Myra’s studio flat had heating and hot water. I could have cuddled her. She ran a bath with all the suddy and splashy smelly stuff. She dipped her hand in testing the heat in the water. Stood behind her soaking it all up. The bathroom filled with the scent of oils. Her blouse was buttoned to the neck and a tan coloured skirt covered her knees, her hair slackened round her face and there was a hint of perspiration and her forehead shone. She’d kept her girlish figure. A look crept into her face and it dawned on me at the same time. In our hurry to get a taxi and get away neither of us had thought to bring a change of clothing. Her lobby was the size of a cough drop. And her living room, bedroom and kitchen were a box room within arm’s reach. There was nowhere to get changed, nothing to get changed into. I’d need help to get undressed. Shuffled towards the front door.
‘Look hen, I’m really grateful for whit you’ve done for me.’
‘What you talkin’ about? I’ve not done anything.’
Stood like an old fool. Couldn’t work the one-two Yale and mortise combination. The door had a spring lock on it like a punch in the face. Because my neck felt nailed on, turned my body like a wardrobe to face Myra. Hint of a cheeky grin on her face. Head cocked. Eyes looking up at me a caramel colour, assessing my worth. Could have sunk in and drowned in their sweetness.
‘Didn’t think you’d escape that easily, did you?’ She giggled at her own joke, knitting her hands together. ‘For god’s sake Jim, we’ll find you something to wear?’
‘I draw the line at wearing a bra and high heels.’ Smiled back at her. Then it dawned on me. Hadn’t scratched once since I’d got there. Figured it must be the steam from the bathroom. Felt suddenly weary as a Monday morning.
She reached up and tugged under the lapel of my coat. Helped her ease it off and it fell like an inky-cartoon body and sprawled on the hall floor. Jumper and shirt went the same way. Unbuttoned my trousers. Wretched things. They could have stood fireguard in the living room. Leaned on her shoulder as she peeled away my socks. Stomach poked out, but it wasn’t the only thing. Her cheeks pinked. She turned and looked towards the living room as if planning an escape route. Mine flashed lobster red, but I guessed the roughness of my skin and unshaven appearance disguised it.
‘Sorry hen, I’ll take it from here.’
‘It’s fine.’ But her voice jumped like a stylus needle on a 33-rpm record. She would no longer meet my eyes. ‘Fine.’
Tried to make a joke about it. ‘At least it’s calmed down a bit. Behaving itself.’ Flung in a throaty laugh to encourage her to smile.
‘I’ll go and get you something to wear.’
Myra rushed away to the living room. Thought I’d have to ask her to help me high step into the bath. But knew that would be too much. Sat on the edge of the bath and slipped in. Sunk like sand, only the crocodile skin on my head visible. Water rolled and threatened to splash out and make the downstairs neighbour’s life more miserable than mine. Must have dozed for a minute. The plop of something dropping on the toilet floor and my eyes flickered open.
‘That’s something for you to put on.’ Myra’s muffled voice came from the hall.
Rubbed myself down with a fluffy cotton bath towel left draped over a radiator. Scratched at my chest, but that was more through habit than need and stayed my hand. Was no longer itchy. Tried to think of an explanation in terms of hot water and ointments soaking into my skin. But recognised it for the bullshit it was. There was no explanation. Rubbed at my eyes. Grinned at the mirrored tombstones of teeth waiting to be hidden by chapped lips. Kept yawning. Felt so tired I could have rubbed myself out and fell asleep on the bathroom floor.
Myra’s clothes package was made up of a blue cotton bathrobe and white pyjamas with a pink rosebud motif. Bottoms were a bit tight and I showed a bit too much ankle, but Myra being a busty lady, the top was fine. With the bathrobe tied tightly at the waist I was decent enough to parade and ventured out.
She was sitting in the chair near the window, pair of specs sliding down her nose, and using natural light to study. Took me a few seconds to recognise the reading material as a tan leather-bound Bible sandwiched in both hands. It was full of pointed bookmarks. Her right hand reached up and peeled away her specs. She smiled up at me. There was a glow in her eyes.
‘Aye.’ I slid into the seat near the door. ‘I don’t know whit you put in that bath, but it fair perked me up and tired me out at the same time.’
‘I did notice.’ She bit her lips to stop from grinning.
Shook my head, shrugged my shoulders. ‘Whit can I say? You always had that effect on me.’ Rubbed at my eyes, held my hand over my mouth as I yawned.
