>THE HOUSE GUEST

>She arrived, on our doorstep, like some abandoned child, swaddled not in hasty blankets but rather carefully chosen shawls and Indian throws.

She looks like a fabric shop, said my husband quietly, after she had finally gone to sleep, passed out heavily on our couch.

She’s always been like that, I told him. Always collecting quilts and material to wrap around herself.

*

She was still there in the morning, even though I know we’d both hoped she might have up and left. She snored loudly through a gaping mouth, our dog Winston draped across her stomach shamelessly.

She padded into the kitchen as the last of the coffee percolated through to the jug. My husband peered at me meaningfully over his newspaper.

How are you feeling? I asked her.

She blew some hair from her face. Oh, she said, you know. That fair trade? She pointed at the coffee.

Um, I don’t really know. It’s just from the supermarket.

Steve, she asked. You know if it’s fair trade coffee?

My husband shrugged his shoulders. It’s just coffee, Janice, he told her.

*

When I get home from work, the house smells different. Steve staggers out of his study, hands ink-stained, face pained.

She hasn’t left yet?

He shook his head. She’s been brewing herbs in the kitchen all day, he said. She wants to exorcise Gary or something.

Shit. I stomped into the kitchen, whose lovely long window was now covered with pinned-up bunches of dried herbs and flowers. My sister stood by the stove, reading a beaten-up paperback with one hand, stirring our largest pot with the other. An evil-smelling purplish smoke chugged around us.

Did you ask Steve if you could foul up our kitchen?

Janice looked shocked. This is how I heal, she told me.

What exactly did Gary do to you?

He was an unfeeling, callous bastard.

Anything specific, though? Any particular reason you’ve landed on our doorstep.

Janice plucked a sheaf of herbs violently from the window and tossed them in the pot. Not that you’d ever want to understand, she told me.

*

We lay in bed, Steve and I, each with our own private, stewing thoughts.

Eventually, Steve said, Do you think she’ll ever leave?

And I told him, no, I don’t think she ever will.

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