Room – First Draft

Women have always done it, unrecognised, hidden. And even once allowed, we deny it, because being allowed in itself takes something away. Who offers the permit, and do I want it anyway? I may continue to write in secret. No-one will know, either way.

it’s warm and dark red and the woosh-thump-woosh-thump’s always there, and I’m on my own/never alone safe warm nourished part of you and that’s all I want and ever need

jerked screaming, fighting every push and brutal squeeze, too bright, too hard, can’t go back, let me back let me back, let me in … skin touch soft warm fill me keep me safe together

I have a room where I go and close the door so no-one can reach me. It seems like I’ve had it forever, but there must have been a first time that I discovered it. Everything has a beginning …

rewind until I can hear her screaming at me, until she’s grasping my wrist, and I’ve done something wrong and I don’t know what still don’t know, and her breath smells and I look up into her eyes and know that I’ll never be right so I need to vanish. I stand still, her bone-witch fingers surrounding my wrist, and as she shouts down at me I can’t move. Tell me it will be okay, but there’s no-one else but me and her and brick by brightly coloured brick I build until I vanish. I’m gone where she can’t touch me anymore and that’s when I find my room.

Ten years on, my room has materialised. I learned to read and a door opened into somewhere I never knew existed. I can retreat until I don’t hear the screaming anymore. And when I’m all wrong, don’t fit it, don’t get the joke, can’t play with us, my room’s still there, where I can’t be touched. John Peel’s on the radio, though, and I believe that somewhere there’s a way out.

In time, I discover that I was right, and I pretend the room’s gone. I watch as the sky fades, blue, green gold, to darkness, setting sun, silhouetted trees and chimneys. I’m in the attic, real room of my own. Mismatch thrift shop furniture and peeling wallpaper spell freedom. Rent paid, I can enter and leave when I want. I lie on the worn grey carpet and reward myself for each page I write, each sunset I paint.

At night we drink and smoke and dance and the music’s louder than my heartbeat, until the sky lightens from navy to turquoise again. Milk fresh on the doorstep, we stumble back indoors. And later when I’m heaving the night into the toilet, my t-shirt clings against my skin, and I go to my room, but I’m not telling anyone. I creep in, furtive, would never tell, never share, can’t admit that the room’s still there.

I’m spent, another night, red wine in jugs you can’t tell how much you drink and we were laughing so hard my throat’s sore and my ears are ringing and now it’s all stopped, and I’m chilled, skin clammy, but inside my head is quiet and I’m not dangling on the edge of madness, won’t see a counsellor, see her, won’t see her again.

Another ten. I’d get up if I could but the gap in my symphysis pubis is too large, and the baby stretches my belly, I’m seventeen stone at my biggest, and my mind has slowed like my steps. The sun shines in, cats rolling on the golden carpet. My world has titrated down to one room, can’t diminish any further, but it’s not the room I was thinking of.

I’m never alone, and it’s eating me and I want to be one, own, me, gone, and the drugs take the edge off and gradually I claw back a tiny place that’s my room. I can sit still, feed the baby, watch birds in the garden and think. There’s something new, though, and it glows green as I realise I’m not allowed to be alone.

Maybe the end should have been when I delivered the baby, but I’ve found that’s not an end. And now, behind a barrier of books, I am rebuilding my room, stealing back moments to write. My desk is tall, broad, blue-stained, grain of the wood still visible, family photos backdrop my thoughts. Does time need to be scarce so I write every word?

Mum, mum, I need a drink, did you get more eggs, can you wipe my bottom, can you drop the car at the garage, what’s for tea, I’m going to be late, can you help me with my homework, you never told me it was parents’ evening, where’s my socks, I need a lift, is there more cake, he’s got all the socks in his drawer, that’s mine, I want it, it’s not fair, I want, it’s not fair, I want, I want, I want …

Origin of self FINAL EDIT

A clap of wings startles me. The seagulls circle, then go back to the cliffs. I continue down the beach. My pelvis adjusts as pebbles shift and roll. My hips rise and fall, impressions on my feet. Stone-pain seizes my focus.

At the edge I hesitate, can’t do it again. A moment, you’re always too cold, but still I throw myself into you. Draw heat from me, I want to fill your lack. Always my gift dissipates too fast. You’re implacable: I’m bereft.

