The Thing in The Kitchen.
He knew something was wrong almost before he’d closed the front door and moved past the glass- fronted knick- knack cupboards the stairs. The house was silent, but that was to be expected. She was not given to undue noise. He’d peeked into the sitting room. The sofa seemed empty in the dim light from the mostly closed curtains. The Screen, always on, was off. The room smelt slightly of dust
Something definitely was wrong. She was tiny, but his voice would have reflected from her if had she been in the house. She wasn’t in the breakfast room. She wasn’t in either of the two bedrooms upstairs, the one she shared with Grandpa or the guest bedroom. For that matter she wasn’t in the dining room or the small cupboard under the stairs either. His sense of disquiet increased that he’d even looked there, still wasn’t it possible? Then again, she wasn’t. She wasn’t in the big linen cupboard, almost a room in its own right, or in the Laundry, so he took a few seconds to stare at the back yard, *so green* to calm his nerves by perhaps divining some message in the pattern of the scattered coloured clothes-pegs on the green grass and the disconsolate drips of rain on the wires of the Hills hoist.
He turned away from the window with a small inarticulate noise and entered the kitchen by the back door. The kitchen as it was, was effectively a small dog-leg corridor between the breakfast room at one end and the laundry and backdoor into the yard at the other, with the kitchen-related apparatus, stoves, ovens, the fridge and so on pressed almost haphazardly against the walls where they were less in the way if the area was a corridor and inconvenient to use. If it was a kitchen.
Gran had never been much interested in housekeeping. The ancient gas cooker appeared to have been built entirely from hardened brown stains built up over the decades into an increasingly limply mottled brown surface in places as thick as the skin of a dinosaur and so hard that millions of cockroaches had broken their teeth trying to chew it. The floor was so thick in places you could lift the shit in sheets with a paint scraper. He knew, he’d done a small area near the front right hand leg of the stove once and the back of his throat rippled with at the memory. She watched, for his exposure of almost half a square metre of dark slimy concrete. Almost embarrassingly grateful; but the contrition and shame were harder for him to bear. He’d tried to hug her quiet, she was shorter than he but she kept talking into the hollow of his armpit, rapidly, half English, the other half her almost impenetrable native Gaelic, he shushed her repeatedly. It was alright, it didn’t matter. He’d been glad to help. When she told him that she was a sloven and he could feel the hot damp of her tears soaking his shirt. He told her the truth in the best approximation of Gaelic that he could manage after all the lessons. He truly didn’t give a shit. She started laughing almost instantly but he couldn’t tell whether the laughter was at the sentiment or at his pronunciation of the words. He’d carried her into the breakfast room, planted her on a chair and gave her a choice between tea and instant coffee; She chose cigarettes, and back then, he’d been able to join her. Her filthy filterless “Navy Cut” king size would take the taste of anything out of your mouth. Soon, through the head-spin and clouds of smoke, he could barely see her.
It had taken her a matter of months to return the patch of floor to what appeared to be its natural ghastly state, but neither of them had really noticed since the accretion of shit was too gradual to be followed on a normal clock speed. The shit built up. He looked at it now and nothing gave any hint that it had ever been any different; in fact, it looked archeological. The graves of Inca kings might be beneath it.
That was when he saw the notice stuck to the door of the fridge. It was a A4-size piece of official colour printed flexible shiny plastic. Across the top, in large red letters in a red oblong box it said “ATTENTION”. He pulled it off the fridge and brought to smaller print close enough to read.
“To whom it may concern; be it known that Mrs Marianne Stapldon, having reached the age of seventy years and not presented herself to an office of the bureau of ageing, has been detained under the terms of the ageing act and sentence to twenty years in an official facility, in this case room twenty six tier four Wormwood Scrubs Aged Hospice. Relatives and friends are welcome to visit between the hours of twelve noon and four PM, but will of course be subject to standard age protocols. Check the bureau website for more details.(signed)
KKL6577aXX subset II (Supervisor)
Bureau of Ageing (Swindon HQ)
His arm dropped limply to his side, the plastic page protested at what it apparently considered rough treatment.
It had finally happened. He’d been expecting it, one way and another, almost all his life. He’d been twelve or thirteen when they’d passed the law and they’d heard about it together, as a matter of co-incidence, in this very kitchen, back then it seemed to him the floor had been immaculate and the sun had streamed in the window like a bath of warm life that gilded everything it touched. The BBC newsreaders voice had been firm, unarguable, each word as solid as a brick in a wall. The act would become active in ten years, to allow those affected to adjust to its implications and to allow GovCorp time to renovate the newly repurposed prisons. Almost as an afterthought the same bulletin announced that the definition of offences subject to the death penalty would be greatly broadened, and the change would be applied retrospectively in keeping with pre-existing judicial rulings. The change to the act now meant that any prisoner presently serving a sentence of longer than five years for any offence, civil, criminal, political or religious would be put to death as a matter of urgency; in the prison they were incarcerated in’s pre-existing death chamber, or in the cell by travelling squads of religious police.
The news bulletin had rather sapped the joy out of the afternoon sun, until Grandma had laughed and said “Well! I won’t have to worry about that for years! Decades!” At the time she had seemed quite happy