Nevertheless, something makes me invite her in for coffee. She smiles at me smugly, her mission accomplished. She's been invited in by the man who doesn't talk to anyone, who hardly goes out even for shopping, who hasn't answered the door in months. She's like one of my mum's old friends, and a sound example for the argument that human beings are inherently selfish, that even good deeds are done for gratification. She goes over to the table, and frowns at the greasy marks on it, and the crumpled old magazines from the nineties I've been cutting things out of. She takes a handkerchief out of her pocket and brushes it several times over the chair before she sits down. I see her in profile, I see her double chin and sunken eyes and the dandruff she no doubt has tried to get rid of with some miracle chemical she saw on television, and I feel a rush of hatred. Stupid bloody woman.
I've turned into my father, I think. The thought does not irritate me as it once might have. No, it pleases me. I grit my teeth in a smile behind my closed lips, and fill the electric kettle at the tap. I get the cups and the instant coffee ready, and then I realize that there's no milk in the 'fridge. To be exact, there's nothing in the 'fridge, and there hasn't been for weeks. I've been subsisting on Pot Noodles, biscuits and tap water.
Damn. That cow's going to give me hell.
She does, and she makes me show her what's in the fridge (nothing), what's in the bread bin (nothing) and what's in the cupboard (next to nothing). I tell her how much I care what she thinks (nothing). She looks at me as if to tell me how childish I'm being, and instantly childish thoughts crawl into my mind, how much I hate her and how much I wish she'd go away. Or even better, the things I'd like to do to her to make her feel just a little bit of the frustration that rises out of my apathy like bubbling water out of a blocked drain. And something snaps, then. Something happens to bridge my hypothetical thoughts, my musings, and my plans for the next minute of my life. They get confused. And I do something I'll never, ever regret. Possibly the most constructive thing I've ever done in my life.
I push her chair over backwards and it hits the carpet with a muffled thud. I hate that carpet. I don't care what happens to it. Maureen's legs are striking against the air like an insect. She seems to have lost the power of speech - her mouth opens and closes like a goldfish. I'm vaguely aware that she looks ridiculous, but it's inconceivable that I would laugh now. My blood is up. I kick the chair out from under her fat, helpless body and look her right in the face. I look her in the face and see her panic and lack of understanding as I strangle her. Her arms are weak and flabby and her nails scrabble at my forearm, useless. It's very easy, very simple. Saliva runs out of her mouth and onto the fronds of the carpet, and I am completely satisfied.
I stand, shaking but invigorated, and push my hair back from my face. At last I've done something that matters. Of course, some would argue it's murder. They'd be right. But I'm past caring whether what I've done is wrong. It was something, wasn't it? I'd made a decision, and acted on it. Now I had no choice but to leave, to do somewhere and do something, to not be caught.
My dad's old Stowaway bag. Clothes. Shaving stuff. Cash. My identity papers. I'm ready. I'm leaving. I'm going now.
I'm almost at the door when I stop. I retrace my steps to the body on the apartment floor. I yank Maureen's name tag from her tabbard and finger it. I look at her name for a few seconds, and then toss the tag on top of my clothes in the bag. I don't bother to look around the apartment where I've lived for years before I close the door behind me and walk quickly but calmly down the staircase to the street. Somewhere out there my mantra is waiting.