there is a stain. marla, the neighbour’s daughter, gallops to your side and announces this. her mouth; wide, and her hands; spread, tell you of its size and colour. the tiny body then turns to dart into the garden, shoeless despite having had fifteen nettle wounds tended to with tweezers and black jelly beans only the morning prior. “you’re hurting!” she had cried, through sticky dark saliva and a stream of tears, her pink, grubby foot twisting and kicking.

your rubber-gloved hands emerge from the hot water and foam, leaving the twin plates and wine glasses to soak. filmy bubbles rise and burst. you loosen the apron and drape both gloves over the tap to dry. marla had not thought to disclose where the stain had been discovered, but only that it was large. large and red. she needn’t have told you, for you know, and walk directly into the bedroom. so warm. you can hear the glass creak with the chill from outside. so golden; a swarm of dust particles, made visible by the slant of afternoon light, greet you; dancing, flooding your nose and throat. you lightly cough and look upon the unmade bed. the sheet and quilt twisted around one another - a licorice rope, lying limp, diagonally across the bed. the pillows, strewn, two on the floor, two stuffed between the wall and the edge of the mattress. and the bright beacon. like spilt ink. red. darkest in its centre, a solid pigment. then lighter, feathered about the edges.

without hesitation you bundle the quilts, you peel the cases from the pillows and linger, for only a moment, a single finger upon the dark dry shape, before stripping the sheet from the mattress and gathering the bed linen in your arms.

you plunge your hands into the hot, soapy trough, just as the telephone rings.
straightening, you take a towel and dry your arms to the elbow. you enter the kitchen and observe through the window, marla, still in the garden, sitting on the wooden bench, swinging her legs and holding a daisy in one hand and a dirt clod in the other. her lips move as she touches them together. soil falls into her blue skirt. you cringe; that flutter behind your ribcage as you answer, hello. and the plummet, at the reply; a wrong number. an apology. and you wonder what you expected. and, after all, why you would expect it.

returning to the trough, you take the lid from a bottle of bleach. you squeeze and kneed. you scour and scrub.