"I was in here alone, fending off the fallen dead as they tried to pluck me out of the world and drag me into the upper echelons of God-knows-where, while you exchanged pleasantries, sweet nothings, how-do-you-dos and oh-I-says with a woman carved from the wood of the bitch tree!"
It wasn't me that noticed the smashed window. It was Kidman.
"When the hell did that happen?" I looked at the star-shaped hole in the bathroom window, at the same time taking in the shards of glass littered everywhere across the floor.
"Last night," said Kidman in a matter-of-fact fashion, as she scrutinised an apparent flaw on a nail upon a sleek and elegant Kidmanian finger, "while you were busy hobnobbing with that hard-nosed, barb-wired bitch Ormsley."
"What?" I exclaimed."How is that possible?"
"Oh, yes, Steph. I was in here alone, fending off the fallen dead as they tried to pluck me out of the world and drag me into the upper echelons of God-knows-where, while you exchanged pleasantries, sweet nothings, how-do-you-dos and oh-I-says with a woman carved from the wood of the bitch tree! Feel guilty? Feel like shit?" All of a sudden she looked up and clapped her hands briskly, saying, "Yes? Oh, goody! Oh, goody goody!"
I looked around the floor of the bathroom, looking for whatever had been used to smash the glass. "What was it smashed with? There's no rock or anything."
"A helmet, Steph. One of them smashed it with a helmet. Pell-mell it pelted towards the glass, banging its head off it, over and over again. I tell you, I nearly soiled my lady cupboard! Eventually the window smashed. Glass went everywhere. You know what I did then? That's right, I ran like a bastard, I'm happy to relate. Puppies squealing and wriggling like nobody's business."
"You run away a lot, don't you?"
She looked me straight in the eye, her expression cool and entirely unselfconscious. "Yes," she answered. "A bloody lot, in fact."
All of a sudden, I clutched my nose and screwed up my face, suddenly realising the implications of a broken window. “Oh no! That means the Smelly God again!”
Kidman pursed her lips and nodded sagely. “Yes. Illuminous odour of unmitigated foulness, that's what I say to that!” she exclaimed, as if it was some kind of standard exclamation.
The only person I knew in the neighbouring town who could fix a window was a handy man with personal hygiene issues. The Smelly God.
“Oh, super-sensory murder by stenchy ponginess!” I uttered as I again looked helplessly at the broken window and the array of small bits of glass everywhere.
So back into the neighbouring town I went. I dreaded these journeys, but some feeling of expectancy made me think that I might meet James, the man from the neighbouring town that I had a crush on, and he would tell me that his absence was all a big misunderstanding – his failure to turn up for our 'date of sorts', his lack of thanks for the knitting of his that I corrected, his lack of anything, in fact! Yes, it was all the result of a silly misreading of events! And then we’d laugh – ha ha ha – at how silly I’d been and how much he’d worried about how I must have been feeling about it all – hee hee hee. And then I’d kick him in the leg and tell him never to do it again – ha ha ha. He'd rub his shin and look at me with a slightly worried look on his face – yeah alright, Jeez that flamin' hurt! But no matter how many times I entertained this fantasy on the way to the neighbouring town, it never came true. Yeah alright, Life, Jeez that flamin' hurt. Again!
When I got to his door, I found that Emperor Pong, General Odour, the King of Stink, wasn’t in. So I put a note through his grimy letter-box, wiping my hands on my skirt afterwards. The note explained, in very precise terms, the issue I was facing. It said: ‘Small window broken. Come soon please. Stephanie.’
When I got back to Mordan House, Kidman had been rummaging around in some of the old rooms upstairs. She was fearless in many ways, this Kidman thing. Yes, she always seemed to run away when the astronaut descended, but her running away always seemed so practical, so pragmatic. Aside from that regular display of abject terror, she appeared to be keen to investigate pretty much anything and everything with little hesitation. In this case, she was again looking for clues to the house’s recent past, but finding things that interested and amused her instead.
