Thursday, 19 February 2015

I And The Village by Catherine Edmunds

Words with JAM BIGGER Short Story Competition 2014
1st PRIZE WINNER (2500 word category)

I’m doing another bloody book signing in Waterstones and Frank’s buzzing around like a malignant wasp, the fucker’s going to sting me. I get up and swat him and all hell breaks loose, a security guard grabs me, a table of books goes flying and it’s suddenly all too funny. I punch the guard, people scream, scramble away and I’m enjoying myself – I pick up a book, tear off the cover, pick up another one, tear that, try to pull a handful of pages out, but they don’t come so I swear at them and tug and pull, and that fucking guard’s got up and is grabbing me again and I WILL NOT BE GRABBED. I hit and kick and spin round like a top, my arms growing longer and longer thanks to centrifugal force, and I’m a machine, a whacking machine that fells anyone that gets too close.

It goes on forever this phase. I can’t stop it. Inertia, you see. It’s all physics. Nothing I can do about it. Please stop it.

Someone hits me.

The green-faced man grasps the tree of life and proffers it to me, but I’m lost, I can’t take it, the wise-eyed goat, the church, the night, the whiteness, the milking – my skirt, long, blue, you with a scythe, but you’re not death, not yet – I wish you were. The man in the moon is looking out of the church window, he’s saying ‘Here, take this pill, it’s your pre-med, try to swallow it with as little water as possible.’ I take the pill. It’s tiny. The man says ‘Well done,’ and it stops.

When things become too distressing I go back to the early memories, to paintings of the village by Marc Chagall, to woodcuts of forests by Albrect Dürer, but they can become obsessions, like those tunes that get stuck in my head, but that’s better than the alternative when I remember things I’m not allowed to remember. Then I have to tell myself to stop. I have to curse myself, hurt myself, distract myself with pain. I toy with the idea of not eating oranges, because they contain vitamin C, and if I cut all the vitamin C out of my diet, I might just get scurvy, and I know what happens with that, I saw a documentary about it – all my old scars will open, they’ll unheal themselves, and my sins will pour out. I dream of this, but then they shoot a bolt of lightning through my head – they do it six times – and I stop dreaming.

I wake up in a hospital bed, an ordinary one, no bars. A nurse comes in.
‘Remember me?’ he says.

‘No, I don’t. Sorry.’

‘Never mind. How are you feeling?’

‘Like the scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Octet. Trippy.’

‘Think you could manage a cup of tea?’

‘Yes. Yes please.’

He goes away and I try to remember why I’m here. My arms are itchy and my name is Lucy. I look at my arms, pick at the bandages, stop picking when the nurse comes back. I take the tea and sip it.

‘It’s not very hot,’ I say.

‘That’s so that if you accidentally spill a bit you won’t hurt yourself.’

‘I’m not a toddler you know!’

He smiles and says ‘It’s a lovely day outside.’

I’ll have to take his word for it. There are no windows.

Then he says ‘There’s a notebook and pen in the cabinet next to you if you want to write anything.’

‘Thank you.’

I’ve no idea why he should think I would want to write. I’m not a writer or something am I? I thought I had a Saturday job in C&A’s. No reason why that would preclude writing, of course. I’m sleepy. I leave the last bit of tea. Far too cold. Lie down. Snooze.

Frank is visiting.

‘I think they shot some lightning bolts through my head,’ I say.

He looks awkward at that.

‘It was for the best,’ he says. ‘All the doctors agreed.’

‘Where’s Lucy?’  I say.

‘You’re Lucy.’

‘Oh yes.’

‘Here – I brought you these. The children made them.’

He gets out some handmade cards. They’re very sweet. I try to remember the children as I’ve a feeling this matters. I thank him for them, say they’re lovely. My voice has gone very quiet and gentle; it’s unnerving me.

‘So how’s my Lucy feeling,’ he says.

‘Who is she, this Lucy?’

‘I’m sorry love, I...’

‘They’ve given me a notebook. Why have they given me a notebook?’

‘In case you want to –’

‘Write something. Yes, that’s what the nurse said.’

I take the notebook out of the drawer and look at it. I recognise the style. Fake Moleskine – a generic copy from Asda. Soaks up ink too much, this paper, but I see they’ve give me a pencil, so that won’t be a problem. I could draw something. A village. I start to sketch the outline of some houses, a goat’s head.

‘I’m rubbish at drawing. Why am I rubbish? Why can’t I draw the village?’

Frank looks blank. ‘I didn’t know you could draw?’ he says.

‘Seems like I can’t.’

I put the pencil down. ‘Why else would they give me the notebook?’

‘To write.’
‘I don’t write. Don’t know how to.’

‘I’d better go. Need to pick the children up.’

He kisses me on the cheek. Seems like a nice man, whoever he is. I hope he visits again. My head feels woozy. I need to sleep.

