The conifer trees surrounding the house like a wall might seem like a metaphor for something but they aren't. Several reasons:

1) The conifers used to be everywhere on the housing estate. A lot of people had them at the edge of their gardens. My family’s house had two of them in the front garden, one next to the pavement and one right outside the front door. A lot of residents got rid of them in the 80s and 90s. The housing estate was built in the 70s on what was previously wooded land. They cleared the woods, built the houses, and then laid grass and planted conifers on the gardens. On some of the bigger green areas they planted other types of tree, but in the gardens it seemed to be conifers. Probably because they grew fast.
That was the problem with the conifers - they grew too fast to keep a handle on. For obvious reasons, you don’t necessarily notice the day to day growth of a tree but then suddenly it’s undermining the foundations of your house and then you have to deal with it. Or maybe you sell your house with the giant conifer, and then someone new moves in and is like what the fuck is with this giant tree? and has it cut down.
But the conifers still line their garden, not close enough to the house to be a problem for the foundations, and Ken still lives there. I guess although he knows that the trees are much bigger than they were when him and his wife and two children moved in, they aren’t shockingly big (to him) or out of proportion with the rest of the garden and the house (to him).

2) You have to remember that I’m writing this maybe 10 (?) years after she killed herself and so the trees have grown a lot higher since then. Maybe 10 years ago they wouldn’t have looked so imposing, so much like the wall of a castle or a prison. They wouldn’t have blocked out so much light, or engulfed the street light on the pavement in front of them. They still would have been tall, then. They still would have blocked the house from view. (From certain angles. Maybe half of the 180° that you can normally see a house from. The house is actually on a corner, so you should be able to see it from more than just 180°, but it has a high wall running down the alleyway beside it which blocks the view of the side and back of the house. With a wall, it’s just there and you don’t really have a choice. You could replace it with a lower wall, but who would do that? The conifers have this point of meaning for me where I know that most people on the estate have chosen to get rid of them because they block the light, and because they got so tall so quickly.)

3) As I mentioned, the conifers do block the view of the house, but only half of it. When you walk past the house from the other direction you can look straight across the front garden and into the living room. They never had net curtains and when she was alive, she was often sat on the couch, staring out of the window. You saw that the TV was on but she wasn't watching it. Or she was only half watching it, and then she noticed you walking past and she caught your eye but didn’t smile. She was a pale woman and she had glasses and short red hair. Her pupils seemed very large and black.

4) Also, when she killed herself, they’d divorced and she lived in a flat in town. She didn’t even live in that house. So when she made the decision to do what she did she was in another place, without conifers surrounding the garden.

So the conifers might seem like a good thing to write about when you are writing about her death but they aren’t. They can’t really work as a structural metaphor.

She was not a sympathetic woman. I don’t remember her being very nice or kind or beautiful. Not that women should be beautiful to be sympathetic, but I find that I’m more sympathetic toward beautiful people. It’s either a personal weakness, or one of those anti-democratic traits of being human that are occasionally flagged up by some dubious, over-reported study by psychologists or market researchers.

She had tinnitus so the TV was always on in the living room and the radio was always on in the kitchen. Quite loud. She sat in the living room, and then we arrived with Joel and took over the living room to watch MTV and play on the PC at the back of the room. She moved into the kitchen and sat at the table. She read magazines and the radio was on loud, but it wasn’t drowning out the things she needed drowning out. She got up and cleaned the house, but the house didn’t need cleaning. Or it did, but not the sort of cleaning she could face doing. Then it got later in the afternoon and it started getting dark and she started making their dinner and eventually we left.

