Helen closed the windows, snapped the latches shut, drew the curtains together. She shuffled to the front room and felt the lock, shoved the bolts home and hung the chain stud across the door. In her bedroom she peeked into the wardrobe, shut it tight and got to her knees to check under the bed. She turned the light off, but lay awake, listening to the sounds of the house shifting.

“Helen?” Mr Shelly poked his finger through the letter slot. Inside it was dim, dust specks danced on the sunrays that filtered through. “Helen,” he called again. “Your groceries.” He let the slot snap shut and knelt down, picking at a wild oat that had made its way up between the veranda floorboards. A pair of magpies chortled to each other in a nearby eucalypt.
The slot opened and two eyes appeared in the space. “Is that you Mr Shelly?”
“Of course Helen.”
“Have you got my groceries?”
“It’s Tuesday Helen. I always have your groceries on Tuesday.” He noticed the lesions that curled under her eyes. “You remembering to take your insulin?”
Helen smiled and the lines under her eyes rumpled. “Yes yes yes, I’m fine. I haven’t lost it completely just yet. Just my groceries, that’s all I need.” Her eyes turned downwards. “Are they at the door Mr Shelly?”
The bags slumped against the door but Shelly touched them with his foot as if to push them closer. “As always Helen, as always. Now you sure there’s nothing else you need? I noticed your rain tank’s knocking empty.”
“Water yes. Maybe I’ll need that.” Helen scratched her head with a bitten down nail. “Always looking after me aren’t you Mr Shelly? One of the good ones as George would say. One of the good ones.”
Shelly stepped off the veranda and made his way back to the truck. He called over his shoulder.
“Just doing my job Helen.”
“Thankyou Mr Shelly,” Helen shouted. But it was lost in the sound of the engine.

Helen worked slowly with the can opener. Things like this she was careful with. In her mind the lid slipped, the steel edge severing two of her fingers like soft polony.
She found a bowl and poured the slippery meat in. In slippers she crossed to the back door, shaking a box of dried cat food. Jasper came in through the cat flap and rubbed himself against her leg. Helen giggled as his teeth tickled her leg. She sat in a chair that exhaled, and watched Jasper eat his dinner.

Helen woke to arguing.
She was disorientated, her mind unsure whether her dream had ended yet or not. There was a crash, then the sound of metal shimmying across the back veranda. For the first time she could remember, Helen became aware of the springs in her bed, the way they kneaded her back in moaning sighs.
In the punctured moonlight Helen let her fingernails guide her along the walls, down towards the back of the house. At the living room she clutched the doorframe as something thudded into the back wall. A plate toppled from the mantle piece and broke into four pieces.
She heard the cuff of skin against skin. A gunshot slapped the night when Helen entered the kitchen.
A man’s face appeared at the window. The skin under one of his eyes was swollen forcing a wink, his face dusted red. He looked at Helen with his good eye shaking, his lip pulled back into his mouth as he chewed it. His stare shifted to the door that stood locked between them.
Then he left. Helen stayed still, listening to the fading gurgle of a car motor.
From under the door came a red curve that stirred across the floor, swallowing the brown cut tiles.
Helen returned to bed.

Helen slept until her bedroom curtains turned golden. A band of daylight stroked across the room, drifted over the floorboards, and sunk into the corner.
A steady thump persisted all that day. Helen felt it like a returning memory, a slow beat at the back of her skull.
She sat on the edge of her bed looking at her toes. The three biggest sloped inwards towards the middle of her foot, while the others huddled together like frightened pigs. Varicose veins snaked up her ankles, her calves spotted in blood vessel fireworks.
It’s nice to be in bed so late, Helen thought. I should get up I guess, but I have nothing to do. Helen stayed on the bed, listening to the thump as if it were a song she was trying to remember.
Soon she twisted and took her toes back under the blankets.

