ESSAY Jane MacNamee

NWR Issue 119

The Buddha and the Pear

Sometimes we pay too much attention, sometimes not enough. I’d taken the long route home again, back down Penglais hill from the library, not out of curiosity. I was stalling, which I had been doing every day for over a week, since the raid in the flat upstairs. I’d become a bit nervy after that Thursday night, a bit sullied, wondering why people, like the woman in the white baseball cap over there with the bronze foundation, were looking at me, their eyes squinting in judgement, observing me too closely. Stop Staring at Me! She couldn’t have been less interested if she’d tried.

You never quite knew when it was going to start – that was the trouble with upstairs. The anticipation was exhausting. It was one of those ‘everyone saw it coming but no one did anything’ incidents: the occasional then more frequent domestic, swearing, a bit of scuffling late at night, and then all sorts of comings and goings, the tension brewing. Things always sound worse with the lack of soundproofing in our flats, which weren’t originally designed to be flats. No, they once stood like two grand old Victorian ladies, hostesses of a modest boarding house, now red brick and white plinth distressed inside and out, sinking slowly into the sea, skirts ballooning. But what a vista! We have glorious open views to the horizon with the glint of Cardigan Bay ahead, the serenity of scarlet sunsets vandalised, too often of late, by ‘their’ noise. Even the slightest sound from above travels through the floorboards and heavy footfall sends crockery vibrating along the work surfaces in my kitchen.

It wasn’t so much actual violence, as the constant threat of it. I was working late on the computer when it happened, a TV documentary on mute in the background. Curtains closed. It was about 10pm and had been unusually quiet. Without warning, the silence was ruptured by shouting and screaming, a door kicked in, pushing and shoving upstairs and the thudding of heavy feet, running – where? Deep male voices, harsh and threatening, were followed by a young woman screeching above the din, her voice as piercing as she was thin: ‘Leave him alone! Leave him alone!’ My mind was rapidly piecing together an image of the scene upstairs, not wanting to, but forced by the proximity of it, as if I could feel their rapid, agitated breathing on my skin, as if they had fallen through the floorboards to fight it all out in my living room...

Jane MacNamee lives by the coast in Aberystwyth. She has written numerous articles and book reviews for a variety of publications, including New Welsh Review, Resurgence & Ecologist, The Great Outdoors, BBC History, BBC Countryfile and Landscape magazine, on nature, landscape, food and travel. She is currently working on her first book.

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