Writing is better than sex for many reasons, but mostly because it lasts longer; you can sit at the computer and write for hours, solidly. Blokes need re-charging. I told Frank that once and he said cheeky bugger and grabbed me and for the next ten minutes or so I thought maybe sex had the edge, but then he crashed, exhausted, and was snoring within minutes. I watched him for a while, and decided for all his flaws, he was a beautiful man, even flopped out on the bed like this, grunting like a pig. I got up after a bit and went and sat on the loo, picked up a book of Walt Whitman poems, and lost myself in them until I realised I’d pretty much glued myself to the seat. Still wasn’t tired, so I pulled on a dressing gown and went downstairs, switched on the laptop. There was a story in my head that needed writing down, but it wasn’t quite there yet. I put down odd phrases. Something about a man, seen in profile, a greenish tinge to his face. A woman, milkmaid perhaps, sitting and milking a cow – or was it a goat? I think a goat. I left the idea there. I’d put a CD of Mendelssohn’s Octet on earlier, and it must have played through three times before I yawned, saved what I’d written, and switched off the laptop, satisfied. These night time writes after sex were the best, but there wouldn’t be many more – the blasted signing tour started next week. I hated the things, but it was part of the contract, so I had to do it. I shivered. The heating roared into life. Christ, was that the time? I needed to sleep. I scratched my arm. Itchy, itchy. Not nice. Scratch more. Don’t sleep. No time. Write more. Fuck writing. Hate writing. Why do you make me write? I don’t want to write. Mum, don’t make me write. Mum! MUM!

Frank came rushing down the stairs.

‘Lucy, Lucy love – what is it?’

He tried to take me in his arms but I can’t bear to be touched; I pushed him away, slapped him hard when he approached me again. He went away, came back with a glass of water and some pills. Didn’t say anything. Put them on the table. Left.

I took the pills.

Very tired. Need to sleep. Signing later today. Is it today? Frank will know.

I suffered a bad concussion once. This feels a bit like then, with the memories all muddled, not quite sure what is now and what was then. These are the things I know for certain: my name is Lucy and I’m a writer, Frank’s my husband, we have two children – and I can’t remember their names, or even if they’re boys or girls, but I’m sure that’ll come back to me. They’ll have signed those get well cards they made for me, but I can’t actually read at the moment so that doesn’t help, and I don’t want to ask Frank.

‘Hello love, just remind me, what did we call the kids?’

No, can’t do that. Crass.

I think I was in Waterstones and I had a sort of seizure, or an attack of some kind. I think my arms are bandaged because I’ve been cutting myself, and I know I’ve done that for a very long time. I blame my mother. We all blame our mothers. They’re an easy target. I wonder if I’m a good mother to my poor nameless children. I wonder if they’d be better off without me. I’m sure Frank would. He’s got a black eye. I’ll have given him that. I vaguely remember being a whirligig in Waterstones. That sounds like the title of a children’s book: A Whirligig in Waterstones. I don’t think I write for children. If I wrote that book, the whirligig would have razor blades attached. Oh God. Not a good thought. All that blood. Oh God, oh God.

Stop thinking, Lucy. Just stop. STOP.

I pull at the bandages – that hurts. Pull some more. Maybe I can get them off, see what the damage is underneath. I need to see. My arms, my right to see. Wouldn’t mind some more of that tepid tea. NURSE! Come on. I want tea. NURSE! NURSE!

Here they come, scampering along, little hamsters with their scritch-scratchy toes on the linoleum, skidding about. No grip, you see. The answer is plasticine, dark red plasticine, stuck down in blobs, trodden in. You won’t slip on that. Great traction.

Nurse is here. Don’t know why.

‘Lucy?’ he says. ‘Everything okay?’

‘Yes, fine.’ I’m puzzled. Why shouldn’t it be? ‘I was wondering if there was any chance of a cup of tea?’

He looks at his watch.

‘I’ll see what I can sort out.’

He comes back with a glass of water and two tiny pills. I’m sure I asked for tea. Didn’t I? My arms are itchy. Can’t stay here. I need to find the man with the scythe. I’m sick. He can cut the sickness out. He’s the only one. I tried to tell this to Frank one time and he cried, he said, no, no, Lucy, not you too! Frank’s ex killed herself. I think he was worried he’d driven her to suicide, that he was doomed to destroy anyone he loved, but that’s not it at all – he’s simply attracted to nutters, poor bloke. First her, now me. It’s not fair on him. Poor Frank. My poor, lonely love. I don’t know what these pills are, but they’re making me cry. I’m sure they’re not supposed to. 

It’s night time. In the village, the man with the scythe has finally caught up with the woman in the blue skirt – she’s upside down to welcome him. The green faced man’s eyes have turned into white searchlights; his lips are white, luminous, painted with radium. He’ll die next. The goat’s belly is fat and straining. He’s sick, poor goat. The tree of life doesn’t look too good either. The man grasps it hard, he’s not going to let it drop however green his face, however red the fields – they’re full of blood now, too much blood. I don’t know where it’s flowing from, I can’t see any wounds. Perhaps it’s a blood moon – that’s a benign thing, isn’t it? Perhaps there’s hope after all. Some of the houses are upside down – the red one and the blue one – but they look well balanced. They’re supported by the others. I remember my children’s names: Mark and Albert. 

1 comment:

  1. Gritty, brilliant. Wish I'd written it.