Susan O’Neal graduated with a First in Creative Writing from the UK Open University. She lives in South London and last year she published her first volume of intriguing short stories (more to ... [+]

Image of General Submissions - Rendez-Vous, July 2019 issue

The seventh day in my new flat, I found a worm in the fridge. It was flat, black and dead. I quite like interesting animals, but not this one – it looked remarkably like a leech. Where had it come from? I live in the centre of a city where veggies are sold in sterile plastic bags. Which is not great for the environment, but people know what they're getting and someone else has already trimmed and washed the stuff. So I double-bagged the corpse and put it in the freezer. Eric might fancy it later.

By the time I had tipped everything out of the fridge and used bleach to disinfect it thoroughly, I had lost nearly an hour and was running late for my meeting with Stephanie. And not quite as fragrant as I might have been. I'd built up quite a sweat, scrubbing, and the all-pervasive smell of Domestos does rather cling. No time to shower or change, so I peeled off the rubber gloves, gave myself a generous swoosh of Coty's L'Aimant and sallied forth, hoping for the best.

"So, Debbie – tell me what you hope to get out of this session?" Classic counsellor opening gambit, head on one side, bright smile fixed on her perfectly made-up face. I mumbled something about finding myself, looking for the new me, all the sort of guff I thought she would be expecting, and off we went. Her probing, me deflecting. We volleyed our conversational ball back and forth for half an hour or so before she sat back, drawing her notes towards her and spending a moment or two pretending to review the information. I admired her performance and waited for her summary. I had worked hard not to give too much away. Attending these sessions was mandatory but that didn't mean I had to like them or believe they were going to do me any good. I just wanted the damn anti-depressants, but my GP wouldn't dish them out until I'd been to three counselling sessions. This was the last one.

"So, Debbie – how do you think you are getting on?"
"Aren't you supposed to be telling me that?"
"Well, yes, but I thought I'd like to hear your opinion first."
I wasn't going to tell her coming here hadn't made a jot of difference. 
"Now that I've actually left home and moved into my new flat, I feel a bit calmer, I guess..." I began hesitantly. I was supposed to be anxious, she needed to see that. "But, I still worry a lot."
"So, Debbie – what's worrying you, at this very moment?"
"I'm worrying about how I'm going to cope, on my own, now that our sessions are finished."
"Yes, that is an issue," admitted Stephanie. We both knew the funding only covered three meetings. "Have you thought of getting a cat? For company."
"Not allowed in the flats," I said. 
"Or perhaps a parakeet?" she asked.
"I hate anything caged up – things with wings should be allowed to fly."
"I think I'll have to confirm to Doctor Morgan that a course of anti-depressants is appropriate. A short course," she added quickly, "just to get you back on track, so to speak."
At last. About time, too. She made a note on the pad and drew a rather obvious line underneath it. She checked her watch. Not very subtle. I got the point. I had things to do, too.
"Thank you for your help, Stephanie," I said politely as I retrieved my bag and stood up.
"Look after yourself," she said. 

I was out of her pale green consulting room and down the street before she had a chance to say anything else. I guessed it would be a week or so until my doctor would get Stephanie's notes and recommendations and that would just about give me time to get everything else ready.

Smuggling Eric into the new flat was going to be tricky. It's not easy to disguise an eight foot purple dragon and Eric was prone to snorting flames when he got worried. When I explained to him that he had to move location, he had waggled his head knowingly and puffed a little stream of warm vapour from his left nostril. He was jammed into the U-Store container I'd been renting, with barely enough room to turn round, let alone stretch. I hadn't realised he would grow so quickly but there was no denying the diet suited him. There was no shortage of old car tyres and roadkill round about where I lived, so he was cheap to keep, even if his provisions were heavy to deliver. I'd decided that if I could just manage his flame throwing tendencies, the rest would be fairly straightforward. Hence the anti-depressants. I figured if they worked for people, it might help, but I'd need quite a large quantity. With any luck, I'd have a couple of months' supply soon and if Eric was reluctant to take them, I could start by disguising the pills in the worm. 

The other challenge would be covering the noise once he'd arrived. Eric sleeps a good percentage of the day but at night time, he needs to get out and about. Just flexing his wings ready to leave makes quite a racket. I thought some classical jazz played exuberantly might work. I had downloaded a number of tracks and been playing them increasingly louder for the last week. None of my new neighbours had said anything, so hopefully I'd got that covered. I'd managed to avoid them since I'd moved in, even the woman who'd come up four separate times to ring my bell – I really don't want to be dealing with strangers. Now I have Eric.

It had started, as these things often do, by accident. I have always liked curiosities and on a day trip to Caernarfon Castle I had picked up an interesting shaped stone in the grounds and brought it home. I had put it on my bedroom window ledge, intending to use it for the base of an air-plant display, to give to Mum. I suppose the warmth of the sun, concentrated though the window, had delivered the optimum level of heat and within a week, a crack had appeared. The next day an adorable little leathery lizard had emerged to sun itself in the August warmth. 

The following months had been a joy, helping him learn to fly, once his wings were fully developed. I stopped going out, absorbed with my new pet. I got away with the first accident, told Mum I'd left a cigarette burning. She seemed to have forgotten I gave up smoking a year ago – she's not that interested in my life, really. For all our sakes, I'd quietly rented the storage unit, smuggled Eric out and started looking for a top floor flat with big windows. 

And now, here I was in my new place, with another dilemma – the smoke detector in the ceiling was hard-wired into the mains.


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