AIDA AUSTIN: ‘Silence falls, then a strange staccato sound fills the room’

HOME, 7pm, up in the cabin and our architect has just left. My husband and I are sitting at the kitchen table, scrutinising three sets of floor-plans.

“I like this one,” I say, pulling out drawing 3, “it incorporates all the elements I want there to be in our new house. Look, I can put all my frames on that long wall, there.” But I am talking to the top of his head, which for some reason is deeply bowed over his knees.

“I like that one too,” he says from underneath the table.

“I’m just looking for my phone,” he says, producing his phone and placing it on the table, “I want to keep an eye on the time. The Naked Choir is on at nine.”

“I want to show you bits I’ve added to the drawings,” I say, “like — that’s where your container is going to go. In the link area between the existing cabin and the new part.”

“What container?”

“Your personal storage space. A big box. Behind doors. For aIl your sports stuff. Out of sight, out of mind.

“And when you come into that link area,” I continue, “you turn left, through that door for the Manchester United sitting room and right, through that door, for Radio-4-slash-silent sitting room. His and hers. Perfect.”

“What about my bikes?” he says, “I can’t put bikes in a box.” “They’re going in a shed.” “What shed?” “That one there,” I say, pointing at a squiggle.

“That’s nearly off the map,” he says.

“Exactly.” “Where’s our bedroom?” “Over there,” I say.

“What’s that?” he says, pointing at a squiggle I have drawn beside the bed.

“The big stone bust,” I say. He looks blank.

“The one beside our bed now. That’s been in our bedroom for 20 years.” “And what’s that?” he says, pointing at another identical squiggle in another room.

“That’s the other stone bust. It’s going in bedroom three, the one off the Radio-4-slash-silent sitting room. That will be where I flee when you get too much.” “What do you mean by too much?” he says, with an astonishment that’s so authentic, it quite takes the wind out of my sails.

8.55pm. Down in the house. My husband is trying to persuade me to watch Gareth Malone audition groups of a capella singers in The Naked Choir. “Only if you swear on your life not to sing or hum,” I capitulate finally.

“It’s awful not being able to sing,” he says, “if I had a voice, there’d be no stopping me.” “Swear on your life now, right here in the kitchen.” “I swear,” he says.

9.30pm. Gareth Malone is not happy with one of the group’s vocal arrangements. It’s too complicated, he feels. “Just because you can do it,” Gareth admonishes, “doesn’t mean you should do it. Look what happened with Jurassic Park.” “Think of that whenever you are tempted to sing out loud,” I say.

11pm. We are in bed, lights off.

11.01pm. My husband is humming.

“You swore,” I say, “on your life.” Silence falls, then a strange staccato sound fills the room.

“Whatever you’re doing,” I say, “stop it.” “You never said anything about beat-boxing,” he says, ramping up the beat.

The bed judders in time to the beat.

“This is not ‘too much’ at all,” I say.

Another silence descends. After half a minute, its quality changes; it feels less brittle, more settled. I turn over and close my eyes. Perhaps thoughts of bedroom three are sobering him.

“COME ON,” he shouts suddenly, “we can do a capella. You do the singing part, I’ll do the beat-boxing. Pick a tune.” “No.” “I know,” he says, “Jimmy Sommerville,” and suddenly, terribly, my husband is serenading me in a high falsetto, and I mustn’t leave him this way-ay-ay aay, because he can’t survive, or stay alive without my love. No baby.

11.03pm. His heart is full of love and desire for me. So I’ve got to come on down and do what I’ve got to do because I’ve started this fire down in his soul and now it’s burning out of control. He’s got me in a corner with his falsetto. There’s nothing for it.

11.04pm. The bed is juddering. My husband is beat-boxing. And I have taken over the singing part.


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