Saturday, 2 February 2013


Distillation, not accumulation.  The words were scrawled on the white tiles of the kitchen wall, about three inches from the floor, in blood.  Perhaps an inch and a half away from the words was a hand which appeared to have been physically torn from an arm; the stump was ragged and tendons and other bits of dark red tissue stretched out behind it in the general direction of the living room.  The fingers were blood-stained too, and it would appear that the author had used the hand as a pen of some kind, though where the blood they’d used as ink was now was anyone’s guess.  Detective Lindsay checked the sink, looking for signs that it had been poured away, while Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett stood and shuddered at the horror of the scene.
“It looks like it might be murder, ma’am,” said Detective Lindsay.  She’d found only old crockery and a bristleless brush in the sink, and it was reminding her of a modern art installation.
“I do hope not,” said Mr.s. Bennett.  She sounded oddly determined.  “That’s my mother’s hand!”
Janet O’Steen, Ireland’s foremost logodisciplinarian, pushed her chair back from her typewriter, got up and went to the kitchen, got out a rough cloth and wetted it, and started rubbing the tiles walls down.  This was the fourth time today that her writing had gotten to her enough to trigger her slightly obsessive desire for cleanliness, and she knew she’d know no peace until she was sure that her kitchen walls were spotlessly clean, and she checked all the corners for discarded hands.  She sighed as she scrubbed, aware that what she was doing wasn’t quite normal, but equally aware that fighting it just made it worse.  She’d tried hiring a maid to do these things for her a couple of months ago, but the girl had first quit and then tried to take her to a tribunal claiming that her demands were unnatural and inappropriate.  The court-room had been brown and drab, and the lawyers had been young, well-scrubbed, and somehow depressingly eager to see a fair resolution for everybody.  The clerk of the court had been an alcoholic she was sure, she had smelled the fumes of Uisghe on him when he came into the room, and his typewriter didn’t have enough keys to hold the whole alphabet.  The judge however… well, her first thought had been to dismiss him because he was clearly a pervert, but then as it became clear to everyone that he had been hoping the case was about predatory lesbians and the kinds of things that only happened in smutty movies she had warmed to him.  With every new revelation his face would brighten and he’d ask questions like, “Did you expect her to clean in the nude?” or “And did you insist that she rub herself with the brush first?” and, at the end, “Couldn’t you have even asked her to take her socks off in front of you?”.  He’d shuddered quite a lot with that question, and then he’d seemed to relax somehow.
“Case thrown out,” he’d yelled.  “There is clearly no case to answer for.  How dare you all waste my time by bringing this before me!”
“Expenses, milud?” Janet’s lawyer had said quickly.
“For the defendant,” snapped the judge.  “Doubled if the prosecution wants to complain.”
And that was that, except that she still had no-one to keep the kitchen appropriately clean, and she was trying to write a detective novel.  She could see it might be a long process.
The novel was intended to be a prequel to Bride of Prejudice to explain to people why the protagonist’s mother had deserved such unpleasant things to happen to her.  Janet was tired of turning on comedy shows to find them still satirising her works, and of turning on the radio and finding reviewers still discussing her alleged mother-hatred, and even of going to the university as a guest speaker and being asked leading questions about the untimely and slightly mysterious death of the major reviewer of her works.  To set the record straight at last she intended to present the story of Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett and why the wretched woman, after giving birth to an unwanted child, had deserved to end up a sex-slave at the bottom of Ireland’s last coalmine and then drown to death when the miners inexplicably struck oil.
“Though,” she muttered to herself as she scrubbed the gleaming white tiles, “I would have thought it obvious that she just deserved it!”
So Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett was, in her very early twenties, a detective working on a small-town police force in rural Ireland, expecting the kinds of crimes you get in places where there are only forty people, one school, eight hundred head of cattle and no cars.  She worked with Detective Lindsay, who had all the imagination of last winter’s potato, and she found herself embroiled in an Ireland-wide conspiracy to resurrect the infection agent responsible for the Potato Famine and transport it to the food states of North America.  Janet intended that Elizabeth’s actions would cause the deaths of innocents, which would in turn justify the horrible end that she came to in Bride of Prejudice.  
“They won’t be able to criticise me after this!” she muttered, her teeth gritted as she tried to shift entirely imaginary bloodstains.
Finally satisfied that the walls were clean enough and the dark corners were free of severed appendages, she sat back down at the typewriter.
“Your mother’s hand?” said Detective Lindsay opening the oven and peering inside.  “Why would she leave it here?  Do you think she knew Mrs. O’Green?”
“We all knew Mrs. O’Green!”  Mrs. Bennett contemplated hitting Detective Lindsay with the greasy frying-pan sitting on the counter and claiming that it had fallen off.  “Mrs. O’Green ran the General Store for nearly fifty years before her son made her retire last year!  There’s no-one living in this town who hasn’t bought soap or condoms from her!”
Detective Lindsay straightened reflexively and caught her head on the oven.  She cursed like a nine-year old, and backed more cautiously out of the oven.  She rubbed her head, glaring at Mr.s. Bennett.
“The Pope has banned condoms!”
“Mrs. O’Green was Protestant.”
“Did you buy condoms from her?”
Mrs. Bennett looked at Detective Lindsay and wondered what the poor woman thought she would do with condoms and no boyfriend in a town this small.  The fourteen-year-old boy who’d had sex with his second cousin last week in a hayrick was currently the hot gossip topic, and he’d done that at midnight two miles away.
“No,” she said patiently.  “And neither did my mother.”
“Oh!  Your mother’s hand!”  Detective Lindsay pointed at the hand on the floor, and Mrs. Bennett sighed heavily.
“Yes,” she said.  “Oh dear.  I think I’ve just seen her other hand behind the door.”
Janet sighed as well, and got up to check behind all the doors in the house.

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