"Yes, it was all the result of a silly misreading of events! And then we’d laugh – ha ha ha – at how silly I’d been and how much he’d worried about how I must have been feeling about it all – hee hee hee. And then I’d kick him in the leg and tell him never to do it again – ha ha ha. He'd rub his shin and look at me with a slightly worried look on his face – yeah alright, Jeez that flamin' hurt!"
When I found her, she had her head in a wardrobe in a room on the first floor, and she was looking through a pile of old clothes.
“So,” she said emphatically. “Did you go to see James while you were in town?”
“Of course I bloody didn’t.”
“Or that bitch Ormsley?”
“No. I thought about dropping by the library, but after last night ... I’m not dressed appropriately anyway. I’ll get nowhere with her in this big old blousy jumper and raggedy skirt. With Ormsley, I have to dress to impress!”
“How about we dress you up to go see her?”
Kidman appeared instantly excited. Positively brimming with girly glee, in fact. She had already found a collection of silly things to wear and she delighted in showing them to me: she had a corset, a high frilly blouse, a long bright skirt covered in blotches of flowers, a gas mask, a battered blue cord cap, odd shoes, odd sandals, a waistcoat, a parasol and a large floppy straw hat. She was delighted at her finds. I looked at them with uncertainty. What was the point of them?
She clapped her hands and jumped a little off the ground. “Let’s find more! You look in the room next door!”
For some reason I found myself doing what she asked. After looking through a number of rooms, I found two high brown boots, a man’s white shirt with a big collar and cuffs, a dirty vest with stains from a variety of cleaning products on it, a dinky little belt and a very, very large white bra.
"Kidman appeared instantly excited. Positively brimming with girly glee, in fact. She had already found a collection of silly things to wear and she delighted in showing them to me: she had a corset, a high frilly blouse, a long bright skirt covered in blotches of flowers, a gas mask, a battered blue cord cap, odd shoes, odd sandals, a waistcoat, a parasol and a large floppy straw hat. She was delighted at her finds. I looked at them with uncertainty. What was the point of them?"
Kidman was jubilant at my discoveries. “Oh well done, Steph! Well done!”
I laughed, more at her childlike enthusiasm than anything. Kidman laughed too. I'd never encountered her like this. And then that was it for the afternoon. All we did was laugh and run about Mordan House, the sun streaming in from outside, as if playing alongside us and scampering in and out between our legs. We both dressed up and acted out ridiculous little scenes that mostly involved women being seduced by landlords for rent arrears, or poor, innocent landlords being seduced by predatory women who were ahead in their payments.
“What?” Kidman would say in corset and high boots, and in a twee, birdlike voice. “You can’t repay my deposit? Well, come here you stocky moustachioed hunk. I may have to take the payment out of your tight bahooky!” Then she’d chase me through the house, while I shouted out, in a deep-throated voice, something along the lines of: “You can’t have my manhood! I’m saving it for a lady who truly loves me!”
At one point we decided to re-enact a similar scene but in what we decided was a World War 2 air raid shelter. Yep, that’s how silly it was all becoming! I put on the gas mask Kidman had found – right over my eyes and my mouth and with this bulbous filter thing sticking right out – along with the floppy straw hat, the corset, with the man’s white shirt underneath and clumpish odd shoes on my feet, and brandishing the parasol above my head. Kidman wore the big bra over the dirty vest, with the blotchy dress and the blue cap on also.
Down the stairs I ran, shouting in a deep, raspy cockney accent: “Lawd luv us! You ain’t gunna git yer dirty mits on my love sausage not now not hever!”
And Kidman in a squeaky, ladylike voice, followed after, hollering: “Love sausage for my tea, please! Mama, he won’t give me love sausage and I’m damnably peckish for it too!”
I ran to the front door and threw it open to run out onto the gravel at the front of the house. The bright sunlight enveloped me, but it also enveloped the Smelly God who was standing with his smelly assistant right outside the door.
I stopped and stared. They looked even more grimy through the scratched and murky glass of the gas mask I was wearing. But one thing was clear and that was the look of consternation on their faces as they stood and stared back at me, tools in their hands.
