It was three days before he found the body, and four more before he phoned the police. Mrs Denham, the little old lady from flat number six, had died, apparently in her sleep. As her discoverer said, there was no real urgency – he was pretty sure that she’d remain dead, and in the event that she didn’t, there would be no need for the police.
He’d booked a city break for himself and his mistress, and he’d be damned if he was going to lose the deposit.
I never liked Mrs Denham. She smelt of old wax and tried to give me eye contact when we passed on the stairs and in the night she crept out into the communal hallway and turned the milk bottles so that the labels face inwards and you had to turn them back out again if you wanted to read them. When I told Steve about this, he asked why she would want to.
I replied that I didn’t know, but apparently some people are strange.
When the police arrived there was a lot of noise. The lump of blowflies and sinew and rotting flesh that was Mrs Denham was taken away on a stretcher, and a lady who looked like Mrs Denham’s shadow came around and started shrieking and water leaked from her eyes. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. In this progressive day and age, if someone wants to be dead in the comfort of their own home then that’s their business.
The pigeons would say that it’s the nanny state gone mad.
The man at the chip shop has started wrapping his wares in copies of the Daily Mail. Since then, the pigeons have gotten angrier. “BRUSSELS BUREAUCRATS ARE GIVING YOUR MORTGAGE DIABETES” they shout. “HEALTH & SAFETY OFFICERS ARE PLANNING TO HAVE SEX WITH THE ROYAL FAMILY.” I don’t want to agree with them but I find my resolve melting, like an Action Man on a barbeque. They’re very persuasive. And they know so very much.
When the leaflet came through about the fumigation, it was the pigeons who told me it was alright to stay in the flat.
I have this recurring dream. I’m sitting on a stone pillar and all around is darkness. Then a blinding light and I start to feel hot and it burns and I gasp and I sweat. But it’s not sweat, it’s cheese. I’m sweating cheese, and as the lumps of brie and edam and feta fall from my arms and face these hands reach up to grab them. The fingers scrape and grab and prize the folds of my skin and they tear, and rip out chunks of flesh until I am nothing.
The pigeons say that I should stop eating cheese before I go to bed.
After an hour and a half of the dull whirr of the pump let me know that the fumigation had started, I began to feel inexact. I wanted to open the window, but the pigeons said that wasn’t fair, it would get their nice clean windowsill all fume-y and also THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT MUSLIM SINGLE TEENAGE MOTHERS WOULD WANT. When I couldn’t take it any longer I stumbled out into the street.
My legs felt unfamiliar.
I was blinking in the light and air was escaping from my chest in violent bursts. A man walked up and asked if I was okay. I vomited down his sleeve. His face revolted in surprise, eyebrows colliding, lips divorced. He winched his mouth into a an oily smile that bobbed on top of his words. “Do you want to go to A and E?” he asked.