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Where Monsters Lurk

Photo by Marten Newhall

The monster leers at me with dull, sunken eyes, its mouth agape and spittle smeared across its chin.

Its grey skin is plagued with more yellowing warts than unusual. Its long hair is lanker, greasier, and more dishevelled. I’m sure its hooked nose is more crooked than I’ve ever seen it before.

It’s the last thing I want to look at first thing in a morning, but it can’t be avoided. It took up residence in my bedroom years ago; it’s almost part of the furniture.

I turn away, sick to my stomach, and retrieve my day’s outfit from the wardrobe. Black trousers. Loose grey t-shirt. Black, fine-knit cardigan. Black ankle boots. As close as I can get to an invisibility cloak.

I run a brush through my hair and that’s that — I’m ready. I don’t bother with makeup. Couldn’t bear it.

In the bathroom, I brush my teeth while avoiding eye contact with the monster that lurks in there. It’s a little smaller than the one in the bedroom and easier to ignore if I concentrate hard enough.

There have been times when curiosity has got the better of me and I’ve snatched a glance at it. The shortest of glimpses of its repulsive flesh under the harsh bathroom spotlights — its skin pale and thin enough that I can see the blood pulsing through the veins beneath it — is enough to make me retch.

I head down the stairs and into the kitchen. Tiny little monsters reside here and while they’re not quite as intimidating as those upstairs, they often catch me by surprise. They can be found in the glassy faces of the microwave and the oven. Dozens of them live in the cutlery drawer amongst the shiny silverware, but in the mornings, I can easily avoid them. I simply tip coffee granules straight into the mug from the jar, pour hot water over the top, splash in some milk, and leave it at that — no need to use a teaspoon to which an ugly wee creature never fails to cling.

I gulp the drink down, ignoring the bitter hits of undissolved coffee, and then it’s straight out the front door, no time to waste.

Eyes forward, look down. I daren’t glance left or right, where the distorted faces of repugnant creatures may pop up in the windows of the cars which edge the pavement. There is a nagging urge to seek them out and face their hideousness, but I won’t. I am too cowardly.

I make my way onto the high street and the urge to look for them only grows stronger. Here, they loiter in the shop windows, eyeing me up and down as I march past, waiting for me to look back at them.

My eyes are drawn to a dark, empty store, and I can’t resist. As I reach the shopfront, I see it is already watching me.

It is the puffy, bloated cousin of the thing in my bedroom — bigger, less familiar, more offensive. Its mouth is hanging open a little, revealing a sharp snaggletooth stained yellow-brown. The thing squints at me with a look of revulsion and pulls at the clothes which strain over its great bulk. Black trousers, grey t-shirt, black cardigan. It wears what I wear.

I hurry away from it, nausea whirling in my gut, and focus on my destination up the street.

Relief floods me as I note that the pub is open. There will be no need to wait at the locked entrance, where tiny monsters lurk on the shiny brass door handle and the stainless steel of the wall-mounted ashtray. Instead, I can walk right in and take up my usual spot.

The barman gives me a nod and gets to work on my Bacardi and cokes before I even have to ask. I pull out my purse and line up a series of notes and coins on the bar, taking care to ignore the minuscule creatures that like to frolic amongst the newest of the silver coins.

All it takes is five drinks.

I gulp down the first and second as fast as I can manage without bringing it back up. By the third, the taste is improved — or at least it is deadened — and I can take quick, short sips without pulling a face. Once I’m on the fourth, my face begins to feel warm and my eyelids heavy. When the fifth drink is in hand I usually find myself smiling for no good reason, occasionally catching the eye of the barman who tends to sigh and shake his head at me.

As soon as the final glass has been sunk, I walk away from the bar and towards the toilets.

It can never be any sooner than the fifth drink. There’s a monster in there that lurks above the sink, and it is certainly the foulest that I’ve ever seen. Illuminated by the glaring fluorescent lights, its glassy eyes are surrounded by swollen, dark rings, and its thin skin is tinged green. Its hair hangs in clumps like rats’ tails, and skin peels from its chapped lips like old paint flaking from aged wood.

Curiously, this most revolting creature hides away from those who drink. It is the most terrifying of them all, but it’s also the easiest to battle with Bacardi on my side.

There’s a trademark aroma of stale piss and lemon air freshener in the pub toilets. It never fails to make my nose wrinkle, despite this being a twice-weekly part of my routine. I breathe through my mouth as I approach the sink and look up at the mirror.

There is no monster. Instead, there’s the plain face of a plain woman.

Her hair’s a little messy and her skin is scattered with pimples, but that’s not the end of the world, I think. Her lips are dry and chapped — she could use a slick of Carmex — but that happens to us all from time to time.

There’s a smudge of darkness beneath her eyes, which tells me she’s in need of a good night’s rest, but it only serves to make her look human. Her nose bends almost imperceptibly to one side in a way that many would say adds charm.

I smile at her and she smiles right back, showing me a glimpse of wonky teeth that give her character. The flaws fit her perfectly.

She is what I come for, every Saturday and Sunday without fail. Five Bacardi and cokes only to gaze into a mirror without seeing a monster.