When your private life spills out of a cardboard bag on to the street, it's time to take stock

I have been scared of some really dumb things in my time. When I was five, my Mum took me to see Cats, but I was scared of Brian Blessed so we had to leave. The same year, I had a fabulously successful birthday party, at which I held court like a mini Joan Collins until I decided I was scared of the lighted candles on my cake. I screamed and cried and curled up beneath a table until my Montessori mates had to be sent home.

But let's cut to the chase (chase being the operative word). Today, I am frightened of my garbage bags. They don't just make me nervous. They inspire in me a nauseous, heart-pounding terror that mists my vision and claws at my diaphragm. With good reason...

Last night, for once, I took out the garbage myself. I've found that if you do something very, very badly, people generally don't ask you to do it again. When we first moved into the flat, I diligently dragged the bin bags down the stairs, accidentally tearing them along the way so burnt scrambled egg spilled across the limp porch. Grace said I didn't have to do it again.

We accepted that we all have different talents. Grace is excellent, among other things, at walking in high heels, applying eye-liner and getting things cleaned up. I am good at hailing taxis, pouting, and imitating Mick Jagger and Tina Turner simultaneously. I am excused rubbish duty. But Grace has barely been home this week and the kitchen was starting to stink. If there's anything I'm really scared of, it's creepy crawlies. So I gathered up the cartons of sour milk and bags of rotting fruit and and set to work.

I couldn't find the rubbish bags, so I put everything in the designer carrier bags I accumulated during the summer sales. I love Anna Molinari. Well, I love how her dresses look on Sherilyn Fenn in Hollywood premiere- night papparazzi shots from the pages of Allure and W. I wanted anything from there, so I got a belt that I don't even particularly like, but it was the cheapest thing in the sale. And they wrapped it in tissue and put in the most enormous, rose-printed cardboard bag. Then I bought a pretzel from the deli at DKNY and asked the waiter to put it in the biggest bag he had. So those are the bags that I crammed full of rubbish and dragged downstairs. I wasn't planning on it raining and turning my lovely bags to mush.

When I went out to check on them today, not only had they not been collected, but the entire contents of both carriers had spilt out on to the street. Horrible stuff - letters from people I've fallen out with that I've used to blot my lipstick. On a single biro-inked page, there were maybe 30 crimson stains. There were tags from bras, boasting cost and size. And, worst of all, there seemed to be hundreds of envelopes with my name and address on them. All spilling from an Anna Molinari bag. If I picked, impartially, through my bins, trying to find out what kind of girl the owner was, I would say I was a vain rich bitch, a central casting slash- and-stalk victim from a John Carpenter movie. And then my brain really started going overtime: Someone is stalking me. They have just been through my garbage. They know my address, they know my bra size, they know I spend too much on clothes. I am Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. I went out, bought some proper plastic bags and tried to scrape everything up neatly. But I still felt jittery. So I got a second opinion. My 10-year-old friend, Jack, is visiting. He is a horror aficionado, and as he was going through the comparative merits of Stephen King's The Stand and his earlier Carrie, I told him about the rubbish and why I was so jumpy. He was quiet for a while, scratched his head and straightened his jacket and then turned slowly towards me.

"Emma, I have to tell you that, not only are you the next target of a twisted, psychotic, possibly masked serial killer, but you have also endangered the lives of all of your friends. We are to be picked off, one by one, and all because you couldn't be bothered to use proper rubbish bags."

I'm even worse at washing up.

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