We sat. All six of us. Glaring at the TV, the news never seemed to stop. Another confirmed case. Another death. Another ‘reassurance’. Bright flickering lights permeated the room, trapping our gaze, sucking our souls.
I should look away…
We continued to sit. The whole family. TV blaring, the news ever vigilant. But they kept repeating themselves. The air was stale and stagnant. Suffocating.
I should open a window…
We sat still for hours. Even together, we were isolated. Time blurred. As if we’d been staring for an eternity and we’d only just sat down all at the same time.
Suddenly, my brother stood and ‘play’ had been pressed on the room. Without a word, he ran to the cupboard and began rummaging through it. How he still had so much energy I could barely fathom. When he turned around, he held Monopoly in his hands.
“It’s Friday!” He beamed. He smiled only half-heartedly but still strong enough to bring the world back into tune.
“Games night,” my mum croaked and I was sure I hadn’t heard her voice in weeks.
“Well, go on. Set it up then,” my step-dad heaved. Then he turned off the TV…
They engulfed the room. Things I once feared made me smile. I didn’t know such things could be so freeing. Finally, I let go of the breath that I’d been holding since the lockdown began.
A rough hand placed itself on my shoulder and I stiffened. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be touched. Following the trail to his face, I saw my fiancé.
When did he sit there? I couldn’t help but wonder. Nevertheless, I softened. It’s strange how love does these things.
Slowly, we gathered around the table and each chose a piece. My brother, Zac, chose the dog. My sister, Mary, chose the thimble. My fiancé, Daniel, the top hat. My mother, the shoe. Finally, my step-dad chose the car and I was claimed ‘banker’.
Mum made it around the board first, her shoe running the track, and bought Whitechapel Road. Mary passed Go only moments later and landed straight on Mum’s property.
“You sunk my battleship,” Mary joked before handing Mum the money. The whole room erupted into a roar of laughter and the tension of weeks seemed to dissipate.
On we played, buying houses, losing money, making jokes, until disaster struck. Daniel landed on Dad’s property. After buying so many properties in the beginning, his luck had twisted when he kept landing on everyone else’s. Now, he was bankrupt.
“I guess I’m out,” Daniel laughed, cutting through the thickening air. I smiled and kissed his cheek as he handed me his playing piece.
“Better luck next time, baby.”
“I’m hardly surprised,” my father’s tone was uncharacteristically dark, “reckless with your money as always. What can you expect from a child.”
“Dad, can you not?” Zac intervened and played his turn, “Ah fuck, back in jail again.” He forced a chuckle but no one else joined. Daniel frowned. The room went cold. I tried to hold his hand but he smacked it away. I could hear his blood boiling.
“And what would you know about it?” Challenging, he towered over my father. Daniel was never one to back down from a fight.
God, I wish he would.
Glaring back, my father stood. Eye to eye. I felt thousands of bugs crawl beneath my skin.
“I know you’ve made my daughter penniless and it’s forced you both to move back here.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I did what I had to do!”
“A leech! That’s all you are! You sucked her dry and now you’ll try to suck me dry too! I won’t abide by your tomfoolery and gambling.”
“Gambling! Is that really what you think of me?” I shot out of my seat so fast my head was spinning.
“Dad, please!” I put myself between them and Dad’s fiery eyes glowered at me now. Overcome with weakness, I looked away. “Can we just play the game?”
“No, Natasha! He used you! Stupid, fucking idiot.” Moving me out of the way, he made a pass at Daniel. In a blur of movements, I found myself on the ground watching as they fought. Zac jumped up too, trying to force them apart. Mum conveniently wasn’t in the room.
“Stop it, please! It’s my fault!” Mary interrupted. All heads turned to her. I half expected to see her back down the way she would when we were younger but she stood her ground. Her face was taught with guilt and determination.
“Mary, don’t.” Dan tried to protect her. Mum returned with snacks and a smile, both instantly falling to the floor at the sight in front of her. She froze.
“I can’t let you take the fall for this anymore. It’s not right.” She was insistent. I felt my heart fall in my chest as she stood and turned to Dad. “It’s my fault, Daddy. Dan was just trying to help me. I should have told you. I’m sorry.”
Releasing Dan from his hold, Dad moved quickly to his youngest child. His most precious.
“What do you mean? Are you okay? Are you in debt? If you need help, you can come to us.” He checked her over then bewildered held out his arms to her, inviting. Mary took a step back. Her eyes refusing to meet his.
“No. I didn’t want to tell you.” Her guard came up. I could hardly blame her, but the wall she’d built around her heart was made of clay and slowly melting down.
“Mary-“ I couldn’t stop her.
“I needed a lawyer. So they got me a lawyer. It’s fine.”
“What did you do, Mary?” Dad barked, not skipping a beat, and the interrogation began. “Did you get caught taking drugs at one of those godforsaken clubs? Did you get into a damned fight? Or were your drunken escapades just all it took for you to get arrested? Huh? Answer me, damn it!”
“Reg, that’s not fair…” Mum’ barely managed to whisper. She went to comfort Mary but before she could Mary spoke.
“I was assaulted, Daddy!” Tears slid quietly down her face. Her slight frame trembling. I wanted to hold her, but I knew it would do no good. I wasn’t who she needed validation from. We waited for him to say something. Anything. The silence got too loud. “I- I mean… It was my fault. You’re right. I was drunk, at a club. I- I shouldn’t have worn what I did. I should have stopped him. I- I should, I didn’t, It’s all my fault.”
“Don’t say that,” I begged.
“It’s not your fault, Mary,” Dan soothed.
But our praise fell on deaf ears. In that moment, we’d all forgotten.
“No.” She ran out the door.
“MARY!” Mum had found her voice. Dan followed her to the door but froze in its frame. The air stilled again and we remembered. Suddenly, the dark wasn’t comforting anymore. Muffled conversation forced its way through the walls.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m sorry, I-“
“Don’t get any closer!”
“Please, I need-“
The piercing shot echoed through the house. Dad turned the TV on.