Jane unwillingly lived off the smell of an oily rag.
Books in the alphabetic order on two bookshelves.
Bowls of decreasing sizes one within the other.
Saturday is for cleaning and washing, Sunday is for reading and walking.
An alarm clock set up at 8.05. Five minutes represented frivolousness. Not three or four, or one; five minutes. Although five minutes was a sign of rebellion, it seemed like a good compromise between a wish to sleep longer and the need to wake up.
A glass of water half an hour before breakfast and fasting after 6 pm.
A sacred hour of social media: tips on how to stick to a routine, fly lady guides for beginners, and increase of followers' list.
Intimate meetings once a week with a co-worker (oh, what a pleasure to pretend in public that they were mere acquaintances), evening calls to parents, and occasional chit-chatting with the best friend in a favorite cafe in the city center.
Visits to a library every second Saturday after cleaning and washing. Caressing spines of books with an index finger, absorbing the knowing silence and the promises of fantasy worlds. The old librarian, always in the same knitted greyish west over a pale red uniform. 'You are a passionate reader. Young people prefer watching TV these days.'
Sure enough, a funk that suddenly disrupted Jane's life meant the beginning of the ending in the divine scenario: rivers of blood, burning skies, and four horsemen. The horrors would come later, but the all-pervading aroma was flagging the inevitability of changes.
Jane was a cold caller in a small company selling products for self-diagnostics. She knew how inappropriate the calls might be. In the middle of a sex scene, in the toilet, running after a naughty toddler with two bags of groceries, flying in midair; she had patiently listened to absurd explanations the people could give only to prevent her from talking.
Deals smelled to high heaven because the parasites in the rectum with which she threatened the clients had long gone extinct due to unhealthy diets and pollution.
'Good morning, I am representing a company 'The Best Life', my name is Jane Doe. Do you have a minute to talk about our products?' She replayed for the hundredth time in that morning.
'O my God! It's a crater with lava…a fucking volcano in my backyard!' Shouted a man's voice on the other side of the phone.
'Can we talk, sir? Is it safe for you to talk, sir?' sighed Jane.
A receiver produced a cacophony of screams, squeals, and heavy breathing.
Jane had to put the phone down because her nose caught an unsettling incense.
The first Jane's thought was that she hadn't washed her hands properly after the last WC visit. She invented the routine that had never failed her: lather hands by rubbing them one against the other with soap, not forget to clean between the fingers and under the nails; scrub 20 seconds and rinse with clean water; repeated twice if she was longer than for an average pee.
The uninvited perfume was shattering her confidence.
She silently stood up, stopping herself from smoothing out the skirt as she always did – the flavor would stick to the clothes – and, covering her guilt with a forced smile, retreated to the toilet.
The toilet was a kingdom of bleachers. Despite the old age of the building itself and the deteriorating condition of sewage, the company didn't tighten the purse strings on cleaning. Jane's eyes always rested with happiness on a row of brightly colored bottles, capped with a set of different sponges.
This time, a brand-new broom reproachfully squinted at her from the corner.
Jane rubbed, scrubbed, wrung, and made hands hurt from whiteness. She came out smelling of roses and chamomile. The order of things was restored.
The day went as usual, except for the one episode. Her colleague didn't return from the lunch break. She heard the gossip about a meteor, the size of a bag of potatoes, which, unnoticed by the Earth's high-resolution telescopes, decided to land on the head of a poor man. That was nonsense and witchcraft, of course.
She had had a minor disagreement with the guy over the secrecy of their relationship. He wanted to announce that they were together together while she wasn't ready to be in the spotlight. He thought there was something wrong with her. She protected her privacy.
Jane called the lover during her own lunch break, but he didn't answer. Apparently, he was not her husband-to-be. If a man doesn't respect woman's wishes and acts recklessly, she has a right to leave him to his fate.
After work, Jane decided to go to a supermarket. A vague thought, even an apprehension, haunted her like a fly that was hitting against a window glass and couldn't find a way away.
Jane's mask had dotted flowers on a grey background and an encouraging note 'Be yourself'. She unzipped the special mask case, and the rotten fishy scent combined with a stench of a dirty urinal made her instantly throw the mask onto the ground.
As Jane found out later at home, two layers of soft polyester-spandex mix and adjustable straps up to the last millimeter were contaminated.
Luckily for her, she had another four masks hanging on a dryer.
Jane couldn't make herself enter the supermarket. Whiff alienated her from the rest of the sleeky, tidy masses, which usually go shopping in the evenings. Similar to her lost lover, they might have been suspecting that there was something wrong with her.
In contradiction to her beliefs, she made two green sandwiches, 100% whole grain with slices of cucumber and salad leaves, after 6 pm. No salt; that was still rule number one.
