Chapter Forty Seven: Lost Between The Gaps

 I don’t remember everything, just… bits and pieces of what happened.  I was outside myself, watching: I saw a painfully thin young woman, her pale freckled skin lacerated in many places, her back covered by a luridly bright snarling tiger which gripped a white lily in its jaws. Her shoulder blades were prominent as she convulsed with sobbing, and her hair was long and tangled; it veiled her as she buried her face in the carpet. I heard the sobbing, the ugly, pained, despairing crying and screaming, and I realised that it was coming from me.

  My mother was holding onto me, holding me up as she forced me to drink from a steaming mug filled with pungent, pale, translucent liquid.  I swallowed with difficulty, the liquid burning my tired throat as I felt my swollen eyelids grow heavy. She helped me to my feet, and my knees gave way as she helped me over to the bed; the last thing I remember is the quilt being put back on the bed, cocooning me in softness and warmth as I closed my eyes.

  I dreamed such dreams…

  I dreamed of Terry, and I remembered, I remembered what happened four years ago. I remembered lying on the sofa in agony, feeling as though I would throw up at any minute; the room was spinning before my eyes, and just looking around was making me feel incredibly dizzy.  I closed my eyes, and tried to think.  I knew that I couldn’t stay, that I must leave, I might have survived this time, but I didn’t want to hang around and wait for him to finish the job.  I was frightened of him, but I was even more frightened of him killing me.

  I don’t know how I made it to the telephone, but I did.  It was painful to move, I had searing pain all down my neck and my back, and my ribs felt as though they were on fire.  On top of this were the dizziness and the mother of all headaches; I didn’t notice the pain in my wrist and face until later.  I reached the phone on my hands and knees and tried, as I dialled, to remember by mothers work number.

  The look on her face when she saw me is forever etched in my memory; she was absolutely horrified, and for the first time in my life, she had nothing to say.  After a moment or two of shocked staring, she reached out to me and tried to hug me to her, but I cried out in pain, and she had to let go of me.  Then she was crying, and I was crying because she was crying (she never cries) and somehow, in the midst of it all, I managed to tell her that I wanted to come home.

  She was sat by my bed when I woke up, and as I slowly and painfully blinked my sore eyes, and slowly moved my muggy seeming head from side to side, she brushed my hair out of my face with her fingers, “Do you want a drink?” she asked when I was still, “or anything to eat?”

  I shook my head, my eyelids were heavy still, and it was a struggle to stay awake, “I let you down,” I whispered, thickly, my tongue felt heavy and strange in my mouth, “I’m sorry.”

  She took hold of my hand, “There’s nothing to be sorry about,” there was an uneasy pause before she added, “I still care about you, Maggie,”

  “I know,” I said.

  “But I can’t put my life on hold for you, not anymore.”

  I nodded wearily, “He’s good for you.”

  She smiled tearfully, “And so are you,” she got up to leave.

  When I closed my eyes, I was back in the past again, back to four years ago.  For the first three months after I left hospital, I was paralysed by my depression, and the longer I stayed in bed, the harder it was to get up.  I felt numb; completely passive in my inactivity.  As time went on, this changed, and one minute I was crying, the next I was thumping the wall in anger and frustration.  I didn’t even know why I was crying, or why I was angry.

  My mother, seeing that I wasn’t safe to be left alone, put her career on hold for six months to look after me.  This worried me, and I spent long hours telling her so, but she would just tell me to stop thinking about it and concentrate on getting well again, “I’ll be fine”, she said.  I realised later that she felt guilty about not guessing what was going on, and that she wished she could have intervened sooner.  She was fretting as much as I was, but for different reasons.

  Whilst I was lying there, she unpacked my belongings and put them away.  Over the weeks and months, she brought me food and drink, which I usually refused, and read to me.  She decorated the room, hung new curtains, and put up pictures.  One day, she came into my room after a long session rooting about in the loft, looking very pleased with herself, “Look what I’ve found,” she said, unrolling the tube of paper she had been carrying; it was her Siouxsie poster, it had been hidden away for years with all her punk stuff.  I watched with a degree of interest as she pinned it to the wall facing my bed and every day, for months afterwards, I would stare across the room at Siouxsie and lock eyes with her black rimmed eyes; she didn’t communicate anything, being a poster, but there was something reassuring about her presence all the same.

  I still have that poster, I took it with me when I moved in with Fliss and, if I look up, I can see her staring out at me across the room.  I still find it comforting.

