Maggie stood by the kitchen door looking out at the cloudless, ultramarine summer sky. The sun was warm with its rays focusing on the newly potted plants that were in need of nourishment. The hardy hydrangeas were fine but the petunias, in contrasting yellow and purple, appeared crispy and needed dead heading. Maggie allowed her pale face a few seconds to bask in the heat and then shuddered involuntarily, causing her joints to crack in unison. Despite the temperature, Maggie was frozen to her very being.
She wore her comfortable brown tweed skirt for the fourth consecutive day, along with a white long sleeved shirt, crumpled and buttoned up wrong, under an extra-large man's grey sweater top. Thick, pink, woollen bed socks insulated her legs from toe to knee, and were stuffed into a pair of grubby backless slippers. They made her shuffle about as she fought to keep them in place, as there never seemed to be a unified moment when both feet fit in.
She felt pathetic and disgusted.
‘Why can’t I function as a complete human being? I hate myself. Oh God, help me.’
Maggie calmed a little with the distraction of Pixie, the neighbours Persian cat. She slinked her way between the pink woollen pillars and with bouncing steps, padded under the table, finding some stray object to toy with. Maggie liked the cat but didn’t want company today. She tapped on the table to get her attention but to no avail; Pixie had obviously found something of interest underneath. Maggie shooed and hissed loudly with the desired result, and guided the cat out the door, shutting it behind her.
Pixie jumped up onto her owners green bin to begin her ritual grooming as Maggie watched through the pane. A mental note surfaced from deep in her mind; something about a favour, to put out the bins on Thursday for her neighbours Ron and Andrea. They were visiting their son, eighteen year old Nigel, who was on a working holiday. They’d confided in Maggie over their concerns over his sudden rush to go to Spain and she’d told them not to worry, that a gap year would suit him well before he embarked in more studying.
She missed their chats over the back fence and later their Saturday morning coffee breaks in the kitchen, when John was at the gym, and Nigel volunteered to mow the lawn. He was very mature, she thought, planning his future with fine detail. Every minute was accounted for and every free moment occupied with opportunities to learn or share. How she wished he was here now to help her sort out the mess. Instead she had the postcard that arrived yesterday from the Costa del Somewhere; him serving drinks by night and soaking up the sun by day. Postscript: wish you were here.
Back inside, she looked at the phone as if she expected him to hear her cries and call her, but the phone lay dead, having lost its charge.
Maggie put the kettle on again to make another mug of coffee, knowing it would end up being drained in the sink. A solitary mug, part of a set of eight, remained in the cupboard above. She picked it up and added together three sugars and scattered coffee granules, mostly missing her aim, with her trembling hands.
Bent over, she looked like a frail old woman as she went to fetch the milk out of the fridge. The smell of fermenting salad in its compartment below made her wretch. She fell to her knees, still with the door open, breathing in the decaying aroma. Like a chorus of smells the cheese joined in, at the back, humming high pitch sweetness, and the milk that she tried to rescue, in between gasps, brought down the tone. It was off. Maggie crawled away allowing the door to shut automatically.
Slowly, she clambered to her feet using the door handles as perches. Her nose stung and her ribs ached. She coughed, at the metallic, acidic mixture at the back of her throat. Dry bread would help but there was only the end piece of a mouldy, crusty loaf in the bread bin. Emptying the paper bag out on the stone lid, Maggie licked her middle finger and dabbed up some of the crumbs. Though stale, at least they got rid of the taste.
The kettle seemed to take its time to reach the boil. Maggie was now slumped over the worktop with her bottom bopping up and down as her knees buckled (Bambi-style), and her forehead resting on her hands, clenched in a knot of prayer. She shut the world out momentarily and felt the heaviness of her eyelids and the coarseness as her aching eyes as they rolled around in their sockets.
The loudness of the click, as the kettle switching off in the still quite room, shocked Maggie awake and seemed to reverberate in her mind. She caught a glimpse of herself in its shiny, indented surface. A haggard, grotesque version looked back which she thought mirrored her anguished state. A closer look revealed broken, bitten nails as she leaned in to preen her nest of hair. What a mess. Even a passing fly refused to be interested in her.
A cold, dry hand reached for the Fairy liquid to wash up the multiplying mugs, knocked over a photo of herself and John dancing on their wedding day three years ago. She remembered a happy, tall but elegant figure in contrast to her drastic bony, Gollum-like body, with distorted back and shoulders from the overbearing weight of emotional baggage. John held her scooped in his arms as she looked up into his laughing face and he looked straight into the lens. A four day old newspaper laid folded and unread on the worktop became saturated from the sudden surge of water from the tap.
‘Oh, no. Don’t get wet. You mustn’t be ruined,’ she cried hysterically, as she followed the trail of muddy prints, which emanated from the dissolving coffee granules, formed by her frantic touch as she attempted to rescue it. The paint-like mess left images on the worktop that resembled Rorschach inkblots. Maggie stared down trying to analyse them as they moved in and out of focus and then she slapped both palms down, dispersing the liquid a further distance. A Jackson Pollock masterpiece embossed the plain white tiles. She grabbed herself, squeezing hard, as if to confirm in her mind that she was real; not senseless, not lifeless.
Her face was streaked in brown marks. Some were faint whist others dark where her fingers had pressed in deep. A few granules stuck fast like barnacles on a ship wreck. Her shirt collar now acquired a tie-dye print effect adding to the dishevelled caveman look. In response, trestles of her dull, black hair fell over her face.
Forgotten only for a moment, Maggie picked up the paper and shook it vigorously. It came loose from her anxious hand and fell under the pine table. She bent down to retrieve it, swaying and faint from the lack of food. Her searching hand landed on a shoe; a well-kept, brown leather lace-up. Not hers, but one belonging to John. The sorrow welled up, gnawing inside her chest. She felt she would die right at that moment. The newspaper came to rest open by the shoe at the headline page.
Local man, thirty-five, died from a fatal injury on Wednesday after visiting B&Q. Mrs Broadbent, store manager, discovered Mr. Stables decapitated following a freak accident.