A new short story by Nino Ennu
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‘Rats’, whispered one, revealing a broken set of teeth that made her mouth resemble a keyboard.
‘Eh?’, said the other.
‘The whole floor is covered in them, rats!’, whispered one.
‘That’s just my carpet’, explained the other.
‘Dead ones! The rats are all dead!’, unnecessarily added the third, making the other blink hard in consternation. All three, decrepit, leathery and gawking at the floor sat in silence again, until:
‘Say, you got a lion’s mouth, I need to piss?’, the third blubbered.
The other slapped her infirmly on the cheek and said, ‘the bucket’s in the cupboard.’
‘The bucket…?’, giggled the third and pointed at the brown monstrosity of a cupboard, with peeling varnish and a missing leg, which soared above the table all three were sat at.
One smacked her lips in malicious humour and slapped the third as well.
The other explained, ‘no, the bucket in the booth outside, out there, outside.’
‘Not in this room, dear’, added one, smirking.
‘Outside?!’, tried to comprehend the third, ‘but that’s so far!’
‘Far it is’, agreed one or the other, or maybe both.
The third placed one hand on the table and the other she slapped on the wall next to her. Grunting, she moved her weight to her trembling legs, wheezing she grasped at the wall and onto the table so hard her finger nails broke under pressure, her fingers turned blue. Shaking all over now, she finally managed to stretch her legs enough to give the impression of almost standing upright.
The other two women clapped, enviously.
‘Did you see that?’, said one with a clandestine blink.
‘I did’, muttered the other in voice so high she sounded like a cat, ‘I wonder what she’s feeding on to have strength like that, hundred eggs for breakfast and two hundred for lunch.’
One smacked her lips and scratched her collar bone, horizontally. The other fixed her hair a little. Someone farted.
The third, now trembling like a leaf as she struggled to move out of her almost upright, but not upright enough yet, position, was seemingly ready to let go of the wall and possibly even the table. She looked down at her two friends resentfully but not without joy, carefully drew both her hands towards herself, and placed them on her breasts.
One and the other exchanged rascally looks that were by no means covert, but really should have been. The third noticed a brewing conspiracy and faltered because of it. How easily we are all affected by other people’s negativity, how easily we allow our hearts to be broken. The third hastily lost her balance and grabbed the table again, as well as the back of her chair, in order to prevent herself from falling, which almost happened.
‘That’, said one, ‘was a close one, dear, be careful not to break your neck fooling around like that. You must take your time, even if it means you piss yourself.’
The other slapped one’s hand in passionate approval and whispered, ‘oh aye dear, oh aye.’
The third persevered. She refused to sit back down for a rest, albeit she did hold on to the table dearly for the essential support, leaning into it with her both hands now.
One gestured to the other with her rheumatoid fingers and the other leaned in towards the third’s now vacant chair, greedily clasped onto the back rest, pulled it away and after a few extra attempts managed to knock it over.
The third failed to notice this, what with her weak eye-sight, astigmatism and the light in the room being quite dim. However she did hear the sound of the chair falling over.
‘What was that sound?’
‘Just your hip breaking dear, never mind that’, chuckled the other under the approving gaze of one.
The third coughed and sneezed at the same time.
‘Careful there, dear, don’t exasperate yourself’, said one or the other.
Now back to the third’s continuing efforts to go to the toilet.
It wasn’t going well. Brittle in bone and thin in skin, the third was the weakest of the three. Coincidentally, or maybe understandably (surely not purposefully), she was also weak in character, with plain, sad and balding features that manifested this fact.
So there she was, the third one, trembling all over like a leaf in the midst of tremontana, failing to stand right up, unable to sit back down.
Jumped ahead there, didn’t we? The third of course did not know that the chair she thought was underneath her was not there anymore. Exhausted, she exhaled with her damp breath the last drop of strength and gratefully relaxed her leg muscles, letting her bottom lower as she held onto the table for dear life. In a rare moment of indifference she appeared to be completely unperturbed by one and the other’s increasingly loud giggles and suspect clapping.
Down the third’s bottom went, slowly but rather unsteadily towards the floor, both she and the table shaking under pressure, until of course, to the dismay of the third, it reached not the chair but the floor with a thump. The two old hags watched, baring their gums and tongues, and howling in wicked humour. They congratulated each other by nudging each other with elbows, then fingers, then heads.
The third one, now sitting convoluted on the floor, her legs bent and hands still clutching the table, did not however stop falling yet. The inertia of her cumbersome, drooping body entangled the table which was pulled down too, and down came one and the other who were burdensomely leaning on it. Unfortunately, the table landed on the third’s neck as it came down, making it almost impossible for her to breathe, even though admittedly she had not been good at that for decades. The other two were lucky in this regard, for they fell onto each other. One of the women was killed when she banged her head as she hit the floor, but it wasn’t immediately apparent which one.
‘Look, dear, she’s almost dead’, said one while she was writhing on the floor upon the other, attempting unsuccessfully to get up.
The other stretched her trembling arm towards the third’s leg and grabbed her ankle.
‘She’s not, she’s still warm, dear’, sounding disappointed.
One clutched a leg of a chair and feebly attempted to tip it onto the third, no easy feat when lying down and possibly being dead; she only managed to slide the chair. The third mistook the gesture for offered help and, encouraged, pulled the chair towards herself and using it for support, began the lengthy process of extracting herself from underneath the table. One swore under her breath, the other swore at one.
The doorbell sounded.
A jump-start in the room. The third managed to sit up in a bounce, while one incomprehensibly to the other already had one knee off the floor.
‘Here’s that squeaking seagull again’, said the other, on all fours.