I kick off again, release, float, push against you, pull through you, surge, immerse. And beneath you, I’m gone. Moment in green. Perfect vision, until everything blurs, clears, blurs, salt filled eyes, mouth, ears.

Too much, I sink, stop, stand, relief in stone-made pain. I gasp. I’m not you, still within my depth. Still I ask, ‘Draw me out, write your name on me, gouge it in my skin’. I should stay, there’s safety at this edge, but I release the rock. Be in me, fill me, take me over. For a second I surface, breathe, submerge again. I’m in you, of you, and you enter me, every hole: every cell of mine takes you in, and my feet feel sea, just sea.

And it’s never enough.

Afterwards, I lie where the waves pour over me, in and out. A little way up the beach a dog’s nails scratch over stones, sharp against the hush of the waves. The seagulls circle again, screeches breaking the silence of the seas. [1]

Slowly, this time, so slowly. I descend. Spasm, contract, breathe, forced slow exhale, then down again. Painful pause, I crumple at your edge, inhale. Your waves reach out. At bursting point, I crawl until I’m in you, then I lighten. I need you as my body spasms, ice cold some relief. Contract.  Half standing, half floating for a moment, stones scrape my knees as I fall again. I scream, exhale, pant, breath subsides.

Hips widen, pelvis shifts, I open, push down, face full of salt, womb screaming, I give you more of me, all of me. I submerge, flow into you, expel it, release with one last surge …

It’s only instinct makes me hold him, warm against me, no breath yet, until we surface, dual gasps, both scream, bereft.

[1] Royle, After Derrida p56.

Aneurysm (2nd EDIT)

Aneurysm

Stumps from a scarred branch dig into my belly as I lie here, but you can’t see me. Sunlight in streaks passes through gaps in the leaves. Lime green, grass green stripes and splatters hide me.

Down there, you’re writing, and I need to see. This need consumes me all summer. Are you writing about me? I try finding the book in your room.  I follow you after you have written, hunting your secret, but you detect me, elude me, two years more in the world enough to give you every advantage.

So I’ve been here since I ran from the dinner table, her voice calling after me. This time I was the one who eluded capture. I wore green today, I planned this as I pulled on a pair of your old shorts. She raised an eyebrow, said nothing at breakfast, nothing at lunch. She looked, though, and there’ll be plenty to say when I get back.

I’m too high. I know that the moment you open the book, when you pull out your fountain pen. The blackbird in the neighbour’s orchard competes with your scratch. Can’t see him, can’t see me. I can’t see, your script too tiny from my vantage point. I lie, branches burning into my belly. I am only invisible as long as I stay still. One move, I’m no bird, a twig will crack, leaves will betray me.

I think like our cat, brown dapples in the green, unseen enemy of small fur and feathers. I can be cat, slide, glide, slip along the branch. I know from the scrape and burn on my legs that I’m making progress.

I pause. How close must I be? The branch dips, I’m lower, lower still. Can I see my name in there? Or hers? You’re scribbling still, black scrawl indecipherable.

I stop, lean, peer. The branch scrapes at my stomach, tugs on shirt buttons as if I’m moving. Twigs claw my face and I put my hands out, clasp the leaves, then I’m flying like the blackbird, and the text is getting nearer, and you look up and   I   can   read   …   every   ///   word  …

 

 

Let me entertain you drives through her head as she focusses on the blood. It’s important to make the grey of the blade more silvery, to make the blood stand out, the red more crimson, oldword for #DC143C, for #E30022, and she shudders at the imprecision. How can she replicate the experience, seen onbrain across the ‘verse, if there’s no exactitude? She needs the feed as the music swells in her mind. Little Bo Peep has lost his sheep, He popped a pill and fell asleep. She shifts, cold metal bar pressing against her thighs. Grand-mère said that they used to have cushioned seats, adjustable seats, seats to make sitting at the computer for hours more comfortable. She remembers the sentence, but the meaning twists. Computer, a stand-alone box of circuits, heavy, clumsy. Apparatus. Apart. Sitting at the computer, like you could leave it. A tremor runs through her at the thought of not being connected.

She swipes in the air to heighten the #ED2939, increase the shadows of the giant dovetech’s incisor as it carves through the skin to make the glint of the metal that little bit brighter, pulls at the code so that man’s guts spill out towards her, zooms in on his screaming face until you can tell when he last shaved. It’s going to be the full VR experience, for everyone, onbrain.

