The rain had settled itself into thick drops dripping from fat trees by the time she staggered up to Andy’s door. A heavy wind had come on about halfway there, flensing her and almost causing her to give up. Fuck, she’d thought the rain had hurt.
The bags were torn and muddy around her feet. She stood on the big marble steps and allowed herself to give in to the wave of shivers that wanted to overtake her.
Andy’s house was big. Viv’s parents hadn’t exactly been begging in the streets for change, but in comparison to Andy they might as well have been. Her family’s house – a whole house, in the city! – was four austere floors, joined by red carpeted stairs and gently lit.
Course, it came at the price of her parents spending most of their days and nights elsewhere, but that was to her advantage. There was a dull flicker of light from behind one of the closed curtains. A TV in a darkened room, most likely. Looking further up she could see yellow in one of the bedroom windows, either Andy’s or her brother’s. Paul, that was his name.
A sudden nervousness overcame her. Maybe it would’ve been better to go home. She shook it aside. She’d gone over it. What was the worst that would happen? Idiot, jinxed it, just get on with it…
Gingerly she pressed her finger to the hard cold plastic of the doorbell and heard its distant buzz. A sudden gust of wind sent a splattering of water into the back of her thighs like a whip and she gasped and shook herself.
‘Fucking weather,’ she spat. ‘Can’t a zombie get some peace?’ She blew on her hands and watched the door nervously.
Footsteps from inside. They sounded slow, methodical, but she couldn’t tell if it was Andy’s uneven gait or an unexpectedly solemn Paul. Was Paul solemn? A shadow through the glass. She bounced expectantly.
The door slid open a crack. Her hair was a mess, and Viv would’ve said that she’d been sleeping on it if it weren’t for the fact that she was still dressed – tailored waistcoat with nipped in waist, black dress shirt, cream cravat, and pinstriped trousers. She wasn’t exactly surprised to see her wearing them, but Andy normally changed into something more comfortable than her exacting Victorian gentleman style in the evenings. Her cane was clutched tight in one hand, golden end resting on the edge of the door.
She was silent. Her eyes were wide, her hand frozen on the door.
‘Look – um –Andy –’ shit how do I say this, how do I say this, ‘I just – uh – woke up in – um, you know, and I know you’re probably shocked –’
The door slammed in Viv’s face.
A moment of sheer stunned terror. Andy didn’t – Andy wouldn’t –
The door opened again. Andy’s expression was curiously even.
‘You’re still here.’ There was a flat incredulity in her tone, a note of worrying hysteria. Viv shifted awkwardly from one plastic-bag shoe to another. Irritated, she shook them off, glanced back up at the motionless figure in the doorway.
‘Yeah.’ She opened her mouth to say more, but couldn’t think of anything. She settled for a second, ‘Yeah.’ The cold reasserted itself and she blurted out, ‘Could I come in?’
Andy stepped back and held the door open.
Viv dashed through into the blessed warmth and light – ow, light! Christ, who would’ve thought that would hurt – of the hallway. Allowing her shivers to take over again she leant against the wall and shook, unable to speak for a while simply from the cold.
Eventually she straightened herself out. Andy was pacing, up and down and round and round, the uneven thump-thump of her gait echoing down the corridor.
Viv was suddenly overcome by the realisation that she had not the faintest idea what to say. Andy had been her best friend for years, and she’d been dead – what was she meant to say in that situation? The memory of the fury of their last conversation swept over her. Better to avoid it.
‘Uh, so, uh, how’ve you been?’ She winced almost before she’d finished saying it – god, how pointlessly banal a thing to say –
Andy stopped pacing for long enough to give her a look from cocked head, that spike of pure compressed sarcasm that she did so well, and it was so characteristic of her, so like Andy and so unlike the strange thing that had been wearing her face until now that Viv collapsed into helpless giggles, gasping with laughter against the wall, and she heard Andy’s voice join in with contralto harmony.
‘Oh, oh, I needed that.’ Andy’s voice was rueful, but there was something of her in it. She leant against the cane for a second.
