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The Spike Victoria University College Review 1944

A Guest for Mrs Janison

page 33

A Guest for Mrs Janison

Mrs. Janison, widow, looked round complacently. 'I'm alright,' she told herself firmly, 'There's certainly nothing wrong with me. Why I'm the best dressed woman in the bay and I'm good too.' She patted the brown skirt and tugged the end of her rabbit-skin collar into place, then she stilled back into the deep curving armchair and hopefully stared at the open window.

'Perhaps someone will come to-night,' she mused; 'I'll leave it open all night.' But strangely enough, though she wanted a visitor so urgently, she had no wish to see either of the other two inhabitants of the house. It was for some stranger that she waited, and when her brother-in-law and his son clattered by in the passage outside, Mrs. Janison jerked her head round to the door panting.

'They're not to come in. I won't let them in.' She studied the door. Yes, the two bolts were shot home and that table was a pretty good support wedged up against it. It would take a very strong man to get through there and her brother-in-law and his son were both small men.

'Weeds,' she thought contempuously. 'Now if a big man came through the window I wouldn't shriek.'

She sank back into the chair and the house became very, very still again, a stillness that was made greater by the solitary ticking of a clock in the sitting-room next door. Mrs. Janison became drowsy and her head began to nid-nod in time to its rhythm.

'What fools Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Levick are, the way they carry on,' she was thinking half-asleep. 'Making all that fuss about dying, reading up the obituary notices to prepare themselves for death. I'm good, I'm not afraid of dying.'

Her head sank lower and lower till above the ticking of the clock another sound rose and fell, a grunting whistling sound that was Mrs. Janison snoring.

She slept while the electric light, unhampered by a shade, spread its cold light over the crowded room, over the boxes and bottles on the shelves, over the age-old calenders and yellow newspaper clippings covering the walls, over the huge panopied bed mounting guard on the room like a dragon. Up on the ceiling a fat moth was flopping stupidly and Mrs. Janison stirred and gasped in her snoring.

There was a patter outside the window and a dog leaped in, attracted by the light. It fawned up to Mrs. Janison's feet and snuffled round her slippers. Mrs. Janison woke with a shiver.

'You hairy clown,' she shrieked,' You filthy bitch. Get out of here. Get out, I tell you.' She kicked her legs at the dog till her racing heart flooded her face purple. The dog cringed back towards the window and shot out into the night with a whimper.

Her brother-in-law kept dogs. That was yet another of the host of indefinable grudges she bore towards him. Mrs. Janison only liked cats; well if he kept dogs, she kept cats. There were two cats curled up on her dressing table now. She looked at them and became filled once more with an overwhelming venom for her brother-in-law. Hatred of him clutched at her throat till it seemed to choke her. 'If he wasn't here, if only he wasn't here. Him and his miserable son. What if it is his house, what if he did take me in. He's lived here long enough. It's my turn. If they weren't here I'd have boarders. Three in his bedroom, three in the back bedroom, one in the sitting-room —£10 a week I'd get from boarders, if he wasn't here.'

She was shaking with rage, and the bobbles on the cording of the armchair shook with her.

'I won't eat his miserable meals. He thinks he can cook for me, ME, the best dressed woman in the bay. I'll throw all his dinners in his face like to-night. I'll drive him out. He'll be pleased to go when I've finished with him. Ten pounds a week from boarders I could have if he wasn't here.'

page 34

Then her excitement and anger dropped away from her like a blanket. She felt tired and aim-legs. She patted the bobbles on the cording of the armchair and shuffled her feet. It was not much use keeping the window open, no-one ever came. But she didn't stir to shut it even though the first pattings of rain were flicking in through the flapping curtains. A rainy night. It was a rainy night, she mused, when she had left home on her honeymoon. She let go the window with her eyes and slid them along the wall till they came to a photograph. Yes, that was her husband. She'd hung his photo there herself, twenty years ago. He was dead then, miserably dead. Well, he'd been a bad one.

'Men like that shouldn't marry young girls,' she mumbled. 'Men like that shouldn't ever marry at all.'

She gloated over his powerless thin eyes.

'Well he can't hurt me now,' she chortled.

She reached out to a table and dragged a heavy, metal-bound Bible on to her knees. There was a knocking on the next wall.

'It's very late. You'd better go to bed,' called her brother in law.

Mrs. Janison went purple.

'Don't come near me,' she shrieked back. 'I've bolted the door. I won't let you in. I won't let you in. Keep away from that wall. Keep away I tell you.'

The knocking stopped.

'Ugly old snake, she sobbed.

She turned over the pages of the Bible.

'Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,' she began to chant, rocking herself. 'I still know my Bible, I've no need to read obituary notices.'

She turned over the pages, happily, slowly, caressing the gilt letters, smoothing out bent corners. But the Bible was heavy and Mrs. Janison was very tired.

She let the book slip, gently slip, slowly slip, off her knees, down her legs, onto the floor. The deep curving armchair grew deeper and larger so that she seemed to sink down, down into its depths. So warm it was, so strong, so kind, like a good man protecting her. It lulled her, calmly, gently. crooning a love song.

'He's come at last,' she murmured,' Now I can close the window.'

But she didn't stir from the chair and the gathering rain, pouring steadily through the window, spattered the sleeping cats till they mewed and leaped for shelter onto the bed. Mrs. Janison didn't move.

Mrs. Janison's eyes were closed and her hands were folded.

Mrs. Janison didn't mind dying.

Valerie Collins