Get It, Mum?
A ring on the bell. They're crowding the doorway: a girl and two men. The one with the gut says he's Sam. He could be. I can't really tell. Sam hasn't been back since he was fifteen. I nod. Consent or merely taking it in?
A tissue wrapped present is put in my hand, a peck on the cheek, and then they push past me through to the fire. All of a dither, I make cups of tea, cut fruit cake and mean it. It's pouring outside. Quite a storm.
They've pulled off their wet things. They're all over the floor. The girl's sprawled on the sofa. The big one – he does look like Sam – is making a phone call. There, in my chair.
Their raw hands reach out, helping themselves. They gulp down the tea. Expect more. He's dialing again. Doesn't he know what it costs?
The youth with the pigtail fingers some cards. Grunts something at me. I decline. The girl makes a quip about poker. Strip poker. They laugh. Roll their eyes.
Done with good deeds, I retreat. The kitchen is quieter. I wash up their things. The scream in my head: Just get out of my house! I've been on my own seventeen years. I hide my relief when they get to their feet, finally taking the hint.
But just as I'm closing the door the big one falls sideways, making harsh sounds in his throat. The other two catch him. Drag him, heels clattering, back to the sofa.
"It's 'is heart."
"Where's 'is pills?"
He's groaning and clammy with sweat. I pick up the phone, which lies where he dropped it. Dead. Dead? Of course, it's the storm. Why didn't he tell me?
Caught off my guard, I've offered my bed. Tripped up by a tongue that wanted life different.
I was always too soft. And I know what he thinks. That he's got me. One foot in the grave. His smile is a smirk. He already looks better as we settle him down. This heart attack's part of his plan.
There's no need to say it. I can hear him go on in my mind: The deeper we're lodged, the harder to root us out, right? Get it, Mum?
At teatime I'm frying lamb chops.
'Thanks, lady,' says Pigtail, in from their car.
He's loaded with beer. I say I never drink it. It's bad for my ulcer. He orders the girl to give me a hand. Under her long greasy hair I notice a cauliflower ear.
Choose your moment to push, I say to myself. Wait for a sign. You got Sam out once before. Wait till the phones come back on. I jab the meat savagely watching it splutter and singe.
It's three against one.