  The scene shifted, and Fliss was marrying a young, shy looking and awkward seeming, mousy haired girl.  It was spring, and the weather was fresh and scented with the roses from her bouquet.  The light breeze ruffled the lace and chiffon layers of her dress as it blew her long gold hair across her face in fine strands, her blue eyes shone with happiness as people began to throw confetti, rice, and rose petals, then, the image changed.  They were inside now, a hall of some kind, everyone was seated at tables and Fliss was seated next to her mousy partner.  A hand was extended to her, it held an L.P, and I read the name on the cover: Titanium Rose. Fliss’ eyes glistened with tears as she took hold of it, and she looked up into the face of the giver.  It was Nat, but an older, greyer, more haggard Nat that I had ever seen; Fliss seemed no older than eighteen, but Nat looked over sixty.

  The scene shifted again, and I was kissing Fergus up against a tree in a field, it was summer, and the grass was dry and yellow, tickling my bare legs.  Our kisses became longer and more passionate, and the grass caught fire and burned quickly, climbing higher and higher, it didn’t hurt, even as it burnt us alive.

  He was holding my hand as he sat by my bed, his cold, wary fingers stroked my face as he said, “I love you, but… I can’t cope with you when you’re like this.”

  I tried to speak, but no sound emerged.  He stood up to leave, “Please” I whispered, “please…” but I couldn’t finish, I was weighed down, held in place by invisible restraints, “please…” I wanted to tell him I loved him, I wanted to ask him to stay, but he couldn’t hear me, he kept on walking, he was gone.

  Fliss and Flora have been here, and I sense a distance between us; they seem wary of me, frightened of me, of what I might do.  They won’t get too close, or stay long.

  When I closed my eyes again, I was a freedom fighter in a decaying concrete land in which buildings fell every day like so much grey dust.  I fought for peace and justice, justice for the victims of war, and all shunned me, even those I chose to help.  I was diseased, and disease is always contagious, I wore a mask so that no one would have to look at me.  One day, after a fierce days fighting, I used my scarred, rough hands to pull away rubble and free survivors and was joined by a masked soldier who worked at my side.  Normally they don’t like to get so close to me; I see things, I can foretell, I can see the past also, and I spend long months in blackness.  I am scarred; I am unclean, diseased, feared.  The soldier didn’t mind.  We worked all through the night, and as the day broke we staggered past the barricades and shell holes, along the dusty road in search of sustenance.  Roadside café’s would not serve me, but they served the soldier, and we took our leave.  As we unmasked to eat further down the road, I recognised the blonde streaked hair and deep blue eyes of my companion as she turned to face me: Nat.

  As I looked into her eyes, I was thrown back in time once more, to four years ago.  It was during my third month in bed that Nat visited me; she came back from London, where she was working as a P.R, especially.  I think my mum phoned her and asked her to come because, by then, she was so worried that I think she’d try anything.  I wouldn’t get out of bed, even for Nat, so she said, “O.K, I’ll get in then,” and she pulled back the covers and climbed in next to me.  We lay there, side by side, she in her designer clothes, with her immaculate hair and make-up, me in my sweaty nightshirt, and we talked.  She asked me to tell her what had happened, and I did so with little hesitation, Nat was my best friend still then, and I didn’t leave anything out.  Maybe that was wrong, maybe I should have spared her some of the details, but we’d always been honest with each other, and honest always felt like the right thing to be.  I was crying as I told her, and she put her arms around me and stroked my hair.  She told me not to worry, that everything would be alright, and even though I didn’t believe her, I let her comfort me, and she let me cry all over her new expensive clothes.

  I head felt less muggy when I next awoke. Nat was sitting next to me on the bed, and as I turned my head and gazed up at her, she gently placed a hand on my forehead and then removed it once more, “I brought your pills,” she explained as she handed me the by now familiar glass of water.  The first pill was an antidepressant, the second a multivitamin, I swallowed both, handed the glass back to Nat, and lay down once more, resting my head in her lap.  She stroked my hair as I said, “I dreamt about you, at least, I think I did.”

  She smiled, “What was I doing?”

  “All sorts of things, you had your baby, then you were old, then we were soldiers and you helped me…”

  “Shhh…” she stroked my face.

   “I remembered last time, I remembered what happened before.”

  “Which bits?”

  I shuddered, “Everything, just, everything.”

  She sighed, pensively “I know Fergus hurt you, but it’s not the same, not the same as it was with Terry.”

  Tears were in my eyes as I said, “I couldn’t make it work with him, Nat, and it was my fault, for not facing up to Terry and what he did.”

