she rolled over and leaned her head on his shoulder. Bobby lay with his eyes open. He stared up at the shadow of the overgrown trees on the ceiling while his wife’s shallow breaths disturbed the downy hair on his arm.
When Bobby awoke, he’d expected to find a note saying Sandy had gone to her mother’s, but he found her in the garden. She was planting the sunflower seeds her sister had sent her; the seeds she hated. Bobby’s stomach lurched when he noticed the scarf around his wife’s neck. An image of her pleading eyes flashed before him; he quickly blinked it away. Bobby brought Sandy a cup of tea, and they sat on the decking surveying the garden, taking account of the damage for the first time in years. The clematis had overtaken one end of the hedge, and the lawn was choking the stepping-stones that weaved their way through the middle of the garden. They spent the entire day trimming, pruning and hacking the dead away, and by sunset, the garden had been excavated from the overgrown and neglected mess it had once been.