She steps back to view the scene better. It enlarges anyway, no need to step back, and the soft wall reminds her of this. One day she won’t need her body, her cell, one day everyone will be in total VR, no need for this futile human dance.

Maybe in the next box, maybe thousands of miles away, someone else is enhancing the sound, the smell, and as soon as they are done, as soon as the scream reaches the right intensity, as soon as it balances the clash of the dovetechs, the thud of their mechanised limbs, and as soon as the rust-metal smell of blood and oil is embedded, this episode will feed. She fizzes at the thought that her #DC143C, her #808080 will be viewed in everyone’s minds tonight. Perfect entertainment.

She pulls her hands apart, zooms in so she can see what no-one will notice. She scans the background and somewhere there’s a blackbird singing. Shouldn’t be there. Has to be erased. A twitch, pain sparks from her neck, shoulder, arm, hand, forefinger and she’s found the small black shape, zoom in. Onbrain, there’s a spark, she twitches again, and tremors shoot down her spine. Maybe it’s the bird where it shouldn’t be. They’re nearly all gone now. A vicious jab in the air with her shaking hand and the birdchant stops. The sparks stop too and she leans back against the padding, sweating as she slides down the wall.

The song loops back to the start, pounding bass, screaming vocals blacking out the pain. Hell is gone and heaven’s here, and she can see the redbrown stains, dried #c4302b on #d7000 and a faded #A81C07. One hand flickers, and if she could, if this was VR, she#d heighten the #A81C07, soften the rough beige cotton that lines her cell, /// erase all trace of her blood, #erase the walls, wipe out this cell and the next and the next,/// and take away the bloodstains on the soil and #paint the world #3DF500.

Shades of green machine, lime, and grass shoot through her head. She lolls to the side, spring green, Persian, olive, Kombu, Granny Smith, jungle, laurel, rifle green speed towards her face, three dimensial VR, onbrain gone wild as she smells, she tastes, the blood, the oil, the earth.

 

 

I can read the words now.

Blackbird wings beat in my head, ants scurry along the lines. There’s grass and mud between my teeth, bruise on my cheek, ink on my skin, and a torrent of anger in your voice pouring over me.

I try to sort my limbs from yours, but the script still scores tracks through my mind.

I can hear her screaming as she thuds down the lawn,

… I’m too old for this … you come here right now … what will your mother think … she left me in charge … I’m too old for this … you’ll give me a heart attack … I’m not letting you out of my sight again!

Nothing matters, now. I’ve read the words.

One step too far

We’re not together anymore. Skin ripped, bones fractured. I never thought I’d hate him. It was beyond his control. I never thought he’d resent me for doing what they told me was right. I didn’t do it for gratitude: he thanked me and everything changed. How do you live with someone who’s seen you in pieces? We’re better off apart, rather than living with the echoes of words we can’t unsay. My studio flat is quiet, nine floors above the city. I watch the headlights stream past, red gold blurs in the evening rain, and I think of him, thousands of miles away in the sun.

.

It’s funny, isn’t it? I work at the hospital, and when I take a day off, where do you find me? It’s ironic, I mean, not humorous. Nothing is humorous right now. I’m twenty six, for fuck’s sake. I’m not meant to be sitting by a hospital bed, cheering up someone who has no reason to be cheerful.

“You’ll be out of here soon,” I say. He can’t answer, and my words mean nothing anyway. “It’ll be okay.” “You’ll be fine.” ‘It’s a little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)’ runs through my head, accompanied by siren echoes. Words spill to fill not just the silence but his fear, and mine, that he won’t be fine, and out of here is not the place we used to live. Untested limbs in uncompromising environments, a world that we’re going to have to force to adapt while wishing we didn’t have to join this fight. We, together, in my mind. Who knows what he’s thinking, because he’s not talking. I look through the glass at the streetlights below and know that I can’t understand.

.

And anyway what happens when he is home?

.

It was easy when they brought him back. I didn’t think so at the time, but the ambulance men knew what they were doing. Now I have to do it myself. There’s a step. I’ve come into the house across that step without a thought. I forgot my keys, I’ll pop back in. Easy. I didn’t even look at it when I found the flat.

Now, we plan every trip. He’s six foot, broad, he used to play rugby. Used to. He’s put on weight: the only exercise he does is physiotherapy. So can we manage it? How much pain is he in? Is it worth the effort?

