Over Weak Tea

 She fills the kettle to the ‘one cup’ line, holding it steady with two hands. It is crusted with a creamy calcification that covers most of the kitchen. A sterile,  plastic box stands beside the kettle. It is sunshine yellow and square and equal in size to the kettle. On the front of the box, in ox-blood red, is a  sickle-shaped symbol and the word ‘Sharps’.

She clicks the switch on the kettle and a small red bulb flickers on.  She stands for a moment with her finger still on the switch. The tip of her finger glows red, and flickers with the tremble of her hand. She tilts her head slightly and stares at the light and her glowing finger. She squeezes her eyes shut, then snaps them wide as she turns away to the sink, piled high with plates and dishes, unevenly stacked and unwashed.

The plates, dull blue and supermarket cheap, are caked with something that no longer resembles food. Many are cultivating various stages of spawning mould. She eases her hands between the plates, avoiding the grime and the growth, and retrieves a mug from near the bottom, the plates and dishes clattering and scraping as she pulls it out. She frowns at the mug and gives it a quick rinse under the tap, then crouches in front of the door-less cupboard beneath the kettle.

Her fingers touch each item in the cupboard, resting briefly on each visible surface, until she plucks out a white and blue cardboard box and flips the lid. The box is empty, except for a trace of black brown dust. She frowns again.‘Shit’. As she speaks her breath blooms white, hanging for a moment just in front of her lips. She stands up, unsteadily, and leans back against the working surface, huffing white breaths across the kitchen.

Her fingers tap the worktop,  her well chewed fingernails red against her marbled skin. Sucking the side of her lip, she picks up the kettle, and moves to pour boiling water into the empty mug. Then she stops and puts it down again. Her stomach growls, and she rubs it hard with her fist, ‘Shut up. Not now. Not yet.’ She lifts her t-shirt, revealing a patch of bruised skin  her concave abdomen. ‘Did I do it? I think I did. Did I?’  She pokes the purple patch with her finger. Her midriff glistens with a sheen of sweat.

She returns to the sink and removes its contents, two and three at a time, onto the draining board, the plates slipping and grating into new positions. At the bottom, beside a purple green cloth, is a used tea bag. It is coal hard, and brownish black, with a slight bloom of white mould at the damp side. She prods it with one finger, then picks it out between finger and thumb, taking care not to touch the cloth. She drops the tea bag into the mug, and sloshes hot water on top of it. She squeezes her eyes tight shut and steadies herself again against the work surface. ‘Maybe I didn’t.’

From a kitchen drawer she removes a small bottle of clear liquid. It has a blood red lid and a white label with the words ‘Humulin 5’ printed in blue. She rips open a sachet and removes a wipe, slightly moist and clean scented, which she rubs with vigour over  her belly. Her hand trembles as she opens a needle from it’s packaging and draws up the liquid from the upturned bottle.  She pinches the purple and yellow skin with the finger and thumb of her free hand, before plunging the needle deep into her flesh.

Leaving the teabag in, she carries  the mug with two hands and curls herself into the muddy brown armchair, tucking her feet up at her side. She sighs and shivers and takes a sip of tea.

She is there when they find her. In the chair. With the mug on its side on the floor. Her legs  still curled around her and her face frozen and staring.

They take her out on a stretcher, covered up, so no-one else can see.


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