Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature, Summer Soap, a daily fictional serial told over 12 episodes. The latest Soap, called Bleach, was written by Beau Williams, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous episodes at echolive.ie. In this fourth episode, Matthew finally enters the mystery room, and is greeted by a sight that is both shocking and enchanting.
ORLA’S bedroom door was slightly heavier than Matthew had expected. It swung a bit stiff but it was silent. He ushered it through.
The light from the full moon cut across her bed like a bright spade in the ground. A single candle blinked rapidly on the bedside table. It had clearly burned through the evening.
Matthew walked into the room and gently pushed the door shut behind him.
Orla was propped upright in the bed. She was dressed in a thin, creamy silk nightgown and her black hair sat flat on her head. Her jaw hung low to the right.
Orla’s green eyes were still open but Matthew could tell they had been that way for a couple days. A pink satin ribbon, tied under her breasts and around the frame, held her in a sitting position. All the colour had drained from her face: a porcelain angel in wait.
A five-litre iron bucket rested on the floor at the foot of the bed. A clear liquid filled it up halfway and an old pink sponge floated on the top. A pair of yellow rubber gloves rested in a pile next to the bucket.
The fumes made his pores tighten and the bird in his head spin slow. The smell of bleach rose from the buckets and mostly covered the scent of whatever had become of Jordan’s housemate.
Under that was a smell that Matthew didn’t recognise at first. He closed the door softly behind him and stepped into the moonlight.
For an older house, the floor never creaked. Jordan’s heavy breath in the next room was the only sound in the place. Clouds were full and dark and they moved silently towards this place.
The rain was coming soon, but not now. Now it was calm. He moved with purpose to the shoulder of the bed. He knew the scent now.
Orla’s body had a green tint to it and it had begun to swell. The bloat had stretched her skin in awkward places and had given her forearms and hands a pristine shine. Each freckle grown like Cheerios forgotten in milk. Matthew had never seen a dead body up close. She was beautiful.
A stray black hair hooked awkwardly across her eye; it reminded him of the crack in his cell phone screen. This scratch; what a jar to shape the face of perfection.
This couldn’t be how she wished to be remembered. Matthew reached out and gently brushed the lock behind her ear.
Matthew didn’t know if it was the alcohol from the night or the unaddressed carnal strain built in the bar, but in this moment there was no bar, no Jordan, no Cork, or time. There was only this moment; the flicker of the candle, the cleanliness of a scene so rotten, the moonlight fitting him a shadow like a seatbelt across this woman, and her total unobstructed calm.
The window was half open and the breeze pulled in like a whisper. It kept the room cold and Matthew imagined they were on a balcony on a brisk autumn night.
The slight wind tested the flame on the candle; it whipped but the flame stood strong. The melting wax built up thick on the edge due to the chill.
The trembling light behind the wax drew shadows across Orla’s face. Mixed with the moonlight, it was a scene snatched from wild imagination.
And had he ever seen such a slender collarbone? Matthew imagined himself miniature, pushing a small wheelbarrow along the top edge of it. He would make sure to let some air out of the tyre first so as to grip the rail more firmly. How calm a ride, how snugly fit for one empty wheelbarrow and a boy’s graceful footing. Had he ever seen a curve so smooth?
He reached, ever so slightly, towards her. He had expected the normal buzz or hum that a body naturally emits, that sensation that lets you know you are both of the same world. Orla had none.
He pressed his middle finger to her and ran it along the inside of her collarbone as if to test for dust or scoop a groove. She was cold. Her eyes remained fixed. Her jaw unmoving, still.
Matthew removed his hand and blew out the candle. Her face became a shadow but he could still make out her shapes in the dark.
Rain began to tap at the window. Tap, tap, tap. The storm clouds were gathering.
He turned towards the door and stepped out of the light. His body buzzed and his heart fluttered in his chest. He reached a sweaty hand for the handle and turned it. Matthew stood in the open doorway and looked back to Orla as if expecting her to say something. He was transfixed.
Smoke from the old flame churned in the air above her the way a hand would dance under the tip of a flag. It rolled through the air and was sucked out of the open window and into the night.
The house was silent, now; breathless even. The tapping of rain was soft at first, tap tap tap, like something not quite sure, then it grew certain. It scratched a nasty cringe up his spine and he closed the door behind him.
That sound, it began to gain speed the way drunken legs trudge down a hall.