‘I suppose I should be flattered.’ She folded shut her Bible and placed it down on a nested glass table near the telly. Her specs followed, a diagonal perched on top of the inlaid golden cross on the cover.
‘Flattered!’ My voice crowed filling the room. ‘There was mair life in a fully embalmed Tutankhamen. If I hadnae seen it with my own eyes I widnae have thought it possible.’
‘You always were one to exaggerate Jim.’ She giggled. Put her hands on her knees and stood up. ‘I’ve put some of your clothes in the wash.' The background hum of the washing machine spinning through its cycles verifying what she said.
‘That coat.’ She scrunched up her cheeks and nose. Giving it the thumbs down and the Roman dagger.
‘Nothing wrang with that coat. Got a bit of wear in it yet.’
‘Thought you’d say that. I’ve hung it on the hook at the front door. Maybe with a bit of luck someone will break in and steal it.’
‘That coat's insured for thousands.’
‘Chance would be a fine thing.’ She swished past me in her slippers and paused standing with her back to the kitchen. Took a deep breathe. ‘Maybe get something to eat?’ Glanced behind her at the fridge. ‘But I’ve not got much in.’
Yawned. Covered my mouth with my hand. ‘Anything.’
She debated with herself. ‘Egg and chips?’
‘Aye, that’s great.’
Bit on her bottom lip and nodded. ‘The thing is Jim, I may have overreacted.’
‘Earlier.’ She peered down and kneaded the knuckle of her pinky with her thumb. Her head came up slowly to look at me.
‘No, I’m sorry.’ Waved my hand. Waved the offending thought away. ‘Forget about it.’
‘Egg and chips it is then.’ She seemed relieved and high stepped into the kitchen flinging open the fridge door. ‘Put the telly on.’ She stood on tiptoes and bent sideways, ‘if there’s something you want to see.’
‘I’d much rather look at you.’ She laughed. Couldn’t find anything that looked like a remote control for the telly. Had to kneel in front of the screen, fiddle with the buttons to stick it on. Sound came on too high. Realised my knees were no longer giving me gyp.
We ate egg and chips, side by side on the couch. Knees poking out, legs acting as a tray, plate sliding down our leg as we watched telly. Thought she’d want to watch Desperate Housewives or some other crap. We both caught the tail end of a report of ritual sex abuse on South Ronaldsay. Nine children taken into care by social workers Crowd of adults and parents with placards protesting outside a court in Kirkwald. Allegations of nudity, sex between adults and adults, whilst children watched and took part. Somebody from the manse wearing a black cloak and wielding a crooked stick playing the figure of Satan. Mopped up the last of the bean on my plate. Looked across to her plate, food almost untouched, a chip half way up to her mouth.
‘You gonnae finish that?' Nodded towards her plate.
She slipped the plate across to me without any protest. Stacked it on top of mine. Second helpings. Onscreen a mother with a waterproof jacket paraded. She held a kids grubby teddy bear in her hand and a banner wedged in her arms ‘Children Punished Not Protected’.
‘That’s murder,’ I said, pointing at the screen with my fork. ‘Those social workers just dae whit they want. They’ve no’ got a clue.’
‘You’ve not got a clue!’ Turned on me. Spit on the corner of her lips.
Chewed. Found it hard to swallow, put the plate down on the carpet at my feet, chips swimming in vinegar fumes. Seemed such a waste. Wasn’t sure what I’d said or done to upset her. ‘Best be goin’ hen,’ I said.
‘Maybe that would be best.’ Her head dropped like a month old daffodil. Her hair screened most her face, and her shoulders jiggled as she quietly sobbed.
Patted her shoulder as I got up, a reminder that I was on her side. Made my way to the hall and worked my feet into my boots. Didn’t bother tying them. Lifted my coat from the hook. Slung it over my shoulders and buttoned it up. The block weight of it falling blanketing my knees and hiding the worst of the rose-petal pyjamas felt reassuring. Looked up to see Myra watching me from the living room.
‘You can’t go home like that.’ Her nose was reddish but she seemed in better fettle. ‘I’m sorry, but I was raped time after time and nobody would heed anything'.
‘Who by?’ I said.
‘First by Charlie. Then by a man in a black cloak. He had a crook stick too.’
‘Jesus,’ I said. Not sure what to do or say next. Wasn’t even sure if it was true or bullshit. Knew she’d been in hospital, the loony bin, for a while. ‘I never knew.’ Rage worked its way through my body. Made my mind up for me. Gasping for breath. Made my head spin. ‘If I ever see that cunt again I’ll rip his head off.’