"Hey, you're nuts."
"No, I'm not. It just never occurs to most people that all they have to do is flick a switch in their mind. They want to change things the long way round, because it's the only way they believe in."
The conversation was the only real thing in J's mind, although it may not have taken place at all. The voices were familiar, but no names or faces would claim them in his memory. It could have taken place between the large animal print cushion on the couch and the red kettle with the broken switching mechanism.
For some really strange reason, he could only think in objects as he lay there patterning his cheek to the ridges of the carpet. Even when he tried to think people, they quickly slipped back to expressing themselves as things. Ronda was a pale woven basket with a few strands of rafia at the top fraying. Selbourne was the DVD player that would never accurately play the same disk you inserted, however many times you checked the label beforehand. Ashley was this thin elegant vase with a bottom of water too far away from the stems of the flowers she was supposed to nourish.
Chaos. Order. Flicking a switch.
The words tasted like the heavy syrup of sambuca and smelt like somebody's saliva. They dried on his tongue without his ever using them. They throbbed inside his skull, happily jamming with the hammering on the front door.
It could have been thirty seconds or as long as an hour before he reached the door, but the woman's beauty was something that pierced even his post-inebriated state, but the golden translucence of her skin and the ears that protruded and ended in points not unlike those of Mr Spock must have been the booze still adding little bits to the picture.
She said, "I know this is an unusual request, but can I come in and clean your apartment for you?"
J blinked and glanced over his shoulder. He could not find it in him to deny that it needed cleaning. He sought and found a line half-remembered from a movie. "A fine lady like yourself?"
"This is awkward, but actually I have to do it. One of your guests last night stole something of mine and I have until noon to find it."
"What time is it now?" J asked.
"What if it's not in there?"
"I can feel it."
J took a step back. He had seen stranger things. He made several half-hearted attempts to help her, but she seemed to have such a better grasp of what she was doing and proved totally unshockable, even in the face of several very strange discoveries.
One was that roughly half of the coffee table seemed to have turned into a tree. Roots frays bits of the carpet and the floor was actually lifting in a lumpy halfmoon shape. He could not immediately think of a way of fixing it, but the woman with the pointed ears ignored it.
There was a swarm of five miniature mermaids patrolling the aquarium. J opened his mouth to say 'Wow', but the word never quite got to his tongue. What he really wanted to verbalize was, 'See, THAT's why I drink."
The woman did not even glance at them. She was homing in on something that J now recognized as the epicenter of weirdness, a charred figure - was it a statue or a corpse? - that occupied the center of the couch.
"I found it," she said.
J looked over his shoulder at the mermaids - their tiny breasts actually bobbed - and then forced his eyes to return to the dead body. Yes, it really was a dead body. How was he going to explain that one to the landlord, to anyone?
"That?" he asked.
She reached out and pulled something from the burnt fingers. "This," she said. A few bones tumbled to the floor, smudging the carpet. The woman blew on the object in her hands. Some black dust flew off it. It was a ring.
"Oh," he said.
"Now I will clean the place up for you," she said.
She slipped the ring onto her finger and its shimmering became part of the golden sheen of her inhuman skin. The very air seemed to vibrate around them and for a few moments the throbbing of his head was truly unbearable.
Slowly, the motion of everything wound down. The corpse was gone. So were the smudges, the tree part of the coffee table and every single beer can or glass that had lain scattered across the living room floor. And the mermaids. He realized that, brief as their existence had been, the aquarium would never quite look right without them again.
"Oh yes," said the woman. She touched his forehead and the hangover was gone also.
He spend the rest of the afternoon hunting for something - anything - out of place. Everything was as it should be. Yet, in some strange way, not....