The phone rang. Marissa’s strict rule of letting it go through to the answering machine was self-protection, pure and simple, but she wouldn’t have picked it up right now anyway. She might work from home, but she was working, and if she didn’t set a rule and keep it, she never got anything done.

It was her mother. “Marissa, it’s your mother. I don’t know why you never answer your phone, but your cousin is coming to TAFE and you should have her to stay. I’ve already spoken with your aunty.”

Rules were made to be broken. Marissa typed three more words, bringing the total to 300. “Mum! What are you thinking? I don’t have room!”

“You have plenty of room, dear, you live in a two-bedroom unit.”

Marissa almost succeeded in supressing a sigh. “A bedroom, and a study for-”

“You don’t need a study. You can work on the kitchen table. Lots of people do”.

“Mum…you know I work from home, right? I’m using the second bedroom.”
Marissa’s cousin Carly moved 18 days later.

Marissa tried to concentrate. How is one supposed to write decent copy with little Miss Thing blasting tweeny-bopper pop from her ex-study loud enough to wake a mummy? Marissa reached for her headphones. Jazz; smooth, smooth jazz drowned out the garbage. She was going to have to find a new place to work.

Next day, armed with headphones, laptop and charger, Marissa staked claim to a corner booth at the cafe one half a block north, one block east of her place, passing two other similar places. She hoped the decoy cafes would distract a certain 18 year old wannabe florist should she come looking. She’d left a note: “gone to cafe. cya later.” Carly had her number in case of emergency.

2 coffees and 2 pots of peppermint tea later, Marissa smiled, closed her laptop and headed home. A productive day. Lovely round numbers. 1200 words. 4 hot beverages. 75 customers. Carly was in the bathroom when she got home. What did she do in there all the time? Was she drowning baby seals in the basin? That would explain all the puddles. Marissa learned very quickly that Carly’s TAFE course was a grand total of 2 days a week, that she had no friends in the city, and that she had next to no work to do outside of classes. So she spent her time in the bathroom.

An hour later, Marissa came out of the bathroom. “What’s for dinner?”

“What’d your last slave die of?” was not what Marissa actually said, but it could have been, because her focus wasn’t on her words but on trying not to grind her teeth.

They made it through dinner, single serve frozen dinners chosen for the roundness of their kilojoule count, at which the housemonster wrinkled her nose and nibbled petitely. Marissa made a sotto voce call to her mother. No, she didn’t, but she wanted to. What could she say? Her mother would only say that it had been Marissa’s decision to have her stay, which was in the same category as “pigs fly in space”. There was no workable strategy bar ‘grin and bear it’.

So she grinned it and she bore it and then she grinned some more. Her grin put the Joker to shame, and the bearing resulted in the redundancy of several pack mules. Marissa spent as much time in the cafe as she could, but the presence of an intruder rendered her nerves threadbare.

Everywhere she turned there was mess and filth. Water from the toilet brush all over the floor. No doubt the interloper believed she deserved a medal simply for using the toilet brush.

The creature had its grimy flower-paws around Marissa’s favourite mug. The blue and white one. Purchased from the Jane Austen museum in Bath and carefully, ever so carefully carried and babied and nestled in carry-on for 3 weeks until it came safely home. Ever morning at 6:11, Marissa had a cup of green tea in the perfect blue teacup from the Jane Austen museum in Bath. Not this morning. This morning it was covered in blood. Marissa started scrubbing.