  “You took him to court; he got a suspended sentence…”

  “He’d done it before, I should have told them…”

  “You didn’t want to, you said…”

  “I remembered… everything he did.”

  “Fergus wouldn’t hurt you; he wouldn’t do those things to you…”

  “I let him, I let him do it.”

  “No you didn’t.”  There was a pause before she asked, carefully, “Does Fergus know, about Terry?”

  “He thinks Terry raped me”

  Nat frowned, “Terry did rape you”

  “I consented”

  “He had his hands around your neck!” she exclaimed in horror, “He was strangling you!”

  I didn’t say anything, and we lapsed into silence.  After a few minutes had passed, I said, warily, “Nat…”


  “Did you fall down the stairs on New Years Eve, or did you throw yourself down the stairs?”

  There was a very long silence, before she said, rather tensely, “I was drunk; I fell.”

  “I don’t believe you.” I said, quietly.

  She shrugged, “Don’t then,” but she sounded tired, as though she didn’t care if I believed her or not.

  “I wouldn’t hate you for admitting it,” I said, quietly.

  Her mouth twisted into a bitter smile, “You would be the only one who wouldn’t…”

  “That’s because I’m mad.”

  She shook her head tiredly, “You aren’t mad; sometimes I think you just live by a different set of rules to the rest of us, a different set of standards…” She looked at her watch, “I need to get going.”  I sat up, and she got to her feet, leaving me to lie back down again.  I turned so that I was lying on my side, my back to her as I pulled my knees in close to my chest and tried not to think.  She kissed me on the cheek, and said, “Don’t worry about Fergus.”

  “He’s left me, hasn’t he?” I said softly.  She didn’t answer.  “It’s O.K, I know he has.”

  “I’m so sorry Maggie,” it all came out in a rush of words, “I tried to talk to him, so did your mum, but he wouldn’t listen.”

  “He was scared,” I murmured.

  “Yes, I think he was.”

  It would have been about two days later when I finally found the motivation to get out of bed.  My legs threatened to give way several times as I walked over to the mirror, which my mother had covered with a dust sheet because, after I had been discharged from hospital, I had told her that I didn’t want to see myself ever again.  It took a long time to remove the dustsheet because my knees kept wobbling, and I had to keep sitting down until it passed, but eventually the sheet was off and I was able to see the worst.

  After so long in bed, my skin was greasy and pasty, my hair was lank because it hadn’t been washed, and I was emaciated with muscle wastage and self-starvation.  When I looked at my face in the mirror, it didn’t look like my face; the eyes were blank and expressionless, and there was just nothing there: it was like my soul had died.  But maybe, I thought as I looked at myself, maybe it hasn’t died, maybe it’s just gone into a long sleep.  Maybe I can get it back.

  I had a shower and got dressed.  It all took a long time because I was very shaky still and kept getting dizzy and having to cling to things.  I got myself some soup and toast, and sat down on the sofa in the living room to eat it all.  As I placed my tray of food down on the table, I espied some lyrics, or poetry, in Fliss’ handwriting.  Curious, I read:

            It’s in the pain on the dance floor

            In the hopeless tears in the toilets

            There is numbness in the air

            A kind of angst and nihilism

            A sort of quiet despair

            She has broken down

            She has shut down

Uneasily, I shifted my attention to the papers surrounding Fliss’ words; these were press cuttings and press releases, and I didn’t want to read them, but I felt I had to.

  I went back to bed after I had read and eaten – I still tired easily – and I wanted to be alone for a while to think about what I’d read.  Certain phrases stuck in my mind like a fishbone in my throat: “Nervous breakdown”, “history of manic depression”, “self-harmer”, “self-abuser”, “eating disorder”, “neurotic”, “sick”, “mental illness”, “attention seeking”, “victim.”  The last one echoed unbearably, “Victim, victim, victim…” be a victim, be a poster child for a cause, an illness, a way of life, be a troubled soul, with a romantic cause, be a victim, be crazy, out of control, troubled, mad, insane, schizophrenic, dangerous, unhinged, unsafe… Alone.  Be a victim, be a label.

  Later, lying in the dark, I overheard a row between Fliss and Flora concerning the lyrics and cuttings Fliss had so carelessly left on the table, “Don’t you see!” yelled Flora, “you could send her straight back to bed, and straight back to being so horribly ill!”

  I didn’t hear Fliss’ response, but I knew that Flora had got it wrong.  If anything, those lyrics, those hastily, thoughtlessly written press cuttings, the apologetic press releases, had made me feel that there were some things worth fighting for.


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