Short - Temptress, Part II
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Irwin could feel his skin crawling; a lump was climbing up his throat and it reminded him of his first day at Riverview. He’d woken up in the ward suffering with a crushed larynx.
Yet another thing Irwin had failed at. As if tying a rope around one’s neck and launching off the banister was all that difficult.
Every time Irwin thought about that day he could remember exactly how he’d felt, exactly how the rope scratched against his throat. It was all there clear and present in his mind yet, somehow, it didn’t feel like it happened to him. He could shut his eyes and play the situation out but he was removed from it, sort of like an astral projection watching himself.
Dr Hartley said that meant he was getting better; but Irwin was convinced that he’d just forgotten how to feel. As if the mood-suppressors they’d been force-feeding him for the last six months had quashed his ability to emote. Irwin thought it might be worth taking up smoking. Get himself heavily addicted and then quit suddenly. See if throwing some irritability into his daily diet would help shake out the cobwebs. If that didn’t help he’d just have to come to terms with the fact that he’d be now and forever a broccoli – a soggy, emotionless piece of broccoli.
There was a bump and the taxi pulled up just outside his house. The driver plonked the suitcase down silently beside his fare. Without a word, and before Irwin could get his wallet, the man had driven off.
Irwin paused for a moment gazing listlessly up and down his street, his saggy grey pea coat flapping in the breeze. He noticed a flicker of net curtains in a window across the road. Just Mrs Wallace heading up her one-person neighbourhood watch again.
‘This is all your fault’, thought Irwin as he squinted trying to catch a glimpse of her, ‘if only you’d kept your nose out, I could be dead right now.’
Thanks to old Wally the whole street probably knew about his brief trip to the nut-house.
It served him right, he thought, for living on a street where the average age was seventy-five. The elderly loved to gossip – especially lonely ones like Mrs W.
Dragging his case to the front door, Irwin fumbled with his keys, a brick of guilt lay heavy in his gut.
Returning to the scene of the crime...
His was an old house with ancient mortise locks which made a satisfying scraping and clicking sound when a key was introduced. The old door creaked as he wiggled it loose of the tight frame and he was greeted with the unfamiliar smell of bleach.
After articulating his suitcase into the narrow hallway, Irwin paused to take in the scene around him. Despite having grown accustomed to the filth around his home, he was not wildly disappointed to find the spring cleaning fairy had been. He wasn’t sure by whom, or when, or why, but the carpets and walls were scrubbed, his washing was done, and even his mail had been piled neatly on the stairs.
Irwin leaned forward and looked up at the banister, but quickly shrank back with the memory of rope constricted around his throat. Irwin was contemplating what a cad Dr Hartley was for turning him loose when a coo from outside made him jump out of his skin.
‘Only me!’ said a sunny voice, fingers crept around the open door followed by a puffy blue-rinsed bouffant. Only Mrs Wallace come to stick her face where it wasn’t wanted. Irwin stiffened wanting to run away. A wasted effort since her and her home-knitted jumper would only follow him.
‘Have you just gotten back?’
You know I have you nosy, fat-kidneyed wench!
‘Yes’, Irwin squeaked, almost falling over his suitcase as she came creeping towards him like a hungry dribbling pug.
‘Tabitha and I cleaned the house for you’, she continued, advancing towards him, ‘did you notice?’
Backing away Irwin unwittingly invited his aggressor into the lounge where she politely offered herself a seat.
‘Would you like a cup of tea...?’ said Irwin cursing himself. She’d go ahead and get comfortable and now.
‘Oh lovely’, she grinned, ‘three sugars please’, she said as Irwin escaped to the safety of his kitchen. As he looked around Irwin began to feel guilty. The counters were spotlessly clean and the washing up he’d been pathologically putting off had been returned to the cupboards; spotless. It was a nice thing that Mrs Wallace did. Although he had no doubt she’d used the time to become acquainted with everything he’d ever held dear.
Every corner cleaned and scrubbed, every paper filed and packed. Oh yes, she was a sneaky one that Mrs Wallace. When he opened the cupboard to get the tea Irwin found they were full to bursting with food, even the fridge had been stocked; recently too. A young bachelor presented with a kitchen full of sweets should surely be pleased, but Irwin’s stomach churned with nervous dread. How did she know I was getting out today? He pondered surreptitiously peeking at her from around the door frame.
After the kettle popped Irwin laid the tea-time paraphernalia onto a tray and carefully escorted it into the lounge; the china cups chiming with every shake of his hands.
‘Oh good, she did get the hob-knobs’, beamed Mrs Wallace tearing open the orange packet that had been precariously wedged between the pot and the sugar bowl.
‘Who did?’ asked Irwin, sinking into a soft armchair. He stopped for a moment to savour the feeling. Everything at Riverview had been cold pleather and hard mattresses, probably as a way to stop patients getting too comfortable.
‘Your mum, dear’, she said whilst gobbling a biscuit, ‘I ran into her this morning, s’how I knew you were coming home today’, she added, crumbs gathering about her thin lips.
‘My mum was here?’ Irwin said into the ether, although the incessant munching rather took the magic out of his melancholy.
‘Yes, she popped round to see what food you needed, I remembered you liked Hob-Nobs’, he didn’t, ‘and thought I ought to help her out’, she continued, grabbing another two biscuits from the rapidly vanishing packet.
‘Was she here long..?’
‘Not really, seemed quite skittish actually, like she was worried you might come home early.’
She probably was, thought Irwin stirring a cube of sugar into his tea. Irwin and his mother had not spoken for a while. Maybe there was hope for them yet.
‘Oh, that bedding, Irwin, I tell you!’ Mrs Wallace laughed, so loudly it shocked Irwin back into the room, although he hadn’t the foggiest what she’d been saying. He plastered on his best listening face, sipped his tea and waited for the hot air to run out.
Fifty minutes and two pots of tea later the cups clattered down and Mrs Wallace made moves to leave. She got to her feet scattering an impressive collection of crumbs over the carpet.
As Irwin was ushering Mrs Wallace to the door, he noticed someone standing on the green who he had never seen before. A young girl with long dark hair, no older than fourteen, swaying with the breeze without a care in the world. The very sight of her made Irwin’s heart thump. What was she doing there?
‘Who’s that?’ said Irwin, trying his best not to sound panicked.
‘Oh, that’s Tracy Singh. She come to live with her grandfather. Family troubles or something’, Mrs Wallace seemed to savour this last part. ‘A very nice girl by all accounts.’
Irwin felt giddy. He even had to check he wasn’t sinking into the ground, his feet and hands felt numb. He needed to call Dr Hartley, tell her she’d made a mistake, but Irwin could only stare. Stare at Tracey Singh and the way her sun dress was swaying in the wind.
As if feeling their gaze on them, Tracey turned around, and noticing Irwin she smiled more broadly. She was a beautiful girl, so tall and tanned and fresh looking. Panicked, Irwin slammed the door on Mrs Wallace and pressed his body against it as if worried it would force itself open again.
No, this wouldn’t do. This wouldn’t do at all…