There is no warning rattle at the door. It is old, warped, loose on it’s hinges; yet it swings open smoothly, slowly, silently. From the still darkness where my front stoop should be they float across the room, three of them, filling the warm space with their sudden, fearful chill. Black, empty sockets bore into my soul as long, claw-like fingers reach out to touch my face. I cannot take my eyes from the approaching abyss that is the mouth. I am swallowed by darkness, awoken by a scream, my own.
‘For God’s sake Marnie, you scared the bejesus out of me! Oh and look, you’ve woken the baby. How am I to get your place put right now?’
I pull myself upright, grasping the edge of the table for support.
‘Is it a cup of tea you’re wanting? Sure but let me make that for you. Was it a bad dream? I could see you had dropped off. It’s this heat, wears us all out. Sit yourself down and let me do that for you. You’re shaking like a leaf Marnie. Mind you, so am I after that scream. For such a silent, wee woman you sure can make a lot of noise when you’ve a mind to.’
She will be gone soon, she never stays long. Pushes the dust around, never deals with the cobwebs in the corners. I watch the bugs getting caught in the webs, the spiders wrapping them over and over in gossamer thread. I wonder do they crawl over me at night. I wonder do they crawl in my mouth, in my ears. Do they nibble on my brains while I sleep, what little I have left?
‘There you go love, nice cup of tea and a biscuit. You’ve let the bread go mouldy again, I’ll throw it out for the birds. Look at them perched over on that fence. Would you like to sit by the window and watch them?’
Bread is bad for them, clogs up their digestion as it does mine. Birds should be eating berries, bugs and spiders. I watch them each day, pecking at the ants’ nests in the front lawn. I hate ants. They crawl over my shoes, up my legs. I can no longer bend to brush them off. They feast on my dry skin. If I sat still for long enough would they feast on the rest of me?
‘Would you like me to bring you anything special when I pop round tomorrow? Listen to that child holler. I’m going to have to get her home, she probably wants feeding. Are you sure you’re okay now? You just call if you need anyone you hear? There’s the phone. The speed dial is all set up and they’ll have someone with you in a flash. You’ve got a good son paying for that support, you make sure and use it if you need to.’
My son is hundreds of miles away with his wife and her child. Or was that the last wife? I muddle up their names and then everyone gets cross. At least he listened when I asked that I not be put away. It is better that I stay amongst the ghosts of my past than be placed amongst the barely living in those horrible places where the old wait to die.
I can feel cold liquid seeping through my clothes. I watch as a brown stain forms on my skirt, another cup of tea gone to waste. I am so thirsty, so tired, yet if I sleep they will come for me again. Perhaps this time I will not fight, I will let them take me home. It all seems so final.
I close my eyes and watch as the creaky door swings silently open. This time it comes alone and reaches out to me, the clawed hand offering support, the shadows on the face stilled. I am afraid, but choose not to resist.
A small, grey bird picks up the last of the bread from the lawn and flies up to perch on the ledge of an open window. Through the hot, still air a soft breeze flutters the curtain as a weary soul is freed and floats away.