If I had to name it I would probably call it a pile, but I don’t feel the need. It’s just there at the edge of my vision as I sit drinking coffee and reading headlines in the early morning: a tidy little heap of dust and fur and crumbs on the floor, as if someone had swept that corner of the room then got distracted while looking for the dustpan.
If I think about it at all as I sit there with the headlines, it is in terms of the extent to which it is not my problem – someone else’s incomplete chore, waiting to embarrass them. Its presence doesn’t concern me, although I can’t say I didn’t notice it. I think: that is exactly what I will say.
I don’t know why I’m up earlier than everyone else, but it’s very pleasant. I’ve been away for a week, and it’s nice to wake up in my own bed and spend time downstairs alone, with the sun streaming in. It’s a shame about that little pile in the corner, but whatever.
Eventually the youngest one comes down with an armful of dirty cups, which he sets beside the sink. He starts making coffee while telling me a story I can’t really follow because of the headlines. I also can’t follow the headlines because of the story.
“You’re up early,” I say.
“Yeah, can’t sleep, too hot,” he says. My wife enters the room and stares at the dirty cups.
“You couldn’t make it all the way to the dishwasher?” she says.
“How was Cornwall?” asks the youngest.
“Raining and 18C,” I say. “The usual.” The middle one enters.
“Has anyone fed the animals?” my wife says.
“I fed everything,” I say. “I’ve been up since, like …”
“What is that?” says the middle one. I look up. He is pointing at the pile.
“I don’t know,” I say, pretending to see it for the first time. “Some sort of accumulation.”
“An accumulation, or a thing?” says the middle one.
“It looks like sweepings,” says the youngest one.
“Yes,” I say. “A gathering-up.”
The middle one bends down for a closer look. Suddenly he shrieks and leaps into the air. His feet do not touch the ground again until he is safely on the other side of the garden door.
“It has a face!” he shouts.
“Eugh!’ says the youngest one.
“Evacuate the area,” I say.
“Don’t be such a baby,” my wife says, handing the middle one a dustpan and broom. “Pick it up.”
The middle one tiptoes over to the thing, and pushes it into the dustpan.
“It’s full of maggots!” he shouts.
“Oh my God, how long has it been there?” I say.
“Take it outside and put it directly into the green bin,” my wife says.
“The cat must have dragged it in dead from somewhere,” says the youngest one.
“This a new low,” I say.
“Not that green bin!” my wife shouts. “That’s garden waste!”
“What’s more garden waste than a dead bird?” says the middle one, from outside. I think to myself: you did exactly the right thing.
Two days later, on a hot afternoon, I find myself home alone, casting about for something to do. I settle on reading a book on the kitchen sofa, knowing I’ll quickly fall asleep.
But my ability to drift off is compromised by a fly that keeps getting between my eyes and the page. When I look up from the book I see that more flies, about half a dozen, are gathered in a particular spot on the round jute rug that covers the high-traffic path between the cupboard and the fridge. It’s easy to imagine someone slopping juice or sugary tea onto the rug earlier in the day, creating a dried puddle of attraction.
I drop my book on to the spot, killing all six flies. Then I drag the rug to the garden door to shake it out. Only when I turn around do I see what the rug was covering: a large dead mouse, flattened by a week of high-traffic footfall. I come close to performing a back flip.
After some quiet time outside, I realise this is my problem. I attempt a removal with the dustpan and brush, but the mouse is basically glued to the floor. This, I think, is a new new low.
Once I’ve scraped up the remains, I get a bucket and brush to tackle the dark stain, a perfect mouse outline, left behind on the floor. After scrubbing for a few minutes I stop and think: what are you doing? When you tell the story later, you’ll need to pull back the rug to show them this.