By: Steven Bruce

I never met my grandmother, a man named Arthur Jones strangled her before I was born.

Last week, in the middle of our Sunday roast, my mother called her a vile bitch. Said that when she was eight–years–old, her mother drowned two newborn puppies in the bathtub. And when her mother caught her crying about it, she made her climb in with them.

I didn't know what to say. None of us did. We all sat there, staring at our potatoes. I mean, what do you say to something like that? Never mind mother, malevolence wears no chains, could you pass the gravy, please.

The same night, my mother died of a heart attack in the bathtub. When I asked Uncle Rich if he thought it was weird, he said it was most likely a coincidence. I told him that Freud said there are no coincidences. At which point he picked up a sausage roll and hobbled off into the garden. Yesterday I would have said that Freud was full of shit. But after this morning, well, I don't know what to think.

My mother's wake finished at four minutes past four. I got home for twenty–seven minutes past, leaving me three minutes before my cleaning routine began.

I start in the bathroom because it's the closest room to the front door. I use lemon–scented antibacterial wipes to clean the tiles, all sixty–one of them. I scrub the bathtub, sink, and toilet. Then mop the floor with bleach and boiling water.

Next, the living room, well, the living room slash bedroom. I live in a studio apartment at the moment. It's not much, but once my sci–fi novel's published, I'll be able to afford somewhere much better.

I strip off the bedding and spray the mattress with an antibacterial spray. Did you know that a single bed bug can lay up to two–hundred–and–fifty eggs?

While the mattress dries, I check the neighbour's house through the crack in the curtains. A few days ago, he was standing in his garden with his mouth ajar. I'm sure he was looking right at me. Once the mattress's dry, I stick the clean bedding on.

I give my writing desk a rub over with the lemon–scented antibacterial wipes. Then make sure my books are in alphabetical alignment. Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Herbert, King, Martin, Rowling, Tolkien, and Vonnegut. Then hoover the couch and carpet, twice.

Next, I wash down the one–hundred–and–four tiles, sink, worktops, fridge, kettle, and toaster. I refuse to own a cooker or a washing machine. Mother washed my clothes and cooked most of my meals for me, anyway.

Finally, I align the items in the food cupboard, chicken noodles, cookies, crisps, tea bags, and four cartons of soya milk. I did drink regular milk. But I read somewhere that cows develop abscesses during the milking process and puss seeps into the milk.

When my cleaning routine finished, I washed my entire body with hand sanitiser and waited to dry before putting on clean pyjamas.

At seven o'clock, I thought I heard a knock at the door. I checked through the crack in the curtains. My neighbour's front door was wide open, but I couldn't see him. I waited a few minutes and peeped through the spyhole in the front door. A spindly shadow lingered on the hall carpet, after a few seconds, it slipped away.

At nine o'clock, I locked the door, aligned my slippers with the pattern on the carpet, switched off the lights, and climbed into bed. I don't recall falling asleep. I never do, do you?

I woke up, in darkness, to animals whimpering. My front door staggered open, scraping over the carpet. A haggard woman drifted into the room, an ashy glow emanating from her body. She stooped at the bottom of the bed, eyes missing from the sockets. Her face like cracked concrete, her mouth drooping to one side. She crawled onto the bed with a gurgling hiss and climbed on top of me. My screams for help slipped out as small groans. Her face closed in on mine until her cold nose pressed into my cheek. She called me a gutless little shit, and before I knew it, she dragged me out of bed, by my feet.

The whimpering grew louder as she pulled me into the bathroom and slammed the door shut. A fleeting moment of darkness and her empty eye sockets lit up with a piercing white light. She grabbed my throat and held my face over the bathtub. Two newborn puppies struggled in the water. She pulled one out and shoved it into my mouth before throwing me into the bathtub.

I woke, to the sun punching through the curtains, feeling re–born. I wrote two chapters of my novel, began my cleaning routine and stopped dead when I noticed my lifeless body in the bathtub.

All morning, the non–stop whimpering, the hag's hand hanging out from under my bed. I had to get out of there, go somewhere quiet. I don't know how I ended up in your home, but I like what you've done with the place.


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