Skins

skins

Ms Kettle stood listening at the foot of the stairs. The building was a converted Georgian mansion. Its top floor housed an office and its first and second floors had been bisected into sought after apartments.

As Ms Kettle waited, it gradually assumed a kind of silence.

Old buildings are never completely quiet. Wood floors shift and settle as the night grows cold. Pipes and pluming gurgle wise lead bellied secrets. Tiles flinch and rattle at the slightest clutch of breeze. But it was mostly quiet now the Cutlers were asleep.

Kettle was demoniacally awake. Her garter tightening with each rushing breath, her half moon glasses icy on her nose, the skeleton a nervous minion in her palm. She tip-toed up each achy step, and pricked her ears. Joe’s odiously healthy snore punctured the dark. The absence of Sally’s chirpy prattle signaled that she too was asleep.

Long arthritic fingers found the lock, and the key turned, oh quietly, so quietly. In her bare stocking feet, paper thin and curled like the end of a hockey stick, Ms Kettle slipped into her neighbours apartment.

The Cutlers’ home unsettled Ms Kettle. Though a mirror of her own, it was minimalist yet full of hateful modern things. Passing the bedroom, Kettle laid a single eye to the crack of the door, and watched them sleep. Joe had cast off his bed sheet, and sprawled immodestly in a pair of love heart boxer shorts. Each heart black in the silver moonlight.

Ms Kettle shut the door softly, sealing the Cutlers inside. She crept, spider quiet to the kitchen. It was made from stainless steel and black mahogany. An L rolled by, and Kettle poured herself a glass of water. The faucet surgically hygienic. The glass thick, wide rimmed, tasteful. She moved through the dining room, with it’s teak dinner table. Broad, homely, unassuming. Kettle ached for a layer of dust, to scrawl her name. The sitting room was small, too casual.

A flatscreen television sat back from a ring of couches, resigned to never being used. A sheaf of magazines askew, just so. Ms Kettle straightened them. Ms Kettle pawed the portraits of the Cutlers parents. Joe’s Mom and Dad were smiling in the sunshine. Old and fat, they wore matching Disney t-shirts and khaki shorts. Joe’s Dad had caught a fish.

Sally’s parents were young, and stiffly dressed. They posed in a studio. Sally stood between them, she was about eight, and had a missing tooth. Ms Kettle ground her teeth. She bent down on one knee, then the next. A slow arthritic cat in semi dark. Her flat head turned. As she moved to each socket in turn, Ms Kettle hummed. At work, she liked to keep the radio on. Just a little. Just loud enough to drown out silence. Just too quiet to make out
the words.

In the bedroom, Joe was dreaming of work. He was presenting. His slick Macintosh computer fading in each devastating slide. His team were awed. They rose to cheer when he had finished. He shook his head modestly. They lifted him up on their shoulders. His boss patted the small of his back. Sally was under water. The sky rippled above the surface. She was holding her breath. She was counting the clouds.

Ms Kettle rose, finally. One knee, a hand on a shaker chair, the next. She put away her tool. Her ancient back was bowed and taut. She looked in on the Cutlers again. Separate. Still. Flat out. Sleep slow dancers. Ms Kettle wanted to enter. She wanted to let a spit hang, and fall on Sally’s face. She wanted to rake a nail under Joe’s lids. Their heat was a skin. A glass wall, between her and the room.

Very early, while it is still dark, Sally plugs in her coffee maker. Ms Kettle, drifting in a armchair, wakes. She listens for Joe’s steps. He’s barefoot from the shower. She hears him pause. Pound to the kitchen. The athlete he played in college. A crash.

Ms Kettle falls asleep.

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