And HopeMature

"Look at you," he said. "Honest to God, it makes me sick. Do you have any idea how much you stink?"

He was right. In the small room the air was thick with the smell of vomit, with undercurrents of sweat from my run around the block. My pyjamas were sticking to my skin, stained and filthy, and my bare feet were caked in dirt from the street. I pushed my hair away from my face, straggling, damp rats-tails that had glued themselves over my cheeks. My pyjama top had ridden up over my stomach and I pulled it down as he glared at me, and tried to sit a little straighter. My stomach gave another twinge as I did so and I groaned, heaving into the bowl again.

Maybe it was wiser not to move at all. I stared at the horrible soup congealing in the toilet bowl and couldn't even find the energy to reach for the flush.

"That's right," he said. "Take a good look. Not pretty is it? Pointless and disgusting. Bit like your life so far, wouldn't you say? You listening to me? And you were about to flush it. Down the pan with it. Makes me tired it really does. No originality. What's the matter with you?"

I pulled the flush and drowned out what he said next. Any minute he'd disappear. Back to the world of drugged-up hallucinations. Maybe he was right about my lack of originality. You'd think my imagination could have come up with something better than a small man in a badly-fitting suit who came and sat on the edge of the tub and berated me. Glowing angels say, or a hulking and deformed monster, a slick of black oily snakes all writhing and seething on the bathroom floor.

Shit, what made me think of snakes? It was an effort to look up, I was so sure I'd see them. Maybe my brain was clearing a little, and fear certainly helped, because when I saw there were no snakes, thank God, just him, still sitting glaring at me in disgust, I was awake enough to glare right back.

"Who the fuck are you?" I said again.

"Ask nicely and I might answer," he said. "Listen, you need to get moving. Clear up this mess and get dressed. We're already late. Put on something respectable. As respectable as you've got I doubt they'll even let us in, but we can only try. Not jeans either. Every pair you own is gone at the knees. That outfit you bought for Kirsty and Paul's wedding will do. It's a little behind the style, but it's the best you've got."

I stared. He'd been through my wardrobe? How the hell did he know about Kirsty and Paul's wedding? He rolled his eyes.

"Catching flies," he said and clapped his hands together impatiently. "Chop chop hop to it!"

"Where are we going?" I asked. "It's..." I was about to say the time but I'd lost all track. What was it, three, four in the morning? So late it was almost early. "What am I saying? Why would I go anywhere with you? I don't know you. I'm going to bed! I'm going to bed and when I wake up you'll be gone!" More tears squeezed out, rolling over my cheeks. His only reaction was to hurl a roll of toilet-paper at me, which bounced off my chest and came o rest near my foot.

"Shit," he said. "Stop that. Seems like I'll have to help or we'll never get going." He sighed and clicked his fingers once.

I don't know what he did. Possibly I had a blackout. When I came too, which only seemed like a few seconds later, I was standing in front of him instead of sprawling on the tiles. My hair was clean, my skin felt scrubbed, and I was wearing my best dark rose dress which I'd worn to the wedding and the shoes I'd bought to match.

The bathroom was also spotless; the tiles polished to a cleanliness they hadn't attained since they were in the showroom, the air smelling faintly of lemons.

Maybe I died, maybe this was ghostdom, because I couldn't believe it was heaven. The man nodded thoughtfully.

"I guess that will have to do," he said. "Now, where are your car keys?"











The End

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