I’ve just got back from work but he’s inside all day and he’d be climbing the walls if he could. We decide we’ll try, but he’s not up to walking, not today. The NHS wheelchair flexes and twists as I heave it over the step, and he can’t help and I can tell how much it hurts as it bounces. He just jokes about whose turn it is to get the first beer. So we sit in the pub and I buy. We pretend things are like they were and all I can think about is how we’ll get him back over the step.

.

It’s not going to be better, is it? Being home, I mean. At least now I see him every day. But what do I really see? He doesn’t let me in, not far, because if we connect it makes it real and we’re trying to pretend that real is normal, and normal is how we were, and neither of us want now when reality is shaped by ketamine and a morphine pump.

.

His room reeks of disinfectant.

“Go away,” he says.

“But …”

“I said, go away.”

I go. I’ve got forty minutes so I sit in the corridor, and listen to the nurses talk, and wonder what’s so bad that he can’t have me in there.

That night I ask, “What happened this lunchtime?”

He doesn’t explain at first, then, “Fucking humiliating.”

I wait.

“I couldn’t go, all the painkillers they said, so they gave me something. It didn’t work at first.”

A sudden burst of laughter.

“Then there was shit everywhere. Fuck, I’ve never done that much. Two weeks’ worth all at once.”

“That’s why you didn’t want me to stay?”

“It might have happened again. I couldn’t … not in front of you.”

“Shit happens.”

And he winces as we’re both laughing for the first time in two weeks.

.

He’s never on his own in here. A battalion of brothers in injury comes through the rehab unit, bonding over drugs and ops and mutual hate of therapists. I see him at the start of the day, and if I get a break and in the evening too, but all we say is, “How’s it going?” and, “Much the same,” and of course it’s the same, and the physio prescribes the same, and people come and then they go and he’s still here and we wait for a change. I’d say breakthrough, but that’s not the right word now.

“How’s the pain?” the consultant asks.

Which pain? The pain from the accident, the pain from the repairs, the pain of all the things he can’t do, may never do.

“I did the Nevis bungy. Can’t believe you didn’t do it too then. You still could, though. I could watch.”

And we remember the break in the rain, the wide blue sky, and the bumpy dirt road up to the cable car, and the long drive down from Christchurch, and the hours on a plane, and right now he couldn’t even get to the airport. I put my hand on his. He pulls away and says, “Fuck it. I’ll do it again. I will.”

.

His mates come in. The nurse welcomes them at first. They bring beer and pizza, but they’re too many and too big and too noisy and quickly they’re hushed.

“One at a time.”

“Keep it down!”

“Right, that’s it!”

“Other patients have been disturbed, would you move down to the day room, please?” It’s a laugh, a riot, just like old times, like we’re at the pub, the club, like any other night out with your mates. Apart from the fluorescent lights, and the plastic chairs and the piles of tatty magazines and the stink of clean that’s everywhere. We all pretend as hard as we can, and no-one will look me in the eye.

Then Jamie spills a can of lager, piss-blond spreading across the tiles, and there’s pizza on the pale green upholstery (and it never comes out), and they all have to go on for another few pints. They say, “Why don’t you come, we could push you?” but we all know it isn’t really a question. There’s steps to the club, and he needs his meds, and when have the words, “Is there wheelchair access?” ever added anything to a night out?

Afterwards the ward is too quiet. Headlights stream past outside, hazy streaks. Nottingham is a night time city, the hospital runs twenty-four seven, but inside second hands falter.

.

“We should talk about arrangements for discharge …”

I feel sick. I don’t know what Tom feels. The hospital doesn’t seem so bad.

.

I’m alone, at home, and I’m always alone and it’s not like home, and it’s not going to work. I’m crying, and it’s stupid, and I can’t stop. My period’s due, and once I bleed I’ll feel better, that’s all I need and it’s nothing to do with the fact that we can’t go back and if I look forward, my vision blurs.

One time, we were in Dublin. We’d gone with some mates, seen a gig, tried the Guinness, eaten boxty, toured the distillery, and I realised I was late, and he was great, like I didn’t think he would be. We hadn’t been serious, and I wasn’t pregnant, but we talked about setting a date.