‘But seriously, how have you been – I mean, um, what with my –’
‘No need to go into it.’ Her voice’s peaks had been cut again, and she started pacing up and down, up and down. Thump-thump went the cane and her legs. Thump-thump.
Viv blinked at this. Andy was normally the person who wouldn’t leave well enough alone, and didn’t believe in her time honoured policy of sticking her fingers in her ears and refusing to listen. Then again, Viv had never died before either. A little worm of guilt crept into her at this.
‘I mean, it must’ve been difficult,’ she found herself saying. ‘If you – if you want to talk about it –’
‘I said it’s fine.’ Andy’s words should’ve been shot with fire or icy, but she just sounded tired. She cocked her head again. ‘You’re a mess Viv.’
‘Yeah. Um, I wanted to ask – could I use your shower? And dettol. Just to avoid tetanus, you know?’ She laughed a little nervously. Things still felt…strange. Andy hadn’t stopped pacing, her eyes fixed on her tiny circuit of the floor.
‘Sure. That sounds good.’ Her eyes flicked up briefly to glance at Viv.
‘Well, I’ll, uh, go off and do that. And, um, do you have any clothes I could borrow? Just for the moment until I can get home and hash all that out.’
Andy nodded, a mechanical jerking motion. Viv turned to head away up the stairs – there was something really wrong with Andy’s behaviour. Maybe this would be how she would behave if all this had happened to Andy. Everything was fine – Andy was just shocked.
‘Why didn’t you go to the police?’ Andy’s voice was hoarse, almost a whisper. Her face was turned away, still fixed on that one patch of floor.
‘You – well, you know me. They’d have – questions, and it’d take ages, and –’ Viv squirmed in place on the stairs. Andy’s stillness was – ‘It’d make me uncomfortable. You let me get away with stuff like that. I knew I could show up and you wouldn’t have…inane questions for me about the whole thing.’ She grinned, to try and take any sting in the words away.
‘Of course.’ Andy’s voice was rough. ‘Of course.’ She walked, almost shuffled, away. Like some terrible weight settled upon her shoulders.
A strange sense of foreboding settled over Viv. She was probably just imagining it, but under the pale white light of the glimmering bulbs the red stairs suddenly seemed menacing – a tide of matted fur and blood. A flash of orange street lights and russet eyes shot across her vision and she winced. She wondered if the police had caught her murderer.
Something for another day, though. She took the stairs two at a time, all the way up to Andy’s room. Her bed was unslept in – strange, but Andy did sometimes keep weird hours – and in a frenzy of glee at the thought of being clean – gods above, clean! – again she dashed into the bathroom, dumping her bag of cigarettes and sweet wrappers just outside the door.
The goddamned muddy dress clung to her awkwardly, half encrusted on in places by patches of dirt. She ripped it off – she was never going to wear another white dress again, what had her parents been thinking burying her in one – and stood, gasping and still far too cold on the beige-white tiles.
She grabbed the bottle of dettol from the shelf and clutched it to her. Then, into the shower stall, fumbling with the controls – this knob for temperature, this knob to make the water start –
A sudden spurt of water, colder even than the rain, hit her and she shrieked, backpedalling out of its stinging embrace. Motherfucker was the boiler broken?! She held her hand under the water. No, it was warming up, fast, and she quickly dived in and adjusted the temperature down a little. She’d read somewhere that if one had hypo – hyposomethingorother then one didn’t want to warm up too quickly. The blood vessels would expand too fast and rupture, and she hadn’t come back from dying just to die again.
The hot water stung almost as much as the cold had, but it was a good pain, a burning unknotting tension in her limbs. Snakes of grime wandered down her body into the shower tray, leaving flecks of brown-black mud. She dumped the dettol in a corner and furiously scrubbed at herself with her hands until her fingers were numb – then she grabbed the bottle of shampoo and dumped a dollop onto her head, massaging it into her hair. Shitfuck, so many knots – she’d have to spend an hour at least getting them out. Her hair felt thick and squeaky after the shampoo and she revelled in the sensation for a second before grabbing the dettol again.
She eyed the bottle of disinfectant warily before finally deciding that stupidity was the better part of valour, closing her eyes and emptying it over her head.
