A mass of turtles had gathered at the edge of the stream. They were floating upside down, tapping against one another. Liú Fāng’s father used a net to collect them and passed them to her. She organised them into rows of four on the path beside the stream: there were twenty-eight in total.
It was 13:29 when Nelson dropped down into his armchair, a mound of mangled wood and cheap leather, less arranged and more dumped in the centre of his back room. It put him two metres in front of an old Philips CRT 29PT9421 and next to an inoffensive table from a chain that erroneously claimed to sell oak furniture. In anyone else’s home, the set-up might have been quirky – the mossy wallpapered walls, the bareness of it all; it had Vogue potential, the type of thing you had to ‘get’ – yet, with all things considered, including Nelson Flood himself, it was just a bit seedy.
May was the cruellest month for Mai. She disliked her name as much as she disliked the sliminess of eels, the graininess of chickpeas, her upper lip hair, her periods, Molly showing off the Victoria’s Secret scalloped plunge bralette in the changing room, her profile pic, not having a dad, her mum’s job, her best friend Sophia moving to Cambridge for a better school, the rain, her curly hair, maths, PE, being an only child, and most recently the word ‘referendum’, or as her friends said, the R word.
When we first moved to the cul-de-sac I thought that meant we’d made it. Over the years we had levelled up through all types of living situation (age one: bedsit, age five: basement studio, age nine: rental flat) and beaten the final boss, a private landlord who refused to admit the damp on the ceiling was a result of dicey bathroom tiling and not us ‘pouring oil down the sink, clogging my drains’. Eventually, Mum told Sam either we left the flat or she’d leave the marriage, so he found a job with a company car in a coastal village fifteen miles west of the city, and that’s when we arrived. Age twelve: Cul de sac.