The scent leaked into dreams. In dreams, joyful Jane cut off the apple trees' lower branches and painted trunks white. Because her garden was situated in a lowland, the underground rivers, flowing from the nearby swamps, turned the soil into a munching half-flooded mess every spring. If Jane stood in one place too long, it was hard to shift weight from one leg to another, so she squatted down, bent her body, waved hands, and did a lot of other unnecessary for other people moves. Slanted sunrays leaning to the saplings illuminated the scenery with a cold-white light. Jane's muscles pleasantly ached from the manual work. As for all the dream worlds, Jane's mental picture was lifeless outside the small spot before her. Her imagination couldn't concentrate on two things at a time; that's why reminiscing on the nightmare later, she couldn't have recoiled a disgusting, haired figure put in the middle of the story by a fed-up reader (yes, I'm talking to you, reader of my story. I know that a lot of stories are written about an apocalypse. Is there one about an almost invisible pissing monster, a harbinger of the end of the days? Have you read it? Is it well-written?). Maybe, the creature was a result of a light-shade play, and nothing was terrifying in the darkness, just another hue of black, a cosmic-black or staring-at-you-back black. Perhaps, the creature's hair was filled with urine and vomit and traces of prolonged diarrhea, together with a freakish scent of human's body decomposition. The pissing monster failed the smell test.
While Jane didn't look around, wholly submerged into her cheerfulness, the monster relieved itself into the tin of paint and, giggling and jumping from excitement, pulled a page of the story by a right low corner and exposed a...
Jane woke up on an awfully smelling pillow.
It was early morning or late night, and the clock showed 4.23. The fume affected everything it touched. It transformed the comfortable fives and zeroes into disturbing twos and threes.
Jane woke up unable to sleep in the stinking universe. She snatched the pillowcase, almost tearing it apart, duvet cover, and sheet, and put them into a washing machine. The machine was old and sometimes bounced from side to side, so it was unwise to turn it immediately unless she wanted to quarrel with neighbors. Jane didn't want to see anybody. The piss was now isolated in the depths of technological achievement.
She made herself a tea and left it on a kitchen table while she was searching for glasses. Sitting on a perfect chair with a cup of tea, full of gentle notes of cinnamon, Jane prepared to read a book.
In a second, the water mercilessly wetted out a library book's pages.
The tea tasted the same as the pillow.
That was the last drop in the jar of Jane's misery. If she hadn't been cleaning the teapot, washing the dishes by hand, not in a dishwasher, and putting away the winter clothes for the next few hours, she would have been crying and screaming out loud. Between polishing a mirror in a corridor and rearranging bottles of shampoos, Jane called her lover. Her husband-to-be and her soulmate. His phone was switched off.
Jane used the rest of her strength to wait until 8 am. Then she called her mother.
Mother's name was Rose. A Rose by any other name, as they say.
'Hi!' Jane tried to sound casual.
'Hi! Something happened? I am busy, so be quick!'
Jane knew how busy her mother had always been. She forgot about a tooth fairy. She failed to say 'I love you' when Jane had been leaving for school. She forgot to say that she was proud of her daughter. Jane's silent reprobation was replaced by acceptance and rare frankness during mandatory evening calls.
'You heard about a meteor? Size of a bag of potatoes? Believe it or not, it hit Steven. I don't know how nobody warned about a meteor rain.'
'It was a bag of peanuts, dear. Did you call me to say about Steven?'
'Well...' Jane hesitated, and before she could add anything, her mother interrupted.
'I have to go! A zip of my coat is stuck. I have barely five minutes to fix it. Sarah's daughter is engaged, do you believe that? She looks like a sick horse with that protruding forward teeth. She has to use braces. I always thought that you would be the first to get married because she is so ugly. I can't say that, poor girl, but it is true. You've always been my sunshine, and you don't have such ugly teeth like her...and...'
Jane put the phone on the bed with her mother's voice still dissertating about Sarah's daughter and stared blankly on the wall. It felt like the smoke of Rose's cigarettes oozed out of the screen, acquiring a body, getting stickier with every word, and raveling out along the mattress's crisscrossing lines.
'Smell you later,' Jane whispered.
She switched off the phone.
Although the air had to be refreshingly chilly outside Jane's apartment and the time of sunrise had already gone, the sky burnt with orange, crimson, and red. Flashes of an unearthly yellow decorated the city in ailing hues, the eyes-windows ready to cry with glass. Neighbors' dogs barked and howled in fear before the unknown, adding chaos to the beginning of the ending.
But the cold calling never stops.
After a brief planning meeting, Jane prepared to dial up the first number. An office was filled with odors of coffee, wet carpeting, and cleanness.
'Good morning! I am representing a company 'The Best Life', my name is Jane Doe...'
A crater deeper than a bag of peanuts and definitely broader than a bag of potatoes opened up beneath the building where Jane and her colleagues worked.
At least, the lava didn't smell like Jane's tea. What a relief!