The Spare Room During a Storm

by Meg Mulcahy

The sound of the ghost watching them was deafening over congealed plates and scummy teaspoons.

‘We’re going to have to do something. A sage, a chant. Something. Get someone in,’ she had once insisted.

He nodded silently. They hadn’t slept for months, they hadn’t touched in just as long; for fear of being watched. Feeding off this fear, the ghost was now reducing them to tears. It must have grown bored with domestic bliss and their pathetic attempts at tolerance. Now was the time to really wreak havoc. The damp, the noises, the creaking of wooden floorboards in the middle of the night. Love was the grime in the skirting boards and the bloody dregs dried at the bottom of a non-wine glass. The ham-handed fingering of delicate curls at the back of her neck despite all her teachings. The mug of tea waiting for him after the shower.

Love was also the hole in the wall that would never be filled. The bathroom that they’d waited two years to paint. The holiday that kept being promised. The cards and texts she’d send his family from both of them because he insisted they ‘didn’t care about that kind of thing.’ The razor that never found its way back to his shelf, making him late for work.

The ghost was done with their performance. Their ineffective rituals. It was going to have a go at reclaiming its home, they decided. It would let out gushing water sounds like a hose being let loose, rusty cranking, a screaming boiler, and pointed knocking on the walls whenever the inhabitants had rationed a moment’s peace. It was using their spare room as its own brass band rehearsal space, complete with traumatised audience.

When the pair couldn’t take it any longer one particularly terrifying Tuesday night, they scraped up as much strength as they had left, collected it in a dustpan and moulded it into the shape of a couple. A couple that had been each other’s emergency contact, confidante, funeral-goer, best friend.

Clammy hands held tight, they walked down the hallway towards the noise with phone torchlights enabled and the tall umbrella for protection. As they approached the bedroom, one last heavy step was enough to crack the sodden board underneath cleanly in two, unleashing a ferocious hiss so violent they jumped back. A host of flashing silverfish erupted from underneath, spewing forth in a fountain so vast it looked as though it came from the Underworld itself—squirming, crumbling insects jumping from all sides as the wave grew higher in liquid rubble. All this time, festering. No ghost, only rotting.

‘We can’t stay!’ he bellowed, eyes wider than she’d ever seen.

‘We just can’t. We have to get out.’

She gazed agape at the mouth of the silver fountain, numb.

‘We have nowhere to go,’ she replied quietly.

Panic-stricken, he allowed himself to stare at her in disbelief for a second before rolling up his sleeves and barging past her into the kitchen. He flung open cupboard doors, slamming one off its hinges and dislocating a full drawer of woolen spools, rolled up plastic bags, photos and fridge magnets. Shopping lists and electricity bills flew out of them and surrounded him like a flurry of cherry blossom petals welcoming their time to move on, flooding gutters with desiccated pink coconut.

He rifled through them, his hands feeling for the rounded bottles of health-store supplements he knew to be there. He landed on several rolling jars and quickly scanned the labels for items he knew to be good herbal solutions for treating silverfish; diatomaceous earth, citrus essence, lavender. He racked his brain desperately trying to remember what she’d said all those months ago.

‘It’s in the pipes, love.’ She rubbed his back gently. ‘I think it’s too late for all that.’

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