By the stove Helen stirred a tin of souped beef. Lumps of meat bubbled to the surface occasionally and she pushed them back down with the edge of the spoon. The beginning of night brought cold and Helen kept one hand to her chest, holding her night gown around her.
By the door, the blood had dried into the grouting.
All that sleep, Helen thought. All that sleep and I’m still tired. She stopped stirring and let the spoon sink. She tried to remember a time before when she had slept in so long, but no day came to mind.
“Hey…I’m hurt.”
Maybe I’m coming down with something. Helen put the back of her hand to her brow. She wasn’t hot, but she kept her hand there for a moment, rubbing it against her forehead, feeling her knuckles move beneath the skin.
“Please…get me a doctor.”
“No doctors…” murmured Helen. She pulled at the folds of skin that gathered along her fingers. “I always said no doctors.”
“Please lady…I’m bleeding real bad.”
Helen turned towards the sound of the voice. Under the door she saw a shadow that moved.
“Oh.” Helen bought her hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry.” Manners Helen. “You must be thirsty.” She found a glass and filled it with milk. She placed it by the cat flap, the drying blood held it snugly.
A hand came through the flap and took it. When the glass rolled back through empty, there were ugly prints smudged down the sides. Helen lifted it by the rim and crossed to the sink. “You must have been thirsty.” The water ran over the fingerprints, taking them dot by dot down the drain. “It’s been so long since anybody came for dinner. Perhaps you’re hungry?”
“Doctor lady…I need a doctor.”
Helen swatted the words from the air. “No need for doctors. A nice hot meal. That’s what you need.”

“George,” Helen whispered. “Is that you?”
“Wake up.”
“George?” Helen sat up, bunching the blankets under her chin. “Where are you?”
A shout came up the blank house. “Wake up and help me.” The bolts on the back door clattered. “I’m bleeding again. You fucking bitch I’m dying.” The voice came like two stones scraping together.
Helen felt along the wall for the light switch.
“Don’t leave me out here to die you bitch.”
In the hallway Helen caught her foot on a roll in the carpet and fell. A pain stuck in her wrist.
In the kitchen the stain had come under the door again. “What is it? Are you hungry? I can get you some…”
“No…get me a fucking doctor!” The locks jumped.
“A drink then. You must be thirsty…”
An arm came through the cat flap, the fingers clenched Jasper by the scruff of the neck.
“I’ll break his neck I swear.” Jasper thrashed and let out a juggled squeal.
“Not Jasper.”
“A doctor…or I’ll smash his head in.” Jasper shook, his wail stretching as his little legs hit the door.
“Please, no more.” Helen’s face sunk into her hands.
“A doctor!” The voice screamed.
“I can’t, I can’t.”
Jasper flopped about, a gurgle rose in his throat. “Call a doctor.”
“I can’t.” The hand beat the floor with Jasper. “I can’t!” Helen screamed. “He hasn’t fixed the phone.”
“Get someone.”
“I can’t.” Helen left the kitchen making her way back to the bedroom. “Not anymore.” She slipped back under the blankets and lay awake, listening to Jasper’s bell tinkling.

Jasper lay splayed in the stain, his fur matted in brown clumps. He faced the ceiling, lips pulled back at the side, a row of fragile white teeth fixed in a nasty smile. His stomach fluttered faintly.
Helen sat at the table, spooning cereal into her mouth. From the door came a low wheeze. The talking had stopped.
“I think Jasper is gone,” she said. “He’s not moving much. I think I’ll miss him. He was good to me while you were away.”

Shelly picked his way through the long grass, a bag of groceries slung across each wrist. He passed a rose bud opening for the spring and swatted it with his hand playfully. The petals burst from the bulb.
He rapped on the door and stood back, his eye following a willy-wagtail dancing across the lawn. When there was no answer he leant over and snapped the letter box open.
Helen stared back out at him.
Shelly staggered back, clutching at his hat. “Is that you Helen?”
“He’s not back.”
“Who’s that then Helen?”
“George.” There were drops of moisture clinging to her eyelashes. “He said he was off to the cricket. You’ve not seen him then?”
“Ah,” Shelly wiped his hand down his face. “George is passed away Helen. Ten years. You know that.”
“Oh. Then what is it then? What do you want?”
“It’s Tuesday Helen.”
“Is it?”
“Grocery day.”
“And are they there?”
Shelly once again ran his hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumbs. “Are they where Helen?”
“By the door.” Her eyes strained to see the doorstep. “I don’t see them.”
Shelly found the bags had slipped sideways from where he had put them, an apple had rolled dangerously close to the edge of the veranda. He collected them back up and pushed them against the door. “Sorry Helen. They’re there now.”
“Well that’s all then Mr Shelly is it?”
Shelly’s concern was obvious, but his smile never strayed more than a few half seconds from his frown. “I guess it is.”
“Well goodbye.”
Shelly left and Helen watched him climb slowly into his truck. She watched him wait, his gaze taking in the house. She watched him shake his head. She watched him leave. She closed the slot and made her way back to the kitchen. The house was silent.
The breathing had stopped.

