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He knew he’d put them there. The bunch of keys had been on the side. Where they were supposed to be.
He wasn’t going to lie. No, nor forget.
Well, maybe they were gone now, but what did she want him to do about it?
[private]She slammed the bathroom door and the rushing sound of water followed. He swallowed the rude words that had formed at the edge of his tongue and instead began to light candles around the open-plan living area, in an attempt to make the Wapping riverside, new-build, shared-ownership, bargain, mid-recession, third-floor, generic cream-painted, luxury fittings-filled flat seem atmospheric, romantic. He planned it so that when she came out of the bath, all squeaky clean and warm, she’d smell the Waitrose marinated chicken and rosemary new potatoes he was about to get out the oven and all would be forgiven and forgotten. A half-hour later, it worked a treat. She even kissed him on the nose and she hadn’t done that since they’d signed the Land Register. But even as he ran his fingers down her soft, curved back, it pestered him still. Where were the keys?
The next morning, as usual, she left for work earlier than him: pinstriped skirt suit and Nike Air running trainers on black-tighted feet. Rucksack packed full of nutritious flaxseed-sprinkled salad. He was expecting a goodbye kiss, a peck at least if his morning breath was too much to bear. Instead, with a dramatic swoosh of blow-dried hair she threw the ‘lost’ keys at his head as he was enjoying his late-start lie-in (a big benefit of being a media creative).
She told him he needed to give his life a really good think; the keys had been in the Hulsta tray they’d got for Christmas from her step-mum. The tray was right by the door. How could he not have seen? Idiot.
She left, leaving him pretty sure that all his dirty talk that had made her moan and clench the sheets last night would be erased from her mind before her first profit-margin meeting. He’d better get to Waitrose.
He rose from bed, hair scraggly and boxers saggy, and went into the bathroom. It was humid in there like the greenhouse at Kew, where he’d asked her to marry him. His view was actually affected so much he took tiny steps to find the shower, afraid of bumping into anything, causing a breakage and her bad temper to flare. Before he got there, he glanced at the mirror and the mist seemed to miraculously clear a little. There was still some mirror-stuck steam obstructing a view of himself, and wait! Something else as well. Writing. Wobbly writing like a child’s. And a smell. A smell like the sea. Picked-up pebbles and webbed feet. He looked at the wobbly writing, read it, and almost fell over.
‘She don’t love you anymore’
That’s what it said. But it wasn’t true. She couldn’t have left that for him, not after everything they’d been through and wouldn’t she just tell him straight, to his face, or at least via email?
But then, she had been particularly pissed off with him recently, mainly due to all the things that seemed to go missing every day and it somehow always seemed to be his fault. But what a note to leave on the mirror. And in third person too? He knew she hated that. If she’d have written it, she’d have definitely put a capital ‘I’ and then ‘don’t’. She certainly wouldn’t have been so grammatically incorrect as to put ‘She don’t’. There was no chance of that happening. He decided not to wipe it off and leave it. When she got home he’d steam up the bathroom and show her, confront her… beg her to love him again.
Then he felt a rush of wind in the windowless bathroom and he slipped. Everything went black.
When he woke up, she was above him, like an angel. A sweet, kind smile on her beautiful ebony face. It quickly turned into a snarl as she saw his pupils focus.
‘When did you decide you’d had enough of us? Hey? Hey? Was it when I made you pretend to be my boss in bed on my birthday? Or when I chose the mauve curtains instead of the pine blinds?’
‘Wha-what are you talking about?’ He was confused. She grabbed him by the arm—he was sure it would bruise—and dragged him to the bathroom. She turned the shower on full blast as hot hot hot as it would go.
The steam soon appeared on the mirror, along with the words that had made him fall head first into a black hole. She pointed at them with a toxic-free painted nail:
‘He don’t love you anymore’
Was this supposed to be funny? He blinked. Couldn’t think clearly. She was right, it said ‘He’. But earlier it had said ‘She’, hadn’t it? Explanations rushed around his bumped brain: maybe she’d come home, embarrassed at what she’d done, guilt overpowering her as she’d seen him on the floor, and changed it herself, erased the ‘S’. But the fire in her eyes told him that was probably unlikely. He had nothing to say, he knew she would dismiss his story as a lie. He just wanted them to be happy like they had been in the old flat.
Late that night when the river outside was black like octopus ink and inside the only noise was the low buzz of the boiler, he heard a scratching sound and found that she was not next to him. Her clothes were abandoned on the floor by the bed. He followed the scratching, got closer closer closer… until he screamed with terror as he saw what was happening.
Ten minutes earlier, she had awoken with a very dry throat. She slipped on slippers and walked sleepily to the kitchen. She walked with the heaviness of not being sure if she was loved and with the hardness heaped onto someone who had to fight every day to keep a job she was great at. She sat on the recliner with a glass of water, feeling shivery despite the tropical combi-boiler heat. In the study room the laptop was on. Strange, she swore she’d turned it off when she’d gone to bed. Going to investigate, she saw his Facebook page was up. Great, she knew that now she’d have to look at it. There was an open message in the inbox from him to some trashy-looking girl with curly bleached hair and a tattoo on her thigh, posing in a turquoise bikini on a beach somewhere, probably about 23. He was asking her on a date, telling her not to be late, as his dick was aching to meet her.
Oh. My. God. She couldn’t breathe. She felt her neck getting so hot and her throat closing in on itself, she couldn’t tell if this was anxiety or… a rope. She swore she felt the rough edges of weaved hemp brush her veins and squeeze in slowly, although her fingers scratched and grappled and found nothing but flesh.
As her breath got tighter, her fighting subsided as she realised she was no longer seated, her feet no longer touched the floor. Her toes soared above the sanded, varnished boards and the air was moving past her frozen fingers like she’d poked them out of a car window on a winter road trip. She gripped the nape of her neck, but still could only feel flesh between her hands, even though the tug was so surely a rope, pulling, scratching, pulling, strangling and angling her towards the recycled milk-bottle light fittings that had just been installed.
She couldn’t scream. Her knees were weightless jelly and as she struggled with the invisible rope her acrylic fingernails scratched the statement wallpaper as she tried to push her way out of the torturing tornado. It didn’t work. Her neck was a cranberry-sauce mess of mushy flesh clawed away.
This was when he saw her, his love who he thought didn’t love him and who was convinced he didn’t love her, hanging by her fingernails onto the gold-painted lilies on the wall without the flat screen. He couldn’t scream either as he helplessly watched her float along to the aforementioned light fitting in the middle of the ceiling. Her hands grabbed the glass and she swung. He hung around below wanting to catch her, tell her he loved her very bones—but the yells made his throat cold and he still hadn’t spoken when she landed on top of him with a very expensive, crunchy crash.
The detective at the scene was perplexed. It was certainly a mystery. Such a good-looking, successful couple—dead. He was especially confused when they checked inside her mouth and found an article from a paper maybe 300 years old, all about pirates being hung by the river in Wapping, to set an example. Popping his head out the front-room balcony and taking a deep breath of the cool autumn air, he guessed he could see exactly where that had happened.[/private]