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Josiah Bounderby exploded on a Sunday morning.
His wife, Rachel, crouched in the cloakroom under the stairs, buffered by the winter coats and wellingtons, and stared into the darkness as she pressed the button. The cracks around the doorway flashed white and red and orange, and the door itself buckled inwards, the frame splintering around the hinges. A shake of plaster dusted Rachel’s hair.
[private]She removed her earplugs and climbed through the broken door. The ceiling in the hallway had collapsed; the snapped end of a pipe spilled rusty water onto the floor where it mixed with the plaster dust to form an off-white paste, like the icing on a cheap wedding cake or slush on the driveway. Rachel trod grey footprints along the carpet into the kitchen.
Josiah littered the room, limbs and innards spread wide. The glass cabinets had shattered, decapitating him; his head sat lopsided on the table and regarded her uneasily.
“What did you do that for?” it asked.
Rachel crouched level with the table-top and watched the tongue writhe.
“I’m using my initiative, Joe,” she said. “At last. How about that?”
She could already hear the faint wail of sirens. Somebody was banging at the door; the letterbox clanged.
“Rachel? Hello? It’s George! Are you alright?”
Josiah’s mouth twitched.
“Don’t let that wanker in my house.”
“It’s hardly your house now, sweetheart, is it?” Rachel said, and patted him on the head.
She moved quickly now. Wiping her hands on her dressing gown, she knelt and searched among the debris for her husband’s hands. They had scuttled behind the fridge and clung white-knuckled to the metal grid at the back, which was warped and sparking from the explosion. Rachel kicked them awkwardly into the middle of the room, where they clutched one another, trembling.
Josiah’s head on the table wobbled and strained to see.
“What have you got there? Stop it.”
Rachel hustled the hands into a corner with the side of her foot. The fingers scrabbled at her ankles, grasping and scratching and drawing small beads of blood that mixed with the plaster dust and dripped pinkly onto the cold kitchen tiles. She picked up the hands and threw them out the window. They dropped like old gloves into the flowerbed.
“This is for the secretaries, Joe,” she said, and the head’s eyes flicked back towards her. It licked its lips, glanced around the room.
“Yes, I need to talk to you about that,” it said.
But already the cheeks were yellowing and stiffening, and the mouth, smeared with dust and spittle, struggled to shape the words. At the back door, the feet and lower legs were ramming the cat-flap. One foot caught on the metal rim and flopped half-in-half-out, toes wiggling.
The sirens outside had stopped, and a splintering crash came from the hallway as George attacked the front door.
“Rachel? Where are you?” he yelled.
Josiah’s head tried to turn to the noise, and fell over sideways. “I can’t feel anything,” it mumbled, rolling back and forth in the middle of the table.
“Hush up now, Joe,” said Rachel, and she quickly hooked her fingers into the gaping mouth. She took the detonation device from her pocket, lodged it between his teeth, and pushed his jaw shut. She held his face clamped like that as the lips and eyes moved slower and slower and stopped, the lips in a grimace, the eyelids spread open.
George had made it as far as the hallway. Rachel flung the kitchen door wide and threw herself into his arms. George hugged her.
“Jesus, babe,” he said. “What happened?”
“Oh, darling,” she said. “It’s awful.” She sobbed.
Josiah’s head stared at them through the open door; it watched George’s hands grip Rachel’s buttocks, and it couldn’t blink or turn away.
Rachel smiled as the paramedics rushed inside. They cordoned off the house and led her to the ambulance. The smell of cordite floated in the air like apple blossom and cherry pie.[/private]
Valerie O’Riordan is an MA student of Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. Links to her work can be found at www.not-exactly-true.blogspot.com. She is working on her first novel.