Johanna Knox

Hello – where did you come from? Did you sneak in when I wasn’t looking? Look at you, you’re soaking – let me get some tea towels. There you go.

Where’s your family? Did you get separated? Or did you run away?

It’s okay, I won’t turn the light on. You look hungry. Stay right there and I’ll get you something.

Oh, you’re shivering. Come on, I’ll zip you up in here. There, good. I’ll keep you warm. Oh, little baby, it’s okay.

You’re so tiny – are you the runt? I’m a runt too. A runty little cunt. Ha.

Let’s have a look in the bin. It was chicken and tarragon soup tonight. You like tarragon? Bet you like chicken. Cook got five pots out of the bones tonight. All the guests had seconds and thirds, and we even got two bowls each – that’s me and Cook and Miss. Plus Cook gave Miss a big jar of it to keep in the freezer. She’s got a sick kid up in her room. A boy. Don’t see him much. Sometimes he comes down. I’m sick too.

Here you go, here’s some little bits of chicken. Out you come now.

Go on, you’ll like it. I promise you can’t taste the tarragon.

Oh, you really like that, don’t you?


Cook likes Miss. He’s always getting little packages for her. I think it’s medicine for her kid. Sometimes she cries when he gives them to her.

The other day I told Cook about my pain, ’cause I think I need medicine, too. He asked all these questions and I tried to answer, and he said he’d make me this special cereal for the mornings and to see how that goes. It’s not helping. Actually, the pain’s getting worse. Then I burned myself on a pan, because Cook forgot to tell me it was hot.

Miss put this bandage on my hand.

Oh, you’re purring! Had enough? That’s better, eh. Much better.

Come back in my jacket, and I’ll show you round.

Through that door, that’s the dining room, but it’s empty now of course.

Some of the guests – the ones who pay most – sleep upstairs. But come over here. See this little hole in the wall? If you peep through, you can see all the budget travellers. All asleep. All in their sleeping bags around the room, all snoring.

Over here’s the big walk-in storeroom. Cook’s the only one who has the key, but there’s another little peephole over here.

One night I heard this noise coming out of the store. A scuffle or something. And I peeped in the hole and there was a torch on, lying on the shelf between the rice and the flour. And I could see that it was two people. It was Cook and Miss.

She’s so small and chubby, and he’s so tall and old – long arms and legs and huge hands. But she pushed him onto all fours and whacked his bare buttocks with a wooden spoon. Then he flipped her over, and they held each other by fistfuls of hair. He strained to keep her down, but she fought with her knees and feet, until they were both gasping for air and sweating all over. Shining. And then she went limp, totally limp, and he got a roasting fork. It was so slow and tender. He made these red scratch marks all across her breasts and stomach and down the insides of her legs, and she just sighed.

And then they held each other. Her head fitted under his chin exactly, and his long legs wrapped right around her so he could cross them. And I think – I’m pretty sure – I heard her say, ‘Thank you.’ And then he said, ‘Thank you’.

It wasn’t just the one night, to be honest.

Come on, shall I show you my room?

It’s more of a cupboard than a room! But I can fit my clothes and a bag and a baby mattress in, and that’s all a cunty runt needs. Here, I’ll shut the door and turn on the lamp, and you can have a poke around.

Here’s my roasting fork.

Don’t worry, they’ve got heaps. Cook’s never missed it.

I tried it on my legs last week. I liked it. Look I’ll roll up my trousers. I think one of the scratches is getting infected. Mm, it’s really puffy and red now. I know I shouldn’t rub it so much.

I’ve been starting to feel feverish. I’ll have to tell someone soon.

And here’s my drill. It’s old, but it’s strong. It can go through most of the walls here. My dad gave it to me when I left. I only use it when there’s a storm, so no one can hear.

Come back in my jacket and I’ll show you another peephole.

Up here, up these stairs.

This is Miss’s room. We have to be really quiet. I’ll whisper. Can you see in? Let me have a look.

Ah, she’s asleep. She often sleeps like that. On the bed beside her boy, but on top of the covers. Or sometimes she sleeps on the rug beside the bed. Or once I saw she’d fallen asleep kneeling on the floor beside the bed with her head on her hands, beside his pillow.

Sometimes she doesn’t sleep, though. She paces the room, or she just sits in the chair by the bed watching him. Sometimes you can hear her breath catch in her throat.

I have trouble sleeping, too. I guess you can tell.

Come back down to my room.

The thing is, I know what it’s like to be that scared for something you love. I had a little cat a few months ago. It looked a bit like you, but with more white on it. I loved that cat so much.

I tried to keep it safe, safe from everything, but it got sicker and sicker. And I could see it getting sicker, but there was nothing I could do.

I buried it outside the kitchen, under the lemon tree.

I still sit on the step and look at the lemon tree and cry. And I know they all wonder why I’m so sad – Cook and Miss, and some of the guests, too.

Oh. I hope you don’t get sick.

I could protect you though.

Here, why don’t I bring a food bowl into my room for you. You can live in here.

You’ll be protected from everything and I’ll be your new family.

You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Yes. You’re purring.

I’ll make you a litter box. I’ll get a roasting tray and fill it with dirt from outside, and I’ll empty it every day. You’ll never have to go outside again.

I’ll have to keep you secret, though, because we’re not allowed pets.

Okay, you wait here. I’ll shut the door, but I’ll be back soon with the litter tray and more food. I’ll have to hurry because the sun’s coming up and I start work at six.

Stay. Stay. That’s right.

This is your new home. I love you. I love you so much already.

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