In The Frame
Note: Extract from a work in progress.
Poppy and Dylan were playing Scrabble on the living room floor. Ignatius was asleep on the settee.
‘Who’s winning?’ I asked as I unwound my scarf and shrugged out of my bulky winter coat.
‘We’re not keeping score,’ Poppy said.
‘Then what’s the point?’
‘She refused to play if we kept score,’ Dylan said, frowning over his little rack of plastic letters.
They had cans of lager and a bottle of bourbon, so I popped open a beer and settled on the settee, nestling my face into the cat’s warm belly.
The mouth of the can emitted a golfball of foam. I hoovered it up with monkey-lips. The cat made a disgruntled ‘brrrr’ sound but permitted my presence all the same.
‘I’ve got a great one,’ Dylan said, clapping his hands together.
Poppy chewed gum and yawned. ‘Just put it down then.’
‘It’s your turn though.’
She rolled her eyes and plonked three tiles in a crooked line onto the board.
‘Nair? What does nair mean?’ he asked.
‘Isn’t that a brand of hair removal cream?’ I said, re-emerging from my feline pillow. ‘You can’t have that. It’s not a word.’
‘It’s a word, isn’t it?’ Poppy snapped. ‘You can say it with your mouth, can’t you?’
‘Another condition of play,’ Dylan said, laying six tiles across the board, spelling out quibble with a flourish. ‘We have to be flexible with the rules.’
Poppy took a long draught of lager. ‘Can we stop now? This is literally the most bored I’ve ever been in my entire life.’
Dylan shook the bag of tiles, like a money bag. ‘We’ve still got about half the tiles left.’
She gave him a withering look and started to light the dusty tea lights spread across the coffee table. He scooped the letters back into their green sack, then cracked open a fresh can of Kronenbourg.
‘To Prometheus,’ he said, and we all clinked tins. The candle flames flickered: a dozen miniature reflections were framed by his glasses.
‘What’s that?’ Poppy asked, lighting a cigarette from one of the tea lights.
‘Someone to whom you owe a lot of gratitude,’ Dylan said.
‘God, you’re a drag.’
‘I think we’ve got a mouse,’ he said.
‘On the tenth floor?’ I replied. ‘Don’t be so ridiculous.’
‘The washing powder box has been chewed,’ he said. ‘Unless Iggy has a penchant for nibbling cardboard, we have a mouse.’
‘Eurgh,’ Poppy sneered. ‘I can only assume it hitch-hiked with you from your shithole house.’
‘Iggy will catch it, won’t you boy?’ I patted the cat on the rump.
‘That cat is barely capable of catching fleas,’ Dylan said. ‘I’ll get a trap tomorrow. A humane one. Promise.’
‘You’re listening to Nashville Skyline,’ Dylan said.
‘Yes,’ I said, from under the heavy duvet. He switched the light on. I blinked. The living room was still festooned with Edward Landeau’s stuff. A life reduced to labelled boxes. I stretched to switch the light off.
‘Look, it’s been weeks, Haze. Don’t you think it’s time we sorted out these boxes?’
‘Maybe tomorrow,’ I said.
Poppy came skidding into the living room. ‘Oh, thank God you’re back.’
‘What? What’s wrong?’ he said.
‘We caught the mouse,’ she explained.
‘You caught the mouse,’ I said.
‘The trap caught the mouse,’ she said.
‘Your trap caught the mouse.’
‘Hazel.’ She switched off the CD player and tugged at the duvet. ‘We can’t share our house with vermin. It’s bad enough sharing with the ghost of Edward who’s-its.’
I shrugged myself free, and followed them onto our cracked and weatherworn balcony. The rain had finally stopped. Ivy had overtaken the concrete back wall, and curled squid-like around the railing.
‘Oh,’ I said, dropping to a squat in front of the glue-trap. ‘Poor little thing.’
‘We should hit it with a brick,’ Poppy said. It flayed and thrashed about, its feet immobilized, its tiny keleton completely visible, ribs and miniature shoulder blades jutting through the cream fur.
‘You’re a vegetarian,’ Dylan argued. ‘I’m sure we can soak its feet in something, to unstick them from the glue.’
‘It’s white,’ I said.
‘No shit, Sherlock,’ Poppy said. ‘Maybe we could pop him in the freezer?’
‘That means it’s domesticated.’
‘It was somebody’s pet,’ I said.
We watched the squeaking mouse for a few minutes, arguing over the best course of action, before its tongue got stuck to the so-called ‘humane’ sticky pad. As it attempted to wrench itself free, gore spilt into the glue, leaving a tiny red strip of tongue behind. Poppy screamed, covering her face with her hands, whilst Dylan stood in the kitchen nook and ran tap water into a mop bucket lined with dirt.
‘Just hit it! Hit it with a brick!’ she shrieked.
‘I thought it was odd. Mice on the tenth floor,’ Dylan said, returning with the bucket.
‘Just kill it,’ Poppy wailed.
‘We should call it Poppy,’ I muttered.
‘What the fuck have I done now?’
‘We’d probably do well by not getting too attached,’ Dylan replied, dropping the frantic mouse into the bucket. Threads of blood marbled the water.
‘Maybe you should’ve hit it with a brick,’ I said. ‘It will take a few minutes to drown. It’s cruel.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Little lungs.’