In the bathroom she felt safe. You couldn't imagine a ghost in a bathroom somehow, it would be all wrong. How about her hair? Should she wash it again? It looked clean enough, the fine, flyaway fair hair behaving in its usual way and flying away at all angles. Better put it under the tap and be on the safe side. She was going out with Sonovia and Laf later and she didn't want to give offense; there was nothing so unpleasant as greasy hair next to you. In the end she gave it a proper wash, it couldn't do any harm.
Minty dried herself and dropped the used towel into the basket. She never used a towel more than once and she never used body lotion or perfume. Deodorant, yes, and on the soles of her feet and palms of her hands as well as her underarms. Body lotion only dirtied clean skin as makeup did. Besides, she couldn't afford all that rubbish. She was quite proud of the fact that no lipstick had ever soiled her mouth nor mascara her pale eyelashes. Normally, since Auntie passed away, Minty would have walked naked across the narrow expanse of landing into her bedroom, as she might have if only the living Jock had been in the house. It was different altogether with a ghost who was dead and shouldn't want to look at a nude woman from beyond the grave. She took a clean towel from the cupboard, wrapped it round her and opened the door cautiously. There was no one and nothing there. No ghost could have survived in that bright light.
Minty put on clean underwear, a clean pair of cotton trousers, and a clean sweater. No accessories, no jewelry. You never knew what germs were harbored by things like that. She was due to give them a knock next door at seven-thirty. The cinema they were going to was the Odeon at Marble Arch, and the film started at eight-fifteen. Something to eat first and maybe a cup of tea.
Why had he come back like that? They said ghosts returned when they had unfinished business to attend to. Well, he had. An engagement isn't finished till it ends in marriage. She hadn't even seen his body or been asked to the funeral or had a pot of ashes like they gave her when Auntie was cremated. All she'd had was that letter telling her he'd been in the train that crashed and been burnt to a cinder. The fact was that she'd started to get over it--she'd stopped crying and got on with her life, the way they said you had to--and now his ghost appearing like that had brought it all back. Perhaps he'd only come to say a final good-bye. She hoped so.
The kitchen was spotless. It smelled powerfully of bleach, a scent Minty liked. If she'd ever worn perfume it would have smelled like bleach. Although she'd just had her big wash she washed her hands again. She was very particular about what she ate. Food could be messy and make you dirty. Soup, for instance, or pasta or anything with gravy. She ate a lot of cold chicken and ham and salad and bread, the white kind, not the brown, which might have any filthy substance in it to make it that color, and eggs and fresh, unsalted butter. Her weekly expenditure on tissues and paper napkins and kitchen roll was ruinous but it couldn't be helped. As it was, she used the washing machine to capacity every day without adding linen napkins to the load. When she'd eaten she washed up everything she'd used and put it away, and washed her hands under the running tap.
Was she going to leave all these lights on when she went out? Auntie would have called it a wicked waste. The upstairs ones would have to stay on. She wasn't going to go up there and turn the lights off and have to come down the stairs with all that darkness behind her. Out in the hall she took her coat off the peg and put it on. There was always a problem with coats because you couldn't really keep them clean. Minty had done the best she could by running up a couple of cotton linings on the Immacue machine. She could wash them and slip a clean one into the coat each time she wore it. The best thing, if she was to have any peace of mind, was not to think about the dirt on the outside of the coat, but it was a struggle not to do this and she didn't always succeed.
Excerpted from Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by Ruth Rendell Copyright 2002 by Ruth Rendell. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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