Michael Wombat’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Bubblewrap and Chandeliers
t squatted on the dining room table, a giant spider of copper and glass. Its twin depended from the ceiling. The dining room floor swam with bubblewrap like a plastic pool, enough for a celebratory game of her favourite ‘Furry Fish’. There would be a popping frenzy the likes of which had not been seen in the house since, well, since Toby had been fired and they’d had to stop buying lovely new things.
All that had changed now, of course, after the unfortunate accident that had befallen Toby’s boss. Life had become hard after Eileen Bottomley, newly arrived as head of department, had forced Toby out of the company. They had struggled to get by on Llyzbet’s wage only. Saddled with a huge mortgage, they had pared outgoings to the bone; stopped eating out, shopped at Aldi, cancelled Netflix. They had turned off the heating, which in a draughty old house like theirs led to arctic draughts everywhere. Life had been hard, grey and miserable.
Naturally, they had tried to find out what his new boss had against Toby. Emails, meetings with HR and angry letters to Occupational Health had all come to nothing. The reason that Arseface, as they had come to call her, had given Toby the sack seemed to be no more than an irrational hatred of home-workers coupled with a personal dislike of Toby himself, and what Arseface called “his kind”, the whole rancid meld liberally sprinkled with a solipsistic conviction of her own infallibility. Without telling Toby, Llyzbet had even visited Arseface’s house in a desperate attempt to persuade her to see reason, woman to woman, but that hadn’t worked out at all well. Of course, once blessed fate had stepped in to deal Toby’s nemesis the literal and metaphorical blow that had led to her being hooked up to a life support machine, the company had had little option but to approach Toby and beg him to return. No one else knew the department like Toby. No one else would be able to rescue the plummeting sales figures. He simply had to come back.
Toby would have leaped like a puppy into their honeyed words with no thought other than working and feeling useful again, but Llyzbet had sensed opportunity and had restrained his enthusiasm. Once Arseface was out of the picture, she had gone to town and had made the company work to bring Toby back into the fold.
She had ensured that the company made concession after concession. If they wanted Toby, they had to give him Arseface’s position for starters. A company car had been her next request. Llyzbet had to admit that she felt a revengeful glee at the ease with which they capitulated. They had welcomed Toby back with open arms, a huge rise in salary, and even an unasked for, rather splendid Christmas hamper.
Llyzbet and Toby had turned the heating back on, visited M&S for a big Christmas shop, and re-subscribed to Netflix. A few early winter weeks without heating had shown that the house badly needed insulation and draught-proofing. It also needed new carpets, curtains, and upholstery, but Llyzbet had insisted that their first house purchase had been the copper and glass chandeliers for the dining room, one of which had been hung earlier.
“You’ll be wanting shitloads of carved mouldings next,” Toby had joked, “and stained glass shower curtains. Bells for the servants.”
“No point until we actually have servants, cariad,” she’d smirked. “No, it has to be the chandeliers first. It’s appropriate.”
“In what way?”
“It satisfies my sense of karmic balance,” she’d told him mysteriously, and left it at that. It was better that her husband didn’t know the details. Better that he remained blissfully unaware that his devoted wife had visited Arseface less than a month before. That she had perched on a hard chair in the plushly furnished lounge while Arseface sprawled languorously in a leather armchair, drinking sherry and pontificating on the importance of hard work and how people like Toby were incapable of it. Rainbows of light cast by her own enormous chandelier had danced about on her cashmere top as she had said “Frankly, my dear, you’d be far better off getting rid of him. Find yourself a decent white man instead. You’re not that unattractive, after all.”
Llyzbet had pushed to her feet, stepped calmly over to Arseface, and punched her full in her smug arse-nose. She heard the satisfying crack as the vomer bone shattered. The sherry glass fell, drenching the Persian carpet., but Arseface didn’t care about that. She didn’t care about the snotty blood pouring from her nose either, being deeply unconscious.
Llyzbet looked down at the mess she had made of Arseface’s nose. She did not regret her moment of fury; oh no - Arseface had deserved all that she got. Clearly, though, there would be hell to pay once she regained consciousness. Llyzbet’s troubles were about to get a whole lot worse. Unless…
Llyzbet scoured the room for ideas. Plenty presented themselves, but they all screamed ‘murder investigation’, and that would never do. What she needed was an accident. Finally she glanced up, and nodded, her lips curving into a grim smile.
The kitchen yielded nothing of use, but eventually she found a toolbox in the utility room that contained all that she needed. She took a Phillips screwdriver, an adjustable spanner, and a can of WD40 because you never knew, did you?
The bedroom above the lounge had been easy to find, and her luck was in as she paced the correct distance from the door and found herself in space in the middle of the room. It would have been impossible for her to move the four-poster bed on her own. She slid aside the rug, and unscrewed what she thought was the correct floorboard. Damn, not quite. Four more screws, a second floorboard lifted, and there sat the huge bolt held in place through a crossbeam by a large nut.
She fitted the spanner and put all her weight into pushing the handle. Nothing. A small squirt of WD40, then she tried again. It shifted slightly. Encouraged, she pushed harder. It turned reluctantly, squeaking a little. Llyzbet felt a frisson of excitement. She really had no idea what to expect, but sometimes you had to just trust in fate.
The nut turned more easily now, and Llyzbet held her breath. What would it sound like? Would the neighbours hear, despite the extensive grounds that surrounded the house? The nut came free and Llyzbet caught her breath, gritting her teeth.
Nothing happened. Why wasn’t it moving? She stood and, after a doubtful pause said “Fuck it” and stamped on the bolt with her heel. It slipped through the crossbeam, freeing itself from years of enclosure. From below a cacophonous thumping crash shook the house. A dog somewhere began to bark furiously.
Llyzbet knelt back down and placed the nut in what she guessed might be a believable place if it had not been secured properly. She replaced the floorboards and screwed them home, rubbing dirt into the screws so that they looked undisturbed. She replaced the rug, and carried the spanner, screwdriver and WD40 back down to the toolbox in the utility room. She wasn’t certain that she needed to, but she rubbed the handles anyway with a towel from a washing basket.
Back in the lounge she found devastation. Eileen Bottomley sprawled across her expensive bloodstained carpet, pinned there by the shattered skeleton of the fallen chandelier. Her skin was sliced by scores of livid cuts, and shattered glass covered the floor and furniture. Llyzbet could not cross to check the body for fear of disturbing the pattern of glass shards. She turned and left the house.
Although Arseface had not been killed outright by the falling chandelier, she hadn’t lasted long, and Toby’s life had been put to rights again. She smiled at him now, idly toying with the second chandelier on the table.
“Never mind that for now, cariad,” she said. “Take your clothes off and bring that bubblewrap. It’s time for Furry Fish.”
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Michael Wombat has published several books - search for him on Amazon, or go talk to him on Twitter where he is @wombat37.