"I live here," Aloysius said, "what are YOU doing here?"
She smiled like an infection, lips curling back to reveal her forlorn looking teeth one by one.
"Fine, don't tell me," he said nonchalantly, "I don't care, anyway."
He tried to look away from her, into the middle distance, all enigmatic and broody like. But his eyes didn't seem to be under the control of his brain. They kept coming back to the golden curls of her chestnut hair, the perfect circle of her aubergine lips, and the sensible curve of her gargantuan norks.
"They're new," she explained with a sparkle as she caught him looking. "I had a brief stint as a glamour model in darkest Peru."
"I didn't think the glamour industry was thriving in Peru."
"It isn't," she said bitterly, "but I had to fund my top secret research somehow."
Aloysius frowned in the manner of someone remembering something.
"Weren't you struck off, though?"
She narrowed her eyes, and sniffed,
"Wasn't your face struck off?"
"Oh yes, that's very mature isn't it. For someone with a triple masters in medicine, psychology and international law, you can be very childish."
"Well I've got to cater to my audience," she pointed out. "And you aren't exactly the brightest button on the woolen boater."
"Isn't that a type of hat?"
“Made of straw?”
She said nothing.
They stood a long time like that in the thickening moonlight, shadows collecting about their elbows like moths.
Eventually Esmeralda broke the silence, which was just like her, he thought bitterly. Always ruining perfectly good moments like silence, and holidays, and scones.
"Aren't you going to invite me in?" she was saying, not very originally.
"No,” he said grumpily, “cause then you'll be able to come in whenever you want, and you'll slaughter my loved ones and leave roses about the place."
She laughed, a tinkling sound like crystal smashing into a thousand totty little pieces on a kitchen floor.
"This isn't an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer," she pointed out, truthfully.
"And you're not coming in," he retorted, also truthfully. There was a lot of honesty going on in that garden.
"But Al," she pouted silkily, "I promise to be good. I have missed your dear mama awfully you know. I take it you two are still living together?"
"Actually, Aloysius is just on his way to the flat he shares with his new girlfriend," came the voice of Mrs Hunkington-Smythe from the doorway of the house. "He was just kind enough to pop by to see me after work, that's all. Such a good son."
"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?" Esmeralda drawled disinterestedly, licking her thumb. "I've never met a more self involved man than him. And the three of us know better than anyone exactly how much of a 'good son' he's been to you."
"I can't believe you just used air quotes," said Mrs Hunkington-Smyte disbelievingly. "What do you think this is, 1997?"
Esmeralda glared, her soupy eyes flashing with hidden steel and scary wombats.
"Shall we dance?" she asked unexpectedly.
"Don't be absurd," said Aloysius, "why would we do that?"
"You always used to enjoy a bit of a dance after a few beers. How about one more, just for old time's sake?"
"I haven't had a few beers," he said, irritated, "and I wouldn't dance with you if you were the last woman on earth."
She smiled the sinister smile of a shark with above average intelligence that's just hit upon a plan.
"I wouldn't be so sure if I was you," she said, clapping her hands together in the rhythm of 'clappity clap'.
Aloysius's mother was alarmed to see that upon this signal, a cloud seemed to cover her son’s violet eyes, and he moved towards Esmeralda wearing a smile that was seemingly not quite his own.
"You dancin'?" he asked, placing a hand on her waist.
"You askin'?" she replied coquettishly.
"Ah'm askin'," Aloysius said, in a (very) rough approximation of a Glaswegian accent.
"Ah'm dancin," Esmerelda concurred, placing one hand on his shoulder and the other in his hand to embark upon a strange waltz around the moonlit garden.
"What have you done to him," Mrs Hunkington-Smythe wondered aloud as they nimbly dodged around plant pots and snail trails. "There isn't even any music. He needs an accompaniment when he dances.."
Esmeralda laughed, and without warning did the 'clappity clap' move with her feet on the patio. 'Stampitty stamp', she went.
"Urgh," Aloysius exclaimed, pulling away in disgust. It seemed to his mother that he was back to his normal self.
"What happened," he asked, "one minute I'm refusing to dance and then all of a sudden I'm dancing?"
"And you asked her, too," his mother said sadly.
"The hell I did," he spat.
"It’s true, my petal," Esmeralda cooed "you did. But it’s not altogether your fault. Shall I tell you about my little secret?"
"Tell me, and then get out of my life forever," he said, impassioned.
"Oh, I think this revelation is going to require you to be sitting down."
Aloysius's face looked murderous, which was probably because he wanted to kill her.
"So," she ignored him breezily, "Who's for a cup of tea?"
