After Grandma Nell’s funeral the six of us turned her house upside down in an attempt to find the key to open the kitchen cupboard. For as long as all six of us could remember it had been locked with a padlock the size of a boxer’s fist, and questions about it had always been parried in the same way—now, what would you like for pudding—or—who would like some chocolate? Even as teenagers and young adults, she simply pretended that it wasn’t there and the questions were never asked.
The key was just as elusive so we agreed we had no choice but to force the lock, and justified this intrusion into Nell’s secret with lofty talk of us being the executors of the estate, throwing words like responsibility and integrity about the place until we all felt comfortable with the decision.
Earl surprised us and picked the lock with a hair clip in under ten seconds. Opening the door took more time and a considerable amount of effort as it seemed to have been glued to the frame. But with a rope looped through the handle, three of us on each end was enough. The force of the release sent us all reeling to the linoleum floor.
From down there the inside of the cupboard looked dirty and unnaturally dark for an open unit in a sunny kitchen. The inside walls were stained brown, and lighter coloured vertical lines gave it a wet, sticky appearance. I could see a shape on the bottom shelf. It looked like a shallow mound of something dark with a light-coloured shape, like a biscuit, on top.
My siblings and cousins were already standing by the time I got to my feet and I noted that all five of them were silent—the first time that this had happened for as long as I could remember. Even during Nell’s funeral Dora’s and Florence’s sobbing had maintained our reputation for disturbing the peace whenever we were all together. I was just about to remark on this when I saw the head.
Before I’d had quite enough time to fully absorb the fact that we were staring at a decapitated head of a man lying on its right ear on top of one of Grandma’s good dinner plates inside a kitchen cupboard, one of its eyes opened wide and then squinted tightly. We all jumped back and made for the kitchen door, knocking over chairs and scraping a table along the linoleum, clanging it into a radiator, when my little brother, Angus, spoke.
—Look, it’s talking!
We stopped and turned to see Angus half-crouching as if stalking deer, one hand reaching back towards us and the other pointing to the bottom shelf of the cupboard where the head, now with eyes shut, did indeed appear to be moving its lips. For minutes we watched as it mouthed its message, over and over again, and waited for it to turn up the volume. After a few attempts at volunteering my siblings and cousins, I stepped nearer to hear the whisper. Still nothing. So, with encouragement, I moved closer, pausing with each step hoping to catch the words without having to get nearer. It wasn’t until my ear was just three or four inches away from its lips when I eventually heard sounds from the head’s mouth. From behind me, Lizzy cried—Come on Joe, what’s it saying?
—I still can’t hear him, I replied. The smell from the cupboard was surprisingly subtle and sweet, which disgusted me more than the rot I was expecting. I held my breath and leaned in just a little closer.
Then, as my shadow shaded the head from the glare of the sunlit kitchen, it opened both eyes and looked straight at me and, this time, spoke with perfect clarity
—Please, shut the fucking door.