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Jean poked the left eyeball of her Jack Russell. Nothing. As dogs go, Herbie wasn’t the brightest, but reacting to a poke in the eyeball always came pretty instinctively to him. In Jean’s experience, dogs always reacted to that sort of thing. Her Uncle Ged’s puppy didn’t like it one bit, and Daisy Foxton’s Rottweiler damn near took her finger off in 1992. Jean touched Herbie’s eyeball again, and still no consequence, no movement, no anything at all. She licked her finger. Herbie’s eyeball tasted of rust. And salt. And bitterness. Herbie was a dead dog now. Jean was alone in her living room. She threw Herbie on the open fire and prodded him three times with the poker; twice in the belly and once more in his poor left eyeball. Then she turned towards the noose that hung above the entrance to her kitchen. Jean’s noose was made from 27 strands of plaited bailing twine. It had been hanging above her kitchen for 16 months and three days. Since the 13th October, the year before last. The day Jean’s daughter died. Nobody had ever seen the noose except for Jean (and Herbie). Nobody had set foot in Jean’s house for 16 months and three days. Nobody had knocked at Jean's door for 16 months and three days. Not even so much as a Gas Man to read the meter whilst Jean flounced around him in a skimpy nightdress. She pulled the telephone table four feet to the right and stepped up onto it beneath the 27 strands of plaited bailing twine, tied expertly in what appeared to be a very professional-looking noose. Over her head and around her neck it went. She unbuttoned the top three buttons on her silk pyjamas – maybe the Gas Man would find her. She took a deep breath. She smelled burning dog and felt sick. This was it. This is it. All there ever was and all there ever will be. As she took a step forward, as her centre of gravity shifted past the point of no return, as she did the final thing she would ever do in life - there was a knock at the door.

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