I wish I had a top hat

by Sally Cook

‘Why did you do that?’ you are saying. Actually, saying probably isn’t an accurate enough description. I’d like to get this right. For the record. It’s more like squealing, a sort of strangled squealing. Your face is red. You are practically snorting with disbelief.

‘Why did you do that?’

I am calm. I am holding the mop, head down, in my right hand, arm extended to the side, legs crossed at the ankle, like a cabaret dancer about to perform a routine with a cane. Where’s my top hat? I don’t have a top hat. Or even a cane. I wish I did have a top hat, I think. It might lend the occasion a sense of ceremony.

On the floor at our feet, between us, surrounded by the shiny wet kitchen tiles, is your open laptop. Your laptop is made of white plastic. Your laptop is awash with dirty water. It is standing in a small grey puddle. There are particles of dirt and gravel and bits of food and hair that were trapped in the mop on the keyboard. It looks a bit like the beach when the tide goes out, not pretty like sand and shells and seaweed, but filthy like nappies and plastic beer can things and bits of polystyrene. For a moment there is no sound, and we both gaze at the computer, which sits there, inanimate and sopping, an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire, really. I feel sorry for the computer. Sorry, computer, I think.

Then there is a rattle and a clap and a miaow and Nellie, our one-eyed cat, appears from between your legs. She winds herself proudly in slinky figure-of-eights, around your legs, the laptop, and my legs, loving us, purring loudly, oblivious. She doesn’t seem to find it odd that there is a wet laptop on the kitchen floor. She loves the wet laptop with as much devotion as she loves us. Man, woman, wet computer: all are equal in Nellie’s eyes. Eye. She leaves through the door behind me, stalking off, tail in the air, to lie on her woolly cat bed over the radiator in the hall. I have tried to learn dignity from Nellie. She is very dignified. There are small, wet cat footprints on the floor in circles around you, me, and your laptop.

I mopped your laptop. I mopped it vigorously. I mopped it really thoroughly and hard; so hard that the screen fizzled and went dark. I mopped up the email that came this afternoon, that email about thank you for the flowers, they are beautiful. I wonder what kind of flowers they are. I wonder if they are gerberas, because I like gerberas and you don’t know many other kinds of flowers. I wonder where you bought them. I pass the mop handle from hand to hand, a bit like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. I whistle a couple of bars of Singing in the Rain and tap one of my feet experimentally.

You stop doing nothing and start moving, crouching, picking up the laptop, cradling it like an injured child, setting it gently on the kitchen table, dripping grey liquid everywhere in dot-dash trails, like blood. You dab at the laptop with a tea towel, and the room smells like disinfectant and stagnant water. You’re making a low, moaning sound. I shake my head, sadly. I’m no expert, but even to me, the prognosis doesn’t look good.

You are pressing the ‘on’ button again and again. Holding it down for a long time. Holding it down for a short time. Pressing it hard. Pressing it gently. Nothing is happening. The screen is blank. You look at me, and there are tears in your eyes. Your face is shiny. ‘It’s wet,’ I say. ‘It won’t work because it’s wet.’

‘I know it’s fucking wet, you mad bitch. For fuck’s sake, why did you do it?’ You ask in your new strangled voice. It’s really unattractive, that voice, I think.

I have my answer prepared. ‘I want you to leave,’ I say. I am still calm. I try to imagine what it would be like to have botox injections in your whole face. I have no expression. Like a balloon. I look at you levelly, and the penny drops.

The confusion in your eyes is replaced by sudden comprehension, which is replaced by panic, which is replaced by fear. The whole gamut of guilty emotions, one after the other, like a kaleidoscope, or still-frame photography of clouds moving across the sky. Obvious as a written confession. Or CCTV footage.

Or, a secret folder of love letters in your email account, that you carelessly left logged in when you went to work, early, and in a hurry. Presumably, to order the flowers.

Sally Cook has a blog at ninechainstothemoon.blogspot.com and helps organise the manchester-based reading night there’s no point in not being friends with someone if you want to be friends with them.

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  1. #1 by Nik's Blog on October 17, 2008 - 12:40 pm

    Brilliant.

  2. #2 by Sandra Davies on November 28, 2010 - 10:06 am

    This is a superb, well told tale of revenge, reading as smoothly as … water flows through a laptop’s keyboard – and I loved the detail of hair etc. left behind.

  3. #3 by Leah on December 3, 2010 - 8:55 am

    Hits with force. Beautifully composed.

  4. #4 by Sandra Davies on September 20, 2011 - 6:44 pm

    Superbly well-told.

  5. #5 by jennifer walmsley on December 22, 2011 - 9:40 am

    This is an ace of a story. Love it.

  6. #6 by Fiona Jane Richardson on August 8, 2012 - 1:08 pm

    brilliant! could see her standing there, loved the silent apology to the laptop and her imagining botox to keep her face blank, fantastic.

  7. #7 by Hoyong Choi on November 23, 2013 - 6:20 am

    This story shows us a scene of one women’s revenge to her boy friend who cheated with another girl. The most brilliant thing in this story is the description!

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