The door opens into a lamplit room with a deep sofa opposite a rose-coloured velvet chair. The central heating thunks on as they step in from the cold, Barry running his hand over his forehead where the fair hair peaks sharply. From her the sweet smell of port, from him the sweat of beer, hanging in the thick air.
‘Sit down,’ she says, ‘make yourself comfy,’ and she heads for the kitchen at the other end of the room.
He collapses onto the sofa, his feet splayed out, leans his head back and half-closes his eyes. Her heels ticktock about in the kitchen, cupboards open and close. On the velvet chair a big white cushion twitches, stands and turns round, plunks its bottom down and stares at the man, its tongue half-out between its teeth. It stares, yawns, jumps down with a thump and trots towards the kitchen, making a faint, strangled noise.
‘Hallo, Jilly,’ she cooes, ‘are you hungry, sweetiepie?’ A rustle and a rattle, the sound of a plastic bowl going down on the floor. ‘There you are, fluffins.’
She reappears in a minute carrying a plate of cheese and biscuits, puts it on the table beside Barry, darts back into the kitchen and comes back with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other, pouring as she walks towards him.
‘All righty,’ she says, leaning over him to put the glass on the side table. ‘There we are.’ She subsides into the sofa beside him. ‘Aah,’ she says, lifting one foot then the other, kicking off her shoes.
Then, then what? He grinds his fingers into his eyes and bends his head.
A round face with a little pink mouth, slightly buck-toothed. Music bipbipping away in the background.
Then blankness, and the screaming.
Ricocheting down steep stairs, falling against a glass door at the bottom. Then running in cold night air, running for his life.
He opens his eyes and stares at the battered face, lashes out at the gaping fool. His hand hits the mirror and he yelps as an icy pain shoots up his arm. He turns and runs into the kitchen, jerks open the fridge and hurls the linked green cans onto the sink, rips one out of its plastic collar and yanks at the little silver ring that comes away with a hiss. He pours the foaming yellow liquid down the sink, yanks another open, pours, yanks another, pours. The sweet yeasty smell rises up as the beer foams in the sink and his hand shoots out, fumbles for the plug and rams it in. He is still bending over the sink, his hands paddling in the beer, the smell of it making his head spin, when someone hammers on the door.
Come back next week to see what happens next…