Then I Clean the Room
Emma May lives in London. She studied Film, Video and Photographic Art at Westminster University and graduated as a film writer/director in 1990. She went on to work for a literary agent and then for the feature film company, Film and General Productions. She left Film and General to make her own short film The Winding Sheet with a Royal College of Art producer. The film won an award at the Chicago Film Festival and was bought and screened by Channel Four. Since then she has worked variously as a scriptwriter, pop promo director and in more desperate times as a painter and decorator. She hopes to write a novel and a feature film in the next year.
from Then I Clean the Room
I'm sick of tossing and turning unable to sleep, so I get up and go over to the window. Outside there's a fox dashing across the wide lawn. It feels like a sign, everything does these days. I want to sleep so badly, but I haven't been able to since John died. Every night he comes to me and wakes me. My dreams are slashed into nothing by his big meaty hands. When we first got married I worshipped those hands. I'd watch them slipping confidently around the steering wheel of his car and feel utterly safe.
I go downstairs to make some hot milk. As I pass Mrs Parry's door, I hear her moaning in her sleep. She's one of my five residents. I quietly open the door and slip inside. Her room is glowing and little shadowy shapes are moving round on the wall. She insists on having a children's night light. It's a kind of box with animal shapes that revolve, creating a continuous shadow play on the wall. I lean over her and brush her hair back off her face. She seems quite soundly asleep; there's nothing wrong. Most of the noise she is making is probably her ancient little body, slowly grinding to a halt. I put her papery hand back under the blanket and leave.
The kitchen is the coldest room in the house and I shiver while the milk boils, holding my hands over the heat of the saucepan. I turn on the radio and sway in front of the cooker. I know the tune so I sing along a bit. I used to love singing. I joined a local choir; we met once a week to practice Mozart's Requiem. I loved it - it all seemed so alive and vital, even though we were singing about dying. The performance was in our local church. We had to stand in rows on benches, so we could all be seen. It was so hot and the air was thick with incense, all those faces looking at us. I fainted before singing a single note. I crashed through two other rows and knocked a violinist right out of his chair. John drove me home, said it was the most embarrassing night of his life. I never sang with the choir again.
I turn the radio up a bit. There's no danger of waking any of the residents. I feel bad about it but I drug them up to the eyeballs in the evening. It's much safer that they don't wander about at night.
The entire text of Then I Clean the Room may be found in the book Westland Row, which is published by Imp Press priced IR£5.99, and available at all good bookshops, or over the internet from Hodges Figgis.