Helen lazed in doorways. At the living room she watched the dusted TV screen. In the bedroom the curtains shifted ever so slightly in a forbidden breeze. She stood by the kitchen, resting against the doorframe. She bit at her thumbnail and waited as the blood puddle dried from the outside in, retreating back under the door.
Helen opened a case on the bench and picked out a syringe, flicked the needle and pulled a fold of skin at her side apart. The point slid in and she pumped the thing dry.

What a mess. Helen stood over the stain, a mop in her hands. George won’t like this, she thought. “No, definitely not.”
She ran the mop head through the eye of it, where a wet film still shined. But it only smeared, following the mop in ugly streaks. “Oh.” Helen put her hand over her mouth. She doused the mop again, and returned it to the blot. The blood that had dried became liquid again. Get on your hands and knees for god sake.
She collected a cloth from the sink and got to her knees. She let the red surround her, blossoming up the edges of her nightdress. Soon her arms were covered in a thin, sticky scarlet membrane.
“Such a mess,” she sighed.

Helen woke to a slight weight on her chest. It shifted as she stirred and disappeared in a blur as she sat up in bed.
“George?” She called.
There was no answer.

Helen swatted at a fly that persisted in its attempts to enter her mouth. As her hand passed by her face she noticed the red lines on her palm.
Under the running water she scrubbed her hands with a dish scourer until they were raw on both sides. There were more flies in the kitchen. In the crack under the door a swarm of flies boiled as thick as jam.
She drew a syringe of insulin and probed her stomach with the point. She unloaded it clumsily and snapped the point off inside her. She tried pulling it out but her fingers shook and it snuck further in. Defeated, she looked for Jasper.
Jasper was no longer on the floor.

Helen woke and found her blankets soaked through. The tang of the smell reminded her of George’s penis.

The smell that had crept under the door settled into the house like an unwanted guest. It made itself comfortable on the sofa, nestling into the fibres, creating a stinking cloud of dust in the air whenever Helen sat on it. It infested itself wherever there was a space, fouled anything that was edible, and forced itself upon Helen wherever she hid in the house.
Helen tied a handkerchief around her mouth and took to giggling as she passed mirrors.
Flies gathered in seething masses in the piles of pots and pans discarded on the sink. They jammed themselves into the fridge seals, dropped out of holes in the walls in buzzing clumps.
There were claw marks up the walls.

“Come here Jasper.” Helen had him backed into a corner and Jasper hissed at her, drawing his paw up in defence. She had found him spraying the chair in the living room. Dollops of cat shit had begun to appear in the hallway. He was walking on three legs, the fourth he hitched up beneath his belly.
Helen lunged but Jasper swatted her with a fistful of claws and darted away between her legs. She was too tired to follow him and so retreated to the kitchen with the flies. She let them crawl over her face, probing the corners of her mouth and the gaps in her eyes. They picked over her and called for others to join. Helen closed her eyes and let them take her away.

There was a face in the window.
It was late at night and the flies had gone to sleep, fled the house. The face beat its hands on the glass. Helen screamed until her throat went dry and she fell out of the chair choking. The man who left a nightmare on Helen’s back doorstep returned.
He shouted at her through the window.
“You let him die. You killed him.”
Helen smacked at her ears with her fists until all she could hear was a dull drumming in her temple. The door bucked as he slammed into it.
Helen left the room and turned the TV up as far as it could go, filling the house with static pops and screams.
The face followed Helen wherever she went and when she closed her eyes she saw him in the blank skin behind her lids. She covered herself with a blanket and huddled in the bath tub. She let the water run cold.
Jasper found her and scratched her across the face.

Shelly could smell something before he cut the engine. With the groceries in his arms he peered through the letterbox slot, but the stench made him close it quickly. Jasper appeared from under the house and rubbed himself up against Shelly’s leg. He picked the shabby cat up, brushing the dried tufts of shit from its fur.
Shelly followed the line of the house and peered through the windows. He noticed the curtains had been torn down. The wallpaper hung in jagged strips.
At the back door he slowed as he noticed the door ajar. He went to step inside the kitchen but stopped when he saw the blood that covered the floor. On the doorstep it had congealed in the welcome mat. It squelched as Shelly leant his weight upon it.
Shelly looked away from the door and into the bush behind the house. He saw a speck of white through the branches. He pushed through the dry brush, and came upon a figure slumped on its knees. A white dress splayed out, its hem stained rouge.
He let out his arm and placed it lightly on the figure’s shoulder.


Mark Welker

Perth, Australia

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