The knock echoed through the stale rooms. It travelled over piles of half eaten takeaways, dislodging stacks of newspapers and rumbling through hallways that were unused to sound. It was a single, heavy knock, coming from the front door.
Under discarded clothes and dirty sheets, a pair of eyes opened and blinked. They sped around the piles of rubbish. Good. Everything was undisturbed. The system was still in place. The eyes looked around again, unsure if they had imagined the booming knock. A gloved hand clawed at a piece of soiled fabric and pulled it over the eyes. The house fell back to silence once more.
Another two knocks echoed around the halls and rooms. There was no denying it, someone was at the front door, unlikely as that was. From under the filth came a deep groan. The gloved hand appeared again and slowly started to removed pieces of fabric and old clothes, throwing them across the room as they went. Gradually, a leg appeared with a matted yellow slipper on, then another. An arm appeared and helped to clear the stained linen faster. Then a worn, tattered dressing gown and finally a face. Ruby emerged. She stared at the curious green damp patch on the ceiling, then heaved herself onto the floor.
This had once been her bedroom, although you would never know it. Underneath all the washing and clothes lay a bed, somewhere. There was a wall of old Radio Times in one corner, hundreds of photo albums in another. Along one wall lay piles of rotting paperbacks. There were smaller collections overwhelming the rest of the bedroom, crates of biscuits that had been on offer, mountains of toilet roll purchased in bulk. Some were a seemingly random mismash of different items. It may have been chaos to the casual observer, but to Ruby it was a system. She knew where everything was. Everything had a purpose, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent. That box of broken speakers would come in useful one day.
Again the knock, loud and purposeful.
‘Arrgth,’ Ruby said, to no one in particular.
As she picked her way through the maze, Ruby frowned. Other than takeaway drivers and postmen, no-one had knocked on her door for years. She tried to remember the last time she had a visitor. Her daughter had come to visit just before that heavy snow. Before the last election as well. Maybe three or four years? It was hard to tell. The days blurred into one another.
Maybe her daughter had come to visit. She hadn’t phoned her to let her know, but maybe she was just dropping by unannounced. Or maybe she had called and Ruby had forgotten. It was possible. She forgot so much these days. Ruby smiled to herself. It would be good to see her daughter again, see how she was.
That knock though. It didn’t sound like her daughter’s dainty rapping. It was loud and forceful. She began to be less sure of herself. Who was it, showing up unannounced? Was it the police? Or worse, the council?
She reached the front door and steadied herself with a deep breath. Shaking, she reached forward. Her hand clasped the handle. The metal was almost too cold to touch. Her hand shook as she slowly lowered it and pulled back the heavy oak door.
A huge gust of wind blew through the front door, knocking Ruby onto her back. She crashed into the telephone books, sending most of them flying across the hallway. The wind marched over her, cold and powerful. Ruby couldn’t hear anything but the roar of the gale. Its screaming blocked out all other noise and all rational thought. It howled and raged and yelled and bellowed over her, storming into every room of the house, slamming into the windows and furniture. It violently shook every room like a caged animal, breaking and smashing whatever it could in a desperate bid to be free. It was unaware how it had ended up trapped, it just wanted to be let out again.
Grabbing the handle of the door, now ice cold, Ruby managed to pull herself up to her knees. Even that was a struggle, the wind was desperate to punch her down again. Still it flooded into the house, a torrent of angry air. On her knees, she felt that if she let go of the handle she would be swept away. The force was almost too much. She slammed her shoulder into the door, pushing back against the gale. It was like standing up
against a tsunami.
Putting all of her energy into her shoulder, she heaved the door. It would not close. She dug her feet into the carpet, trying desperately to gain purchase. Her heart was thumping dangerously in her chest, her breathing was short and sweat ran down her face, arms and back. Still she struggled on. With her hands and shoulder pushing the door, it moved the slightest amount. The wind raged around her, getting angrier and louder. She held her breath and pushed. There was a terrible creaking noise, matched only by Ruby’s groan of pain as she battled with the force of the wind. With a final effort, the door slammed shut. Ruby quickly pulled the bolts and locked the door. She collapsed. Sat by the door. She became faintly aware of a taste of blood in her mouth and a pain in her tongue.
Everything was still. Paper rained slowly down from the ceiling. Once she had her breath back, Ruby got up and slowly shuffled into the next room. It was a mess. The system she had spent years perfecting was in disarray. Piles had become knocked over and scattered. Everything was mixed up with everything else. The wind had knocked the thick curtains down and a grey light showed the house for what it was- dingy and disgusting. Ruby wandered from room to room. It was the same everywhere. Nothing was in its right place. Instead of neat walkways, there was just a sea of mixed up paper, clothes and takeaway boxes.
Ruby picked her way over the chaos, trying not to step on anything too valuable. She found her bedroom and laid down. She sighed. Tomorrow she would have to start the system all over again. It was too much to do. It seemed impossible.
The next morning, Ruby phoned for a skip.