The past month has gone quietly. I’ve had two essays due, managed not to burn the kitchen down while cooking, and I’ve not had any strange visits from people claiming to be my landlord.
I’m just in the middle of pouring a cup of coffee when there’s a series of knocks on the door. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a faint sense of dread.
A blue-haired Penelope, clutching yet another Tupperware container, beams at me.
Penelope: Good morning, dear! I’ve been baking all week – Andrew is away, you see, and I needed a way to amuse myself.
Me: What is so amusing about baking?
She laughs, apparently delighted.
Penelope: Oh, you get to put together the most interesting combinations. And you get to visit people, bring them things. It can be very social, you know.
Me: I did not know this. So why is Andrew away?
Penelope: Oh, I’m not quite sure to be honest. He did say something, but I’ve forgotten.
Me: You don’t know why your husband has gone away, or where he’s gone?
She shrugs, still smiling, and swings her hair away from her face.
Penelope: Open the box, and we’ll have some tea and cake.
Inside the container is a row of lemon cupcakes, inexplicably studded with red glace cherries which gleam under the sunlight of the kitchen.
Me: Is there a bit of ginger in these?
Penelope: Yes, there is. It was nearly garlic – I think Andrew muddled up the labels before he left – but I caught it just in time.
She drops into my favourite armchair. It’s a new purchase, deep red velvet and her bright-blue hair clashes against it.
Me: Well, that is good to know. Too much garlic really can spoil something.
I hand her the teapot, knowing from experience that she prefers to pour and prepare her tea herself. Fastidiously, she measures out the tea and sets the cup down on a book. For the next several minutes, we eat in silence. The only sounds are metal clinking against plates and soft clicks of teacups against the glass table.
Penelope: I have to be going. I still have a few calls to make. I do so enjoy your company.
She gathers her bag and a book from the table, leaving before I have the chance to say anything. Only slightly mystified, I follow her to the door.
The car that she drove here is gone.