Mr. Flood's Last Resort

Mr. Flood's Last Resort

Jess Kidd

For Eva


He has a curious way of moving through his rubbish. He leans into it, skimming down the corridors like a fearless biker on a hairpin bend. He gallops and vaults through the valleys and hills, canters and bobs through the outcrops and gorges of his improbable hoardings. Now and then he stops to climb over an obstacle, folding his long legs like picnic chairs. And all the while his chin juts up and out, and his body hangs beneath it, as if his grizzled jaw is wired to an invisible puppeteer. And all the while the backs of his big gnarly hands brush over the surfaces. For a tall man and an old man he can shift himself when he wants to.

I don’t move like that. I wade, tripping over boxes and piles of mildewing curtains, getting caught in cables, hooked on hat stands, and assaulted by rutting ironing boards. I flounder over records, books, stained blankets, greasy collections of plastic bags, garden forks, antique mangles, a woman’s patent leather shoe, and an unopened blender that also grates and peels. And cats, cats, cats.

Cats of all kinds: ginger, black, brindled, tabby, and piebald. Cats sleeping, eyeing, scratching, and licking their arses on sour cushions, humping under upturned boxes, and crapping on great drifts of newspaper.

I try not to look at the details but some little thing always catches my eye. A dead mouse curled in a teacup, a headless ceramic dray horse, a mannequin’s pink severed limb: that sort of thing. I have a morbid bent.


THIS MORNING I am excavating the northwest corner of the kitchen. Taking as modern topsoil a pile of local papers dated September 2015, I have traced back through layers and layers of history. On reaching a sprinkling of betting slips stuck to the linoleum (dated March 1990), I was able to estimate that this filth hole has not been cleaned for at least twenty-five years. Having opened several speculative trenches and located an oven, I am now enthusiastically cleaning its hob.

I count (sing with me):

Seven withered woodlice

Six shriveled spiders

Five black bags

Four kitchen rolls

Three dishcloths

Two scouring pads

And industrial-grade thick bleach.


I AM wearing a disposable apron, extra-safe rubber gloves, and a face mask for the smell and for the spores.

He’s staring at me from the kitchen door, Mr. Cathal Flood, three feet taller than usual because he is standing on a mound of discarded carpet tiles. This makes him a giant because he is already a fair height: a long, thin, raw-boned, polluted old giant. The set of eyes he has trained on me are deep-socketed and unnervingly pale: the pale, pale, boreal blue of an Arctic hound.

“You had no business throwing out the cartons and so forth.” He talks slowly and over-loudly, as if he’s testing his voice. “All my things gone and I had a need for them.”

I turn to him, breathing like Darth Vader through my mask, and shrug. I hope my shrug communicates a profound respect for his discarded possessions (twenty refuse sacks of empty sardine tins) combined with the regretful need for practical living.

He narrows his gimlet eyes. “You’re a little shit, aren’t you?”

I pull off my mask. “I wanted to find your cooker, Mr. Flood. I thought we might branch out, give the microwave a bit of a break.”

He watches me, his mouth tight with venom. “I could curse you,” he says, a hint of a sob in his frayed brogue. “I could curse you to hell.”

Be my fecking guest, I say to my Brillo pad.

I draw hearts on the rotten hob with bleach and then start scrubbing again. Mr. Flood mutters in broken Irish on the other side of the kitchen.

“That’s lovely,” I murmur. “You have a poet’s voice, Mr. Flood. Loaded with foreboding and misery.”

I flick the dishcloth blithely into the corners of the grill as Mr. Flood switches to English. He wishes me a barren womb (no changes there, then), eating without ever shitting, sodomy by all of hell’s demons (simultaneously and one after another), fierce constrictions of the throat, a relentless smoldering of the groin, and an eternity in hell with my eyes on fire.

Then he stops and I look up. He is pushing his hand through the spun floss of his hair (white halo, cobweb magnet, subject to static), patting it down, as if making himself presentable. Then he raises the still-dark caterpillars of his eyebrows a fraction of an inch and dips his head to one side. The effect is oddly charming; it has something of an ancient misanthropic squirrel about it. His mouth starts to work, in a series of stifled contortions, like a ventriloquist with hiccups.

“Are you okay, Mr. Flood?”

He takes a deep breath and bares his tarnished dentures at me. I realize that he’s smiling.

I venture a tentative smile of my own.

“Don’t you ever lose your temper?” he asks.

I study his face for signs of attack. “No, Mr. Flood, I have a sunny disposition.”

“Isn’t that a grand thing for the both of us, Drennan?” he says, and with a quick pat of the wall he climbs down from the carpet tiles and swims back through the hallway.

I stare at the damp patch on the seat of his trousers.


I HAVE worked at Mr. Flood’s house for just over a week and he’s finally said my name.

I consider this a relative success.

Sam Hebden, a geriatric whisperer brought in at great expense from a better agency than ours, lasted three days before Mr. Flood ran him off the property with a hurling stick. I haven’t had the pleasure, but I gather Sam was in tatters.

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