‘I’ll get it’, volunteered one.
The third smiled at her, a nasty sight.
‘Do, dear’, she squealed, ‘it might be my bastard grandson.’
The other made a face, ‘could be my grandson too!’
One finally managed to stand up and, cupping her bleeding elbow in her hand, started limping towards the front door.
‘Go, dear, go quickly, before all your teeth fall out!’
The third realised she could hold no longer and released her bladder with a joyous sigh of heightened relief. The other appeared understanding.
‘I’m surprised you held it in for so long dear, you must not have ever given birth or drank the fizzies.’
The steaming, cloudy liquid of pale yellow was quickly covered the floor, carrying with it far beyond an odour of most rancid qualities.
One, who was hardly out of the room, peeped her grey head back in, ‘you skank’, she uttered in her mousy voice, ‘you stank the place up, I had to refuse our guests because of it.’
The third was wallowing contentedly in a relief finally achieved, so she did not pay much attention to the remark. Instead, she repeatedly sighed with pleasure.
One left the room again and was heard discussing something with someone outside. At times the back of her shoulder would appear in the doorway, reminding the women in the room of her proximity.
The other and the third were trying to guess who one was talking to. The third was convinced she was hearing the bass timbre of a baritone while the other the high-pitched wailing of a child. It is not clear which one of them was right. The guest, who never did appear in the doorway as the two women were expecting, was heard intoning farewells in a way a man would, or a child.
One came back into the room and found both the other and the third sitting in a pool of urine. It was not clear whether it was one person’s doing any more, so far and so abundantly had it spread across the wooden floor. The other claimed she’d slipped and fallen in, while the third wheezed with disbelief at her apparent lies. One did not trust either of them,and quite rightly too.
One suddenly abandoned the question of pee and directed her attention to the tiny glaring light bulb under the missing lamp shade. She manoeuvred towards it (it was on a cupboard on the other side of the room) like a moth, her skirts flapping, her greasy long hair stuck together like spaghetti, some strands occasionally falling from her head as she trailed across.
‘Burning electricity when it’s still light outside?!’, she spat the words out from her mouth as if they were made of sand. Shortly after she eventually reached the lamp one tugged hard at the chord, pulling out the plug from the socket and the lamp off the cupboard. It was now dangling in the air in front of one’s face, swinging almost to the rhythm of the other and the third’s guilty and panicked heaving.
Nothing was said for a while. Silence was heavy and together with the ominous swinging of the lamp it resulted in extreme tension, experienced mainly by the two women on the floor. The third fainted again while the other started rummaging in her pockets for some change to pay one for electricity, seemingly having forgotten that they were actually in the other’s home, not one’s. The search for change was unsuccessful and the other proceeded to faint too.
‘Scavengers!’, one shouted to no-one, ‘scavengers and cowards! Weak!!’, her lips were trembling even more than usual, ‘weak and stupid and idiotic.’ One dropped the lamp with a touch of abandon, so clumsy and undecided the action was that the light bulb did not even smash. She then walked to the only upright chair in the room, sat down and turned her profile. All was quiet now in that house, apart from the occasional banging of the pipes above.
Thus passed quarter of an hour after quarter of an hour after quarter of an hour until, after almost sixty minutes’ stillness and quiet, one coughed. Very loudly. In fact, the third, who was by now just pretending to be unconscious, thought the sound resembled a thousand plastic rulers hitting bare skin. Indeed, the sound pierced the room as well as the other and the third’s ear drums. Both opened their eyes to what they wrongly assumed to be a new day. But it wasn’t. They stirred and rolled around, stretching and slowly becoming aware of the wetness and the smell. One turned from her profile to face them. She forgot that she was angry with those two women, who were after all her comrades in old age, voluntary company, free communication.
The third exhibited efforts to stand up, or at least to sit up. She pushed hard against the floor as she pulled a horrid face and scrambled about with her legs. The other noticed her chance to shine and get back in favour with one. She watched the third’s endeavour beady-eyed and facetious, which was surprisingly not mirroring the demeanour of one. In fact the latter was not observing the happenings on the floor at all, instead she considered her limp limbs and wondered if she was now dead.
Apparently refreshed by the forty-five minute nap, the third was looking much stronger and determined in her efforts. She was nearly standing upright when the other, having momentarily lost her concentration looking out for one’s absent approval, nearly missed her getting fully up. She noticed her oversight and swiftly grabbed and pulled the third’s ankle, the latter now towering proudly above the other. The third however acted quickly and slapped the other’s hand off her ankle, crushing it with the power of her heavily ringed fingers. The other moaned in pain like a cow.
One, having decided that there was a slight chance after all that she was not yet dead, took in her surroundings once more and noticed the impending brawl.
‘Be careful there, dear’, she instructed the third, smirking. This was not said loudly enough however and neither of the half-deaf women heard one’s comment. The third stood up, walked a few steps, proudly looked at her legs.
‘Isn’t it lovely’, she uttered, vaguely addressing one and then the other.
One had a plan.
‘How no?’, the third was disappointed by the lack of encouragement.
‘You died dear! I saw you do it. This does not mean anything.’
The other joined in:
‘I saw it too dear.’
The third was confused, ‘did I? When?’
‘I saw you do it dear, who cares when’, one scratched an itch between her legs.
‘I saw it yesterday’, the other’s malice knew no bounds.
‘Yesterday? I was not here yesterday.’
‘Neither was I dear, that’s how I saw it.’
‘What should I do then, what happens now?’, a sense of panic, debilitating pain.
‘The fuck do I know?!’, an understated thanks to those you cannot blame.
‘I don’t know either, dear’, I heard one utter, look at her friends, and there the story ends.