At night, what sounds came up through the floorboards when you were a child?

For me, the peace before sleep would sound like a loud conversation, muffled — the occasional thud of the kitchen table with a rattle of uncleared plates — getting louder, falling soft, like a rhythm.

A dog might bark.

I could never catch what was being said.

Back and forth — two distinct voices. One louder, one softer — swapping — shouting — a plate shatters — screaming — me pleading, whispering, stop.

Some nights, I’d hide under the covers. 

Other nights, I’d hide under the bed. 

I remember a few times, I hid in the box room (which was attached to my room) and buried myself in deep. 

Occasionally, a brave 5 or 6 year old me would creep to the bannister and peer down. 

I know of at least one time when I went downstairs and peered through the crack in the door and watched.

Thwack, a very fleshy sound.

And then the back door would slam and the crying would start.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently — broken homes and the anger involved — and it’s 30 years later and I’m surprised with how much I remember. 

I remember those bannisters. I remember looking down between them at the hallway below. I remember how they felt on my head. Two bars of pressure. Comforting. 

I remember listening and hearing. I remember the feel of their shouting — my wince at his rage! I remember cowering, my knees by my chin, confused — are they arguing about me?

I remember comforting my mother if I hadn’t run back to bed.

I remember the sadness that swept me off to sleep. 

What I remember most, though, is the feeling that this was normal. 

Oh, and of course, my wish to be the child whose parents had died in a tragic accident.

Tomos James