by Jules Whiting

I can’t remember a time
there wasn’t the constant plop, plop
from the demijohns fermenting against the far wall.

Or the TV so loud – even louder when the ads come on –
hammering Mrs Hall’s ears till her hearing-aids screech;
fingernails on a blackboard,

and Mr Hall eating his packet of cheese and onion crisps.
Some he licks, they squelch, others he cracks
under the pressure of his gummy mouth.

Summer or winter, their legs are patterned together
in front of the hissing gas fire, which every so often
sputters and spits back dust or a fly.

The undouble-glazed windows do nothing
to mute a kicked football pulsing the back wall
or the restlessness of the neighbours’ doors.

Packaged in plastic and paper, I rustle in
from the kitchen, pop pills from the blister packs
on to matching Crown Derby saucers.

There you go, that’s me done.
Then there’s the slight ticking-snap
of my apron straps as I pull free of plastic.

The click of key-safe numbers. Only then do I peel
from my clammy skin, finger by finger
the blue plastic gloves. Then my mask.