The washing machine sloshes and whirls the bloody clothes and hits the high notes a juddering spin. A busy day and I’ve dozed off on the couch. The telly has tuned itself off and the house is in darkness and the phone rings. But I don’t know if I’m still sleeping—I’m a bit of an insomniac and night prowler—but I watch myself stir and turn my head and reach out and pick up the receiver. The house phone sits on a ledge of the leather couch pushed up again the living-room wall.
‘It’s me,’ she says, in a modulated, level voice, which throws me a bit. I wonder if that’s the voice she uses when she talks to her patients and gives them bad news.
‘Hi, who is this?’ I ask.
‘But you’re dead.’
‘Yes, I am—that’s why it’s such a bad connection.’
‘It’s all right my side.’
‘That’s because you’re alive,’ she mutters.
The cat pads into the living room, ginger tail swishing. It turns its head to look at me and meows. That’s a signal it wants me to follow it into the kitchen and feed it. The feline brushes against my black joggy bottoms. I’ve still got leather work boots on and nudge it aside and it hisses.
I open the door wider to make it easier for the cat to get out. My black jacket hangs on the edge of the hall bannister. The arse is muddy when I slipped and I realise I should have stuck it in the wash with the other clothes.
‘Sorry, about that,’ I reply.
‘About being alive?’ she asks.
‘No,’ I chortle, ‘about the connection. It’s a shame you died. But that’s life. And you don’t really exist now, do you?’ I shake my head and look over to the dimly lit space where I keep my rucksack, beside the blackout curtains. ‘I mean nice body, nice big suckable tits, but you’re just a figment of my imagination. I’m still sleeping.
She sighs into the mouthpiece. ‘You’re breaking up. Can I come over?’
I push the door shut when the cat sneaks into the lobby with the toe of my boot. ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I start laughing and grin at the phone as if I’ve caught her out. ‘I think I’ve seen enough Dracula movies.’
‘Salem’s Lot. Remember that with David Soul? That was scary. The wee boy floating up above the window.’
‘You don’t like to be scared. You like to do the scaring?’
I consider, but my voice grows angrier as I speak. ‘We’ve all got out little peccadilloes. What you don’t know won’t hurt you and all that crap.’
‘We know that’s not true.’
‘I thought you had a bad connection.’
‘The connection gets better when you get angry and scared.’
‘I’m not angry and I’m not scared.’
I jolt from the block of noise, when I accidentally plonk down on the remote. A black-and-white movie with gangster Jimmy Cagney. Rather than turn the volume down, I point the remote and turn it off. The phone nestles on the striped cover of the cushion where it’s fallen.
Sitting on the edge of the couch, I listen to the wind and rain outside and the washing machine spin cycle stopping. I figure there’s still time to get the clothes out of the machine and into bags and hide them. Perhaps burn them. I hadn’t thought it fully through, yet.
I pick up the receiver, hold it to his ear.
‘You said “we”?’
She spoke matter-of-factly. ‘I know, we are Legion.’
I skulk across to the window. Tremors in my hands make it more difficult to unhook and brush aside the blackout curtain. The laughter from the phone had done something to my insides, made them watery. I promised I was never going to go outside again. I peer through the gap to the lane beyond and street light which lit up the bridge where I’d followed her.
I circle the place where the phone rests on the pile of the rug and side-foot it towards the couch. Rest my heel on it and raise my right foot to crunch down on the receiver.
I hear a tutting noise and the woman’s voice tells me, ‘You don’t want to do that. That could be very dangerous’.
I hold my chest and my breath comes out in gasps. My refusal to touch the phone means I slither and put my tilted head and cheek near the mouthpiece. ‘Dangerous,’ I repeat. ‘Dangerous, how?’
‘I meant dangerous for you.’
I croak, in a high, strange voice, I don’t recognise, ‘For me?’
‘Yes, didn’t we tell you?’
I rock back and forward in the foetal position until morning, laughter in my head. I know I’ll need to silence it and cradle the phone to my chest and wait for them to call and tell me how.