The old fart in Room 17 is becoming a problem. He does it even when his wife’s on the terrace, sweating, counting her rosaries. Clack-clack. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Ah, Mamma, what would you say if you could see me now? Four stringy children and a fat pig of a husband who belches triumphantly after every meal and snores all night. Clack-clack-clack.
It’s usually as I’m making the beds and she’s looking out to sea. Hospital corners. Pontus’s school project is to learn of other cultures so we fold towels into swans like his teacher says the Japanese do. Except in Room 17 I just do triangles – the swans take too long.
I smell his oiliness behind me and freeze. I am a sparrow, still and trembling. His saggy chicken arms claw at my apron, his toothless mouth waggles its wormy tongue at me. Clack. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
I dart away, holding the sheets like a shield. His eyes are full of water, tears spilling over the loose red rims, filling the wrinkles in his cheeks, dripping off his chin onto the floor tiles. Salt water, inside and out. Surrounding us. Swimming in it. Clack. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Drowning.
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“And this is the sign for asleep,” says Alison, closing her index fingers and thumbs together in front of her eyes. “Go to sleep now my darling.”
She smooths out the duvet cover with her hands, uncreasing the printed astronaut suit, flattening the stars in their cotton void, repositioning the blue Earth from sliding off the side of the bed. She kisses Bill’s hair, feeling his fragile skull millimetres away from her lips. “Night night.”
“Night night Mummy,” he says.