She hand-closed the door softly behind her, to keep it from falling to pieces. She let her strict ponytail loose. She took a well earned deep breath and her insides were treated with the taste of fresh-on-old mildew. “Home”, she whispered. She waltzed then through the dainty hallway, allowing her finger to trace along the many semi-circular hanging tears of wallpaper, like child-drawn waves. There remained only few doors in this framed rubble of a building, and none that separated the hallway from the kitchen. She descended from the pale beige glow of the hall into the skeleton light.
Everything in this home was devastated, but she kept it neat. Closed drawers, levelled and stacked books.. She was an organised woman, now that she had the freedom to be. What satisfied her about this place was her feeling of control. She would leave for weeks to come back and find everything as only a dustier form of its previous self. She felt powerful, finally safe in her own clay-stained hands. It was a rather new feeling of assurance, something she had not been familiar with most of her life. With no mother, she was hastily forced to be wed when she was still a girl.. to a man much stronger than her. And older, too.
But that was past her now. She gazed through the window above the sink, into an abyss of ash. For miles, there was nothing salvageable, and the rest was swept from an orange drift of wind, seemingly like a sandstorm, that hid the rest of the world. She was grateful for whichever bomb that had hit this place, leaving a piles of embers, and erratic poles dotted around. But she most loved that she could feel the mush of compressed ash as she walked.
On the sill. A dead spider. She gasped. It’s legs crooked in agony. She examined closer. It’s face was smushed, as if from weight. It reminded her of him, how he would kill everything in his house, break objects, leave things open and messy but never allow her to clean. Or to leave. She was to rot, as he trumped all over, just to see her squirm.
She cupped the spider, and dropped him into the sink and ran the tap. Brown water came and washed the spider down. Gone. Forever. She wiped the sill clean. Her brief moment of fear had been cleared. She was alone here, in control here, and safe here.
She began her ritual of cleaning. She had brought a purse full of Wypall wipes and a multitude of business-marketed cleaning sprays. She wiped the damaged counters of the kitchen, the frames with no doors, the old mahogany counter-piece in the hall, all along the bannister, up the stairs…
A noise. Right as she ascended the final step. As of a knock. On the door. Behind her. But there was nobody there. She could see through the frosted glass in the middle of the door. Nothing. She gave a plain smile. All but the sound of a footstep.
And so she carried on her cleaning upstairs, and she made everything in every room glean. Her last mission, was to batter the dust of the duvet in the only bedroom. And so she grabbed two corners of it, and slid it off the bed. And screamed.
On the bed. A stain. An ink stain. A lidless pen lay leaked. Permanent black. Her first thought was not to question its presence but to get rid of it. She went to rub at it with her wipe but the ink licked it. And stuck. She dropped it then, and backed away in horror. She had now realised. Someone had been here. Recently. They had stained the bed and killed a spider.
She ran. Down the stairs. Not safe anymore. But there. The frosted glass was no longer clear.
A shadow. Something. With a top hat. Mad hair underneath. At the door.
“It’s not real…” Perhaps just a gathering of dark dust. It was quite probable. The wind could’ve placed it. She stood frozen on the second bottom stair for minutes, her heart rate slowly averaging as the something showed no form of life. It wasn’t real. She was not in danger, or in the presence of something else. She gave another plain smile. Just a trick of nature. She slumped down the last step.
An envelope popped through the door.