And now … my dreams don’t fit, and he won’t dream, and when he does he wakes in a sweat and won’t talk until it all comes tumbling out again and again the same, and there’s no white dress, no three bed semi, just falling and noise and pain.

He’s on his own, filled up with someone else’s blood, and I’m alone, waiting, because when I bleed, even if nothing is better, it won’t seem so bleak.

.

“What are we going to do when I come home?”

“I’ve given notice on the house. I’m looking for somewhere on one level.”

“Don’t. I’ll manage.”

“Okay.”

But I do. He won’t. And when I see him every day I’m lying.

.

“I know you didn’t want me to, but I’ve found a new place.”

He turns his back, and I sit, wait, until I have to go back to work.

“You’re going to like it, it’s still in Beeston, only round the corner from where we …”

“I get it. Just don’t try to make me say I like it.”

.

“What do you think?”

“Fucking day release. It’s like being let out of jail.”

He looks better than he’s done in weeks, though, and we sit on the sofa and watch TV, and later he pokes through his stuff in a drawer and picks his copy of Redemption off the shelves. Then it’s time to go back and he says, “I could stay,” but they’re at the door.

“It won’t be long, another few weeks, I’ll be at work; you’d be on your own. I think you should go back.”  He’s still holding the book and I’m lying again as they take him away. I stand on the doorstep until the thrum of the diesel engine fades. He’s never lived here and I loathe every night. It’s getting dark, though, so I turn back to the TV and tell myself how lucky I am to work at the hospital, that I’ll see him tomorrow, and I pretend that will be enough.

.

I wasn’t surprised when it happened. There were weeks of, “Aren’t you making progress?”, or “Just roll over!” Expose your butt, one more test, wait in the corridor, “It’s not like you’ve got anywhere to be”. They were kind but who wants kindness when seventy-six days ago he could do everything himself.

Thank God the physio was Michael, or maybe that was why, maybe he wouldn’t have lashed out at a woman. And no-one was hurt, even if the therapy room took a battering. Michael laughed afterwards, said it was the longest he’d seen Tom stand unaided. We laughed with him, but laughter isn’t far from tears.

.

“If you just stick with the exercises …”

“Then what? I still won’t be able to run or climb or …”

“If you just keep going to the appointments …”

“Then what? My life will have form and meaning? I won’t waste tax payers’ money? Screw them.”

“If you’d just get up in the mornings …”

“Would I feel better when I’m up? I fucking hate this flat, hate it …”

“If I wasn’t here … would you rather I went away?”

“Fine, you go. I’ll sit and rot.”

I go outside and cry. Then because I can go and he can’t, I go back in.

.

“As soon as I’m better I’ll …”

“What?”

“Things aren’t getting better, are they?”

“What do we do?”

He shrugs, and struggles to make his way back into the lounge. “I could go home,” he says as he leaves the room.

I sit at the kitchen table and shred the menu from the Lucky Cat into tiny pieces. “You hate it at home. When you’re better, I’ll go, if you want.”

“C’m’ere.”

I toy with staying put for a second. He isn’t going to make it through to me, so I go back to him.

“Sorry,” he says.

“Me too.”

“We have to work this out.”

“Not today.”

“Not today.”

.

“You’ve been drinking.”

“Why not?”

If he starts to drink at nine or ten, what will we do at six or seven? If he’s drunk when I came home … I’m scared of seeing him fall apart some more.

I bend down and pick shards off the sticky lino. “It smells like a pub in here. Did you try to clear up?”

He won’t look at me.

“I didn’t want it once I’d opened it. What’s for dinner?”

“When I cook it you won’t want it either.” I throw the glass in a carrier bag, and my blood drips on the floor.

“You cut yourself.”

“Statement of the bleeding obvious.” And we’re both laughing, and I catch his gaze and remember.

 .

It’s another night out. We’ve won the match, we’re on the town, we’ve drunk too much, and we’ve started a fight. We get kicked out so we’re walking to the club, the lads in front as usual, pissing about, and the rain won’t stop us. Someone has a bottle of vodka and we’re passing it round, because drinks in the club are a rip-off. The traffic streams past, a taxi honks its horn, and the headlights make gold lines. Why wait for red? We’re young and fit and fast. We’re invincible.

He takes one step too far, too fast. The van slams into him, with a smack of metal on fabric, on skin, on bone. He rolls up and over, and over, then smashes down, and there’s blood on the road.