I realised that there wasn’t much I could say to explain my look or behaviour, so all I said – and in quite an elegant manner too – was: “I'm so pleased you got my note. You’ll find it’s the window in the bathroom.”
At the sound of my own muffled voice, and the sudden self-image that I had of myself in gas mask, floppy hat, corset and odd shoes, I laughed a little, but not so much that they could see or hear me. But then I realised that I was standing before one of the smelliest men outside of the Democratic People's Republic of Stinky and wearing a gas mask, so I laughed some more, though still trying to conceal it. But then it exploded. It charged out. A great raucous laugh that I couldn't suppress. I bent over slightly and put my hand up to my face. As soon as my hand encountered the hard rubbery surface of the gas mask, my laughter doubled, so much so that I turned and ran back into Mordan House giggling all the way. I giggled down the hallway, into the suite of rooms and into the bathroom, where I closed the door, sat on the toilet and tried to compose myself.
The laughter was wonderful. It coursed through me like a new kind of blood, and seemed to gush out of the top of me and down over me, rich and warm and bright. I started to breathe deeply as I sat there on the toilet seat trying to control myself. Just then, the door to the bathroom opened, and Le Big Stink and Le Petit Stink were standing there, still silent and still looking bemused. I remembered that this was where the broken window was, but I also realised that I was in the toilet with a gas mask on. It suddenly struck me to wave my hand in the air and say out loud: “I wouldn’t come in here if I were you!” So I did.
"The laughter was wonderful. It coursed through me like a new kind of blood, and seemed to gush out of the top of me and down over me, rich and warm and bright. I started to breathe deeply as I sat there on the toilet seat trying to control myself. Just then, the door to the bathroom opened, and Le Big Stink and Le Petit Stink were standing there, still silent and still looking bemused"
And this started me off again. Worse than before. I got up and stumbled out of the bathroom door, leaving them to look at each other and listen to my laughter, twittering and screeching, as I went back out into the hallway. There was Kidman, sitting on the stairs and smiling at me.
I could of course have taken the gas mask off, but instead I decided to leave it on for as long as the workmen were in the house. From time to time I would wander into the bathroom where they were working and say something in a serious tone, like: “Good work, boys. That’s going very well.” Then I’d start chuckling away again and I’d soon fall out of the bathroom in fits of laughter. When the job was done, I scrutinised the window up close through the glass of the mask, and said in my muffled voice: “Good job. Oh, I so love frosted glass.” This started me off again. I'm pretty sure that both men were just looking down at their feet and making some uncertain throat-clearing sounds.
“Oh, let me pay you!” I exclaimed and went hunting for my purse. When I found it, my eyes were full of tears of laughter; I found I could open the purse but I couldn’t see the money. In response to the blurred contents before me, I started to laugh in one of those silent ways where your body starts to move involuntarily and eventually the laugh tries to choke you from the inside.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get it next time,” said the Smelly God in a resigned, somewhat defeated voice.
“Oh, are you sure?” I asked with a slight hint of concern. But my attempts at behaving normally were making me laugh all the more, and all I could see were little glimmers of him and his assistant walking out through the door as I sat down on the hall floor exhausted from laughing. “Come back soon!”
After a few moments, and as the silence of the house started to reassert itself, I could feel the giggles easing off, though I was still reluctant to remove the gas mask.
“Oh, dear,” I said to Kidman, who was sitting and smugly surveying me from a distance. “You know, I think I got a little fit of the giggles there.” And I almost started myself off again. But instead I was saved temporarily by a knock on the door. Oh, no! I thought. They must have forgotten something! And I wondered if seeing them again would start me off all over again. I wanted it to start all over again. I was reluctant to lose this feeling. Fearful of letting it slip away. So I couldn’t help smiling to myself expectantly as I clumped to the front door, opened it with grace and poise, and said to the whiffy workers in a charming sing-song fashion: “Good afternoon!”
But it wasn’t the Smelly God and his assistant standing at my front door and looking at me. No, it wasn't them. It was James, the man I'd fallen for from the neighbouring town.
Next instalment: 49. Shit-Bugger-Fanny