They say our ears are good at tuning out buzzes and hums. An evolutionary response to a noisy world. We need to ignore some sounds and pick out others - the dog’s bark, the voice saying hello, the car horn, the knock at the door, the stone in the water. You tune out the noise of your own ear’s machinery, but also more importantly, you tune out the external stuff. So, the buzzing of the dimmer switch in your living room. Or the high pitched whirring of your phone charger. And a lot of the time, you tune out noises that aren’t really constant, but that you don’t need to be consciously aware of. Like your own breathing, or a distant motorway, or the soft rustling squelch of your footsteps as you walk alone across a wet field, huddling into your jacket with your arms folded across your chest, cutting a strange figure, if anyone could see you, which they can’t. Or maybe someone did see you but they disregarded you. They tuned you out.

I was the same age as one of their sons. Me and Richard were friends at primary school for a while, but never really outside of school. He played football well and I did not. At different points when growing up I was both the bullied and the bully. Children are cruel.
The other son Joel was a year older than me but because I had a neighbour who was the same age as him, we ended up being friends. More like we were in the same drifting group of children who congregated in the streets, or in one living room or another, to play computer games, make jokes and occasionally have very organised wrestling matches instigated by a boy called Omar who was fun but obviously emotionally damaged in some way.
I never really liked Joel. He was very particular. He had his own opinions, which seemed to me very uptight and pretentious. He wouldn’t wear trainers or tracksuit bottoms because he didn’t like them. He got angry when you teased him, which meant that as we got older and more vicious in our piss-taking he was often an easy target. I think he is in IT now. Spends a lot of time in America for work.

One year I came home from university and my mum told me that Richard had been hit by a motorbike on the high street and broken his neck and all I could think was that it was pathetic that Richard still lived here and hadn’t gone to university like me.

We all thought Joel was gay and I can’t remember if it turned out he was or not. Maybe he just hasn’t had a partner of either sex for a long time. Maybe there were some teenage girlfriends and then not much after that. Like, he stopped pretending he was interested.

With both of these things, by this point Cathy was dead anyway so they are, like the trees, not as relevant to the story as they might at first seem.

I just looked at Beachy Head on google maps. I switched it to the satellite view and for a second imagined that I might be able to see someone jumping from the edge of the cliff but I couldn’t.
I didn’t really know where Beachy Head was, though I knew it was famous. I thought it might have been because of a scene in a film or maybe a celebrity suicide but it’s just the numbers. The figures. The amount of people tumbling through the air down toward the sea.

When I heard she’d gone to Beachy Head I kept thinking was it not a bit far? Google says it takes about two and a half hours to drive there from the town in Essex where she lived. But maybe it was practical in other ways. Like she knew that Beachy Head was a place where she could be pretty certain that if she tried to kill herself then she would succeed. Like she did her research and she knew that there weren’t any barriers or fences. That she could drive there on a weekday in the late autumn, park at the car park, and walk huddled over the sodden grass up towards the South Downs way and then instead of walking along the footpath in one direction or another, she could just carry on walking towards the edge. Or she walked for a while along the path, looking out across the sea but also keeping an eye out for a sheer drop. Because she wanted a sheer drop. She didn’t want to stumble off the edge to be bounced and broken and split by the rocks on the way down. Into the sea at terminal velocity please. Straight in. Maybe the impact breaks her neck if she’s lucky. Hopefully it knocks her out and she drowns.

I was maybe 17 or 18 and walking to college the day after bonfire night and I saw a long blackened wound in the conifers where someone had set off a firework and it had torn straight up through the trees, burning the foliage on its way. It stayed black for longer than it seemed like it should.
I remember coming home from university one summer and it had gone brown and the branches were bare. It was like that for years. Eventually the wound scarred up. The foliage is no longer discoloured, but nothing grows in the gap.

It’s the day after Christmas. As I walked back from town towards my parents’ house I noticed that all the lights in the house were off. Ken must be at his second wife’s place for the holidays. Maybe the boys are there too, or maybe Richard has his own family now. They aren’t boys any more.

The conifers are trimmed regularly. Maybe once a year. I think the council does it. The foliage is cut away round the streetlight that would otherwise be swallowed up by the branches. They cut back the lower part of the trees so that people can use the pavement.