Maureen turned to the back page of the newspaper for the telephone number. She lifted the handset and listened for the dial tone. She pressed the numbers into the key pad and held the ear piece a few inches from her head waiting for the ringing to stop and a voice to answer.
She listened to the automated answering system listing her options: fines, emergencies, complaints and the last one, enquiries. She needed to speak to a human and explain. It was a delicate situation. Finally, she convinced the duty clerk to send out a car.
She replaced the handset. The base wobbled on the table as it always had. She walked across the kitchen and turned on the stove. She filled the kettle from the aqua pura bottle and set it on the burner. She examined the empty bottle. She hadn’t used aqua pura to wash herself, only the regular desalinated that came through the pipes. She remembered Lady Macbeth’s interest in washing.
The kettle hummed.
Maureen looked out the window. The slice of sky she could see was veiled with dust and she could see the wind pushing against the palm trees across the road. She put the empty bottle back on the bench top. Odd how she had always favoured that bottle with its squat shape and midnight blue cap, over its fellow, taller and slimmer with a pale cap. Odd, considering the water in both bottles was from the same demi-john.
She mopped the bench where she had sloshed water while filling the kettle. She grinned to herself as she muttered ‘out, out damn spot’ and stopped. She was not losing her mind.
Maureen lifted the cat-shaped tea cosy from the pot and emptied the remains of the last brew and the old tea bags into the sink. A thin brown lake, the colour of dried blood, spread across the steel surface, gathered in a ring around the waste hole and slipped away. The two fat tea bags were cold to the touch and oozed as she squeezed them. The dark tea went under her fingernails and along the edges of her nails. She flicked the bags into the bin and washed her hands under the tap. She scrubbed at the tea stains and dried her hands, paying careful attention to each finger and her palms.
She took down the tea canister and using two fingers like plunging scissors, she pulled put a pair of round tea bags, dragging them slowly against the others in the silver packet, so they did not separate. It was a bit of a game she played with herself, keeping the bags joined together. The seam was fragile, a mere remnant of the factory packaging machine. The seam had always pleased her. Joined at the hip. Her friends used to tease her and Tim, always together.
She warmed the pot and watched the kettle. She could hear the changes in tone as the steam built up. She glanced at the window and wondered how long they would take to arrive, and whether she would have time to drink a second cup.
The kettle whispered and then shrieked. She flicked off the burner and poured the water from height into the pot. She inhaled the rush of tea – of damp hillsides baking in the sun and lush mountains wreathed in mist – and replaced the lid.
She chose a mug from their collection, one that Tim had always liked. It was red, with street names of
on it. She remembered when they bought the souvenir together, laughing at the rain. She poured milk into the bottom of the cup and rotated the tea pot to encourage it to brew. Paris
Maureen glanced out the window again to check for cars. Nothing to be seen. She looked down at herself, her clean blue shirt, her ironed jeans, her bare feet. She counted her toes and glanced out the window again. Nail polish. She wondered, would she get nail polish? She shook her head. She could live without nail polish.
She swivelled the tea pot again and poured a spout’s worth into the sink. She was determined that this cup of tea would be perfect. Satisfied with the colour, she filled her cup. She carried it into the lounge room where she could see the street.
Maureen lowered herself into the chair Tim always used. At first she perched, then forced herself to sit back in it, pulled the lever for the foot rest and felt her balance go as the chair flung her backwards. She held the hot mug between her fingers, forming a noose so it wouldn’t spill. She raised the cup to her mouth and sipped. Too hot, still. A car shuffled past. It was green. Not the one she was waiting for.
She examined her fingers. They looked scrubbed white against the red of the mug. She was very clean. She had even brushed her teeth, afterwards. That first sip of tea had assaulted the cleanliness of her mouth and mixed itself with the toothpaste taste.
She sipped again, and then took a full mouth. It tasted of all the shared cups of tea, all those joined-at-the-hip cups of tea they’d enjoyed together. She swallowed. Another mouthful down. Would she get a second cup?
The lingering toothpaste taste was gone. She should only taste tea, but this mouthful was heavy and thick and tasted of blood. She looked down into the brown swirl. Only tea. She gulped down the last third of the mug and put it on the table, on the coaster Tim always used, beside his chair. She worked the lever so that her feet dropped down and her back came up and she was able to stand.
Maureen hadn’t noticed the car glide up. Now it was dusk and the streetlights had come on. And the door bell was ringing.
She put the hall light on so that when she opened the door they would see that she was safe, that they were safe to come in.
She undid the deadlock and turned the handle. In a second it would be finished. Maureen pressed her lips together and opened the door. She stood back and tried a social smile.
She nodded. ‘Do come in, please.’
The tall one spoke. ‘We’ve had a report.’ He paused.
‘Yes. Upstairs. Do you mind? Turn right at the top of the stairs.’ Maureen turned to the woman. ‘Would you like some tea? I’ve just made some.’
‘No thank you ma’am. Let’s sit down in the kitchen while my partner checks.’
‘I don’t have a solicitor. Is it usual?’
‘If you need one ma’am, there’s a duty solicitor who will advise you.’ She tilted her head up, listening to her partner’s footsteps. ‘The report was correct then?’
‘Was there something you wanted to say? Was it self-defence?’
Maureen offered a tight smile. ‘It’s always self-defence of one sort or another, isn’t it?’