Page 33 - Demo
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She tilted her head.‘For a second, yes,’ she replied. ‘I suppose it did.’‘And are you sorry for what you’ve done?’She opened her eyes and shrugged. ‘Are you?’I didn’t know how to answer. My hand found the chain around my neck and I twisted it slowly, watching her. She cupped the water in her hand and poured it next to her ear, onto her shoulder. The pale pads of her fingers spun circles over her exposed skin and trails of white suds slid down her chest and into the water. The room was cold, but there wasn’t a single goose pimple on her.‘Anyway,’ she continued, ‘isn’t this all just part of His plan?’‘We could pray together.’She opened her mouth as if to say something but then closed her lips.‘I don’t have anything to say to Him.’ ‘You could talk to me.’‘Confession?’‘I think –’‘I kissed a woman once. You don’t like that either, do you?’She blew a fist-sized cloud of soapy bubbles into the air from the flat of her palm. They scattered between us, but they didn’t pop against my skin. There was no residue, no suds on my uniform from where they’d landed. I pressed a finger to the ones floating near my face, and they disappeared as ifthey were never there. When I looked at her, she laughed at me. The tub was filled with bubbles.‘Of course, you’re disappointed. This isn’t how they sell it in that little book of yours, is it? They were never going to roll out the red carpet for a woman like me.’‘You said he was coming. Who is? Who’s coming?’She wasn’t listening to me.‘Here’s something to ask the priest next time you’re on your knees taking his bread between your teeth. Ask him what your God has ever given you besides the ladders in your pantyhose, and the calluses on your fingers. Isn’t it obscene that all of this, everything you’ve ever wanted, has been mine, and I’ve wasted it?’I was halfway to the door before I’d realised that I’d stood up, that I was leaving. The cigarette was between her fingers again, and I could taste it. She puffed her cheeks, inhaled, and winked at me.‘You know where they are, so you might as well just take them.’I hesitated.‘I can’t.’‘Of course you can.’‘I can’t.’‘How else are you going to afford Thanksgiving this year? And you promised Anna she could have piano lessons after Christmas.’‘I told you, I can’t’‘And what use are they to me now anyway?’‘The hotel doesn’t allow it.’‘Then don’t let them catch you.’Mrs Bothie had hidden her jewellery inthe drawer of the bureau. I’d spun circles over the walnut grain with a soft yellow cloth just two mornings before. The drawers had been stiff, in need of some coaxing. The lock had turned quickly, quietly, with the silver key I’d found under the mattress. I’d wanted them then. I wanted them now.The hallway was still in blackness. I pushed my hands into my pockets, forming two solid fists and driving them into the lining of my uniform. I imagined how they’d feel: the kiss of her diamonds against my collarbone, against my wrist.‘They suit you,’ she called.When I pulled my fingers free, the weight stayed there and the kiss lingered.She was standing up in the tub, and the water wept from her. Her thin breasts were flat to her ribs, and I saw that she’d never been beautiful. Her eyes tracked something else in the room, something I couldn’t see.‘He’s here,’ she whispered.And the devil take my soul, I believed He was. The Lord’s prayer spilled half-formed from my lips.‘Maria?’Words that had been tattooed on my tongue since childhood became muddy and foreign even as they spilled over with the names of the saints and the Saviour. I lost myself on the bathroom floor.‘Maria?’I wondered how I might ever hope to find myself again.‘Maria?’It wasn’t her voice. There was a man, a man’s voice calling through the door, from the corridor, coming closer.‘Mr Norton-Tuff?’I found the manager in the master bedroom with his hands on his knees retching over the carpet. I waited for him to straighten up. He wiped his hand across his mouth and shook his head.‘Mrs Bothie?’ he asked. ‘In the bathroom.’ ‘And is she... ?’‘Not entirely.’I followed him along the hallway. He turned on all the lights. He looked downat the carpet, balled his fist and tapped his knuckles to the door frame.‘Mrs Bothie, it’s Charles, the manager. Is everything OK? Can I come in?’She didn’t reply, but I knew she’d be ready for him: bare breasted with a fingerful of cigarette. Only she wasn’t. No cigarette, no bubbles, no sign she’d ever been anything other than dead.Mr Norton-Tuff pressed his fingers to her throat.‘What’s the matter with you, Maria?’ ‘She wasn’t always like this. She –’His fists were clenched, shaking at hissides. He stepped forward, and I pressed myself against the wall.‘Who wasn’t?’‘Mrs Bothie. She wanted me to wait –’ ‘How?’ he shouted, pushing his finger intomy chest. ‘How could she have asked you for anything?’I could smell him: Italian cooking, the inside of an old drawer, cigar smoke, sour cologne.‘What do you have in your pockets?’ ‘Cloth.’‘Show me.’‘Mr Norton –’‘Show me!’‘She said I could take them,’ I whispered. He slid both hands into my pockets. I felthis clipped nails probing the thin fabric for a chance at the skin beneath. He lingered too long, pressing his shoulder against my face as he leaned further in. His hands pulled out slowly, and they were full. He held them up in front of my face: the golden strings and silver clasps between the narrow gaps ofhis fingers: a snake pile of hanging, twisted chains and diamonds. He shook his fists, and they swung as if to hypnotise me.‘Look at them,’ he said. ‘Look at them.’ I couldn’t.‘How could you?’He called the police from the phone onthe bureau. In his telephone voice he told them: murder-suicide and attempted theft.Mrs Bothie was in the tub. In the cold water her cigarette floated unlit and unsmoked. I wonder if it was ever truethat the Lord loves best those who help themselves – because I did, and I don’t think He does.SUSAN JAMES is a blogger for a same-sex wedding directory. Worrying about looking for paid work interrupts her writing, but she keeps on track via support on Twitter and using the Pomodoro Technique. She can write afirst draft anywhere and has trekked up Mt Kilimanjaro and to Everest Base Camp. Her flash genre piece was published in mslexia Issue 70.showcasemslexia Mar/Apr/May 2017 33

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