Cuts she didn’t even know she’d had burnt into agonising life under its touch. The soles of her feet were on fire and she screamed again with actual pain. ‘Fuck fuck fuckgle.’ She spat out the mouthful of disinfectant and water. ‘Fuck!’ Her eyes were still clenched shut, and she could feel droplets of liquid worming their way through her eyelashes. She shut off the shower, leapt out – the towels were to her left somewhere, she just had to dry her eyes – there, a sudden fluffy texture under hand and she grabbed it, burying her face in it until she could pull away and open her eyes.
The room was misted with steam from the shower, the air itself almost wet. Her mouth felt suddenly agonisingly unclean in comparison to the rest of her, and she scrambled for a toothbrush and toothpaste to attack her teeth with. Her skin had lost its strange hard pallor, but she ached all over, like she’d just run for miles.
Which she supposed she had. She didn’t know where she’d been buried, but it had been a long long walk.
All over now, though. There’d be the conversation tomorrow with her parents, some sort of chat with the police, and maybe a couple of comments at school. Then everything would be back to normal.
She brushed away the cloud from the mirror, and paused.
The reflection that greeted her looked a mess – less of a mess than she’d caught in reflections from parked cars earlier, but a mess nevertheless. But the thing that drew her attention was her eyes.
Viv had always had green eyes. Muddy green, swampy eyes. Now?
Her eyes were white. Solid white till the thin black circle of her pupils. It was fucking eerie – for a second she thought she might have one of those joke contact lenses in, and poked at her eyes. Ouch, she needed to trim her nails. No. It was her eye.
Then something occurred to her.
She wrapped the towel round her and exited the bathroom. No clothes left out for her – damn – and she was still damp enough that she didn’t want to go rummaging through Andy’s expensive shit. ‘Andy!’ She poked the bag she’d left out here with her toe. ‘Andy! How come you didn’t mention my eyes to me?’
She bent down to glance under the bed in case there was anything under there. Nope. What was with the eyes? She wasn’t – there wasn’t – it’d just been a mistake with the coroner, her death. Surely. Everything would get back to the status quo –
‘Jesus fuck!’ Andy had materialised in the room while her back was turned. She had the good grace to look guilty about having snuck up on her at least. ‘Seriously, knock first or something.’
‘You were calling me.’
‘Yeah, about my eyes. Why didn’t tell me that they’re all –’ She gestured wildly at the air.
Her hand was clenched on her cane. ‘It didn’t seem to matter. Not under the circumstances.’
Her voice was very soft.
She started walking towards Viv. Her cane was almost inaudible against the floor. Viv backed up – something behind her, the bed. She sat down on it. Andy’s other hand was behind her back and her face, her face was so solemn and terrified and there was something of that eagle sharp regret she’d seen in the russet eyes, and she opened her mouth to scream or plead or –
‘Sis, stop making so much noise, some of us still have normal sleep – Jesus, you’ve got a knife – oh, didn’t realise you had a guest.’ Paul blushed, leaning in the doorway. He was broad shouldered and embarrassed looking, half clad in some sort of school tracksuit. Andy was holding a knife too – when she’d spun around to the doorway she’d revealed it, some long kitchen affair. A bread knife, maybe. Serrated.
‘You can see her?’ Andy’s voice was bland.
‘Uh, yeah, look, sorry to interrupt and, uh, I’ll just leave you two alone, I mean I didn’t know that my sister, that you –’
‘Excuse me.’ Andy’s voice was calm. She dropped the cane and the knife, and took the few limping steps necessary for her to reach the bathroom and slam the door behind her. Seconds later there came the heavy sawtooth noise of retching.
Paul continued to blather. ‘Well, I hope you had a good sister – I mean a good time – I mean, I hope that – ah, screw it.’ He turned to close the door.
This was too much for Viv. ‘It’s me, Viv.’ She was bizarrely reminded of Mario, and for a second envisaged herself with a moustache in a red plumber suit.
‘Uh, never met you before, sorry, so sorry.’ The door closed.
Viv sat on the bed. The retching from the bathroom started up again.
‘What the fuck just happened?’