Mrs Hunkington-Smythe reluctantly moved back from the doorway, and they retired to the kitchen to discover THE TRUTH.
“It’s like this,” Esmerelda began, placing the teapot on the table and removing a packet of lemon puffs from her coat pocket.
“I’m allergic to those,” said Aloysius.
“No you’re not,” said his mother, surprised.
“Yes I am. They bring me out in spots. Don’t you remember when I was small and I had one of those at Auntie Vivica’s house and then I broke out in spots?”
“That was measles.”
“Anyway,” Esmeralda interjected in the manner of one who had thought her audience might be a tad more receptive to what she had to tell it, “it’s like this.”
They gazed at her, expectant but preoccupied by the fact she had got into their house again.
“…. Basically I learned hypnotherapy and practiced on you.”
“Is that it?”
“Well, yeah, in a nutshell. Sorry, it sounded more dramatic than that in my head. I guess its because I’ve been carrying it about for years, never telling a living soul, and the guilt has weighed heavy on my mind and made the crime seem disproportionately large.”
“Well no, its still a huge invasion of privacy,” said Mrs Hunkington-Smythe, “I just thought there would be a lot more preamble than that.”
“Yeah,” said Aloysius, “I was banking on another six hundred words or so, for my part.”
“Meh,” she said, sipping her tea.
“So have you programmed him to do other things as well,” Mrs Hunkington-Smythe asked slowly.
“Course I have,” Esmeralda grinned, “but nothing bad. I wouldn’t make him rob a bank or punch a granny.”
“Undo it,” Aloysius said angrily, “un-hypnotise me at once or I’ll call the police.”
“I wouldn’t trust her to do it,” said his mother, “what if she just conditions you to react to something else?”
“Fair point,” Esmeralda admitted, “I’m entirely capable of doing that. And given I’m not really sure how to undo it, I’m more inclined to have a bit of fun with you whilst you’re under my total control.”
Aloysius shivered, and not with the cold. It was because he was anxious and freaked out and stuff. Which you would be, if your ex girlfriend – or boyfriend – had access to your brain.
“What can you make me do?”
“Well, there’s the dance. Aaaaand… I can make you buy me cocktails. Aaaaaand… turn off Match of the Day because you think you’re having an allergic reaction to it.”
“Are all of these going to be things that make him a more attentive boyfriend?” Mrs Hunkington-Smythe enquired, interested in spite of herself.
Esmeralda looked at her feet.
“Yeah, totally,” she said.
And she seemed to get away with it, for the time being at any rate.
“This could be a huge money maker you know,” Aloysius’s mother said thoughtfully. “If you marketed it right. Ooh, you could be the saviour of celebrity relationships – charge them extortionate amounts to condition them into doing little things that make them stay the course.”
“I know, right? But then the magazines would be gunning for me because they’d have nothing to print.”
“Oh yeah, that’s a point.”
“Get out,” said Aloysius.
“But I haven’t finished my tea,” she said, pointing at the cup somewhat needlessly to illustrate the fact.
“Take it with you then.”
“That’s my good china – never mind,” Mrs Hunkington-Smythe protested.
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Moira,” Esmeralda expostulated extravagantly, I’m not stealing your china. And I won’t be hanging around either.”
“Why did you bother to come in the first place?” Aloysius asked bitterly. “If you hadn’t, I’d never have known there was a problem. And now I do know, its like I can never escape you.”
“Oh,” he said, in realization. “That is why you came.”
“Well done,” she said, getting up to leave. Her pockets squeaked as she moved. “That’s basically it. Well, there was one other, little thing.”
“I actually couldn’t care right now,” he said, “get out.”
“I think you’ll be interested though, genuinely.”
“Send me a postcard.”
She nodded her assent. “I might just do that. Unless you want to swap email addresses…”
He snorted derisively, and a bit of snot came out. It wasn’t hugely attractive, but sometimes people aren’t when they’re angry. That’s just a fact of life, which you’ve probably observed yourself when you’re just a hundred or so words shy of your target daily word count and are finding it difficult to concentrate on what you’re doing.
Esmeralda wrinkled her own nose like a rabbit - not a cute one, but equally not a snottery one. Definitely an evil one though, with fangs instead of claws, and a canon for a tail, and laser eyes.
“Oh well… nice seeing you,” she lied.
“Take care of yourselves.”
And off she went, walking out of his life into the night for the second time.
“Al,” Moira Hunkington-Smythe said weakly, “I don’t feel very well.”
Her body convulsed uncomfortably for a few unimaginably lengthy seconds, then all of a sudden, she flopped in her wheel chair, and lay deathly still.