My heart is hammering in my chest. A pulse is throbbing in my left shoulder. And I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. I don’t know what is causing this as I lay here perfectly quiet in the dark. Is it my non-existent romance with Rebecca? Is it the lack of a good enough response to the question about my semen? Or is it these stupid bloody pyjamas that I don’t remember asking Rebecca to buy? I mean what the fuck? I half think she’s fucking with my mind. But she doesn’t even know what the pyjamas mean to me. And, anyway, why would she want to fuck with my mind? I think she feels sorry for me. I hate that. I want her to want me.
I liked her the minute I set eyes on her. She spotted me looking and smiled at me. She was sitting on a bench in the park. It was lunchtime. I’d escaped a tedious cabinet meeting and when I saw her smile I thought it was an invite so I went in for the kill. The more we talked the more I liked her and I couldn’t stop thinking about getting her undressed. She seemed keen. But she’s avoided all my attempts to kiss her since that day she took my semen to be tested. What does it mean? Were the results bad? Am I a bad specimen? Dirty? Something wrong with me? I hate this! I have to get these pyjamas off me. After a brief tussle I manage to pull the jacket over my head, scrunch it into a ball and throw it at the wall. I shuck the trousers down my legs and kick them out of the bottom of the duvet. There. I’m free. But I’m not. Not really. They’re still in the room with me. Taunting me. Trying to make me remember something I’d rather forget. Maybe I should burn them. If I burn them they will become ashes and they’ll disperse easily on the wind when I release them into it. Yes. That seems like a good idea. How shall I carry it out?
I stroll casually into the kitchenette. Rebecca is asleep in the charity shop chair. Lily is asleep on the sofa. I didn’t bargain for them making it so easy for me. I change my walk from casual to creeping and find the things I need: a metal bowl, a box of matches and a jug of water. I slip back to my room and lay my new things on the floor near the window. Best to check on the sleeping beauties one last time. Yes, dead to the world. I close the bedroom door quietly behind me. Now to get these rancid things off me once and for all! In a flurry of disgust I rip the pyjamas off and they are too big to fit in the metal bowl. I need to make them smaller. I need scissors. I check the bedside cabinet. None in there. Oh for fuck’s sake! I dress myself again in the bloody pyjamas and head back to the kitchenette for scissors.
My feet make a scudding sound on the wood. It’s a tiny sound that shouldn’t disturb anyone but I am afraid it will wake them. I can’t remember which drawer the scissors are in. I choose the one nearest me and inch it out. Knives, forks, spoons and cooking implements. Should I leave it out or risk making a noise and wake them? Leave it out. I slowly slide out the next drawer. Tea towels. Something metal too though. I lift a bunch of tea towels out of the drawer. Yes! A pair of kitchen scissors lays at the bottom. Hurrah! I place the tea towels on the draining board and take the scissors. My desire to run immediately and slam the door behind me is almost overwhelming. I fight it and very quietly tiptoe my way back to the bedroom.
Snip. Snip. Snip. Three buttons fall to the floor and the jacket is now open. I jiggle my shoulders up and down until the jacket slides off them and falls to the floor too. The trousers are a different kettle of fish. I snip at the waistband, cutting through the elastic in three places. They fall and I step out of them. The jacket is behind me. The trousers are in front of me. I step to the side and turn. Now they are both in front of me. Jacket first. Snip. Snip. Snip. Off with an arm. Snip. Snip. Snip. Off with the other arm. I fold the arms into little packages and place them in the metal bowl. Trousers next. Snip. Snip. Off with a leg. Snip. Snip. Off with the other leg. I fold the groin area into a small parcel and add it to the arms in the bowl.
I’m a bit nervous about the next bit. I don’t want to set off a fire alarm. I open the curtains. The city is asleep except for a few lights winking at me. I open the window wide and the river air bursts in, ruffling my hair. It takes my breath away. I sit on the carpet. The bowl is in front of me. Its reflection glints on the glass panel. Behind it I can just make out the river snaking its way through the dark. I reach for the matches.
It takes four or five matches for the pyjamas to catch alight. This is a good thing from a health and safety point of view. But not from the point of view of somebody who is trying to burn them quietly. Each time I strike a match I wince at the extraordinarily loud rasp of ignition. I want to tell them to shhh.
As the flames frizzle the edges of the material, smoke rises and whips about the window as if it’s not sure whether to venture out above the river. I silently urge it to go and leave the room. Take your smell with you! The material turns over as it burns like a dying animal trying to be free of the pain. Soon it will be over. The legs are too long to burn all at once so I cut them in half. I fold a half leg and watch the fire consume, waiting for the perfect moment to add it.
A second before the door burst open I was aware it would happen. Maybe a sound alerted me. I don’t know. But everything slowed down. I watched myself startle and drop the leg over the bowl. As it dropped it unraveled slightly and hung over the side of the bowl. It caught light so quickly. Much more quickly than the previous lot. Perhaps because of the air flow. I don’t know. I’m not an expert in fires. As the flame reached the carpet I lifted the jug of water and put the fire out.
Rebecca is rubbing her eyes. “I don’t understand, Steve. What’s going on?”
We’re sitting at the dining table. Lily is making tea. My mother is on her way over. I am wearing a towel, knotted at the waist. I feel exhilarated. My knee jiggles constantly. The intercom buzzes and we all jump.
“Fucking hell.” Rebeca pushes back her chair and slops over to answer it. Plonking herself down again she yawns, “your mother.”