You start at the top right hand corner, taking your time to complete the tear to the bottom. Careful to fit in six tears. Laying the seven strips in their individual heaps, contamination abhorrent. Once, you started on the left – you said it felt unnatural, disloyal. Flex, elongate the digits before you pick another sheet from the pile on the kitchen table. A flyer for a mobile hairdresser advertising a ‘wash and set’ at £11.75. Start again, top right corner. Irregular size sheets are tricky. Mum has already done two circulars and a postcard of Frinton from Auntie Maeve. Her method is frantic, rapid and vicious – rip, rip, rip – confetti of squares.
Last week at the back of the cupboard in the Art Room at school you found an abandoned guillotine. It would do the job in one swipe, a mighty swish down. Severed. Too quick. A tear can be slow, jagged, meander, stop – start over again.
When his letter reaches the top of the pile, Mum’s hand hovers and withdraws. You spin the envelope between your fingers, watch the second class stamp as it turns over and over. This time you start in the middle, the tear count abandoned.