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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by James Ross

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Ella tried to make it all right by drinking bleach from a bottle. But even putting her mouth to the rim made her gag violently and the few drops that landed on her tongue caused her to be sick. She dropped the bottle onto the floor and ran to the toilet where she emptied up the contents of her stomach, like so much refuse, into the pan.

Billy found her a while later. She was gargling with milk to try and take away the burning sensation on her tongue.

'Use soda water,' he told her. 'It will neutralise the pH level of the bleach.'

'Where did you learn that?' she asked him, trying to speak without touching her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

'A shampoo advert on the telly.'

'Hardly a degree in chemistry,' she commented, adding, 'What shampoo?'

'I don't know.'

'The advert wasn't too successful then?' she added, thickly.

He asked her, 'Have you told Angie yet? About us?'

But she was staring at the white splatter marks on the carpet, where the cheap corner-shop bleach had burned the colour from the carpet, and in some places had burned away the carpet.

'She's still with Goldstein.'

Billy poked at a hole in the carpet with the toe of his boot.

The following day Billy decided to fix the carpet and he started by trying to fill the gaps and ragged holes caused by the bleach with off-cuts he'd found in a pile behind the back of a Discount-Décor store.

After an hour he gave this up and decided to lift what was left and just polish the floorboards.

But the bleach had left white patches in the boards so he decided to paint the boards instead. He went back to the Discount-Décor store, where the staff wore t-shirts bearing the logo 'MDF R US' and orange baseball caps with the same. He bought a four gallon tin of paint, 'White with a touch of pink,' and a large emulsion brush.

Angie found him at about four o' clock, finishing off what was left of the paint by giving the walls a coat of 'White with a touch of pink' too.

Her eyes were red and a little swollen and she had that broken, vulnerable, available look that made him want to sex her right there.

'Hi,' he said, looking down from the table on which he stood.

She said, 'Hello,' quietly, dropping her satchel onto a chair and, keeping her feet off the painted floor, she leaned a little into the room to watch him.

Then, after a minute or two, she asked, 'What about you two, huh?'

He painted a few more strokes and then looked down at her with an even expression, saying, 'Right. Like you and Goldstein never happened.'

'That's over now,' she told him, 'It has been for weeks,' adding, 'or didn't Ella mention that when she was giving it to you in my bed?'

He ignored this and said, 'The floor's dry.'

She walked into the kitchen, picked up the kettle, took it to the sink and filled it. He turned back to the painting. She lit the gas and placed the kettle over it. Blue and red flames licked up one side.

She opened the cupboard and took out two mugs. Then she opened a jar of instant coffee and spooned some into each cup.

'That's Ella's coffee,' Billy told her.

Angie responded by picking up the jar and throwing it through the kitchen window. Then she picked up the kettle and threw this through the window as well, taking away most of what was left of the windowpane.

Then she simply stood and cried.

Billy stepped down off the table and, at a loss for an appropriate response, kissed her. When she kissed him back, ferociously, hungrily, with love, he slipped his hand up her skirt.

She was already unzipping him.

An hour later she got out of bed, dressed, and said, 'I'm going away for a couple of days. Get rid of Ella before I return.'

She kissed him and then left.

'What happened to the window?' Ella asked.

Billy was standing over the sink, washing putty oil from his fingers. Ella asked again and he said, 'Angie. Angie came over.'

'Great.' Ella said with some sarcasm. She turned to leave the room but paused, hand against the doorframe; she turned and asked, 'And you fucked her. Right?'

He said nothing.

'Are you leaving me?' she asked.

He remained quiet.

'Are you leaving me so soon?' she repeated.

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