My anxious gaze rested upon the tea-strain, dyed yellow with the residues not yet washed away, that was sat next to its blanched teacup friends that watched as I tottered along the worktop. I ran my hand along the bumpy plastic to steady myself. I unsettled an empty biscuit jar, jumping as it clattered its bones against the toaster, and left it up-spilt, too agitated to correct it.
My hands fell about the door frame that separated me from my living room, my feet moved of their own stuttering accord into the space and I looked around with the cramp of fear squeezing a tight restraint around my heart. I smelled leather polish as I glanced at my television; the male news reporter seemed uncomfortable in his suit as his too-familiar female colleague aggravated him with her touches. I watched her bicep tense as she stroked his forearm – then I looked away. She didn’t interest me but, somewhere in my mind, I felt she should.
The blood suspended in my veins, paralysed as it waited for the inevitable shock of adrenalin as soon as I realised what was wrong. Something was wrong; the knowledge of that constricted my throat as I searched the room. I picked up a cushion and threw it aside, my eyes barely taking the time to examine the disturbed space beneath it. I was looking, but I didn’t know what for. I just had to look.
I was doing something. I was finding something? Something very, very important; I had to do it immediately. I crossed the room to the piano and ran my hasty hands across her alarmed keys – but I did not compress them. Did not wish to disturb her even as the fear stacked itself up so tall in my body that I felt if I called out for help it would spill out in ugly bloody pools. I was going to be sick.
Was I? Was that where I was going? I closed the lid of the piano to cover the keys as if they were eyes – don’t see me like this my love. I faltered and then crossed to the window, clenched my hands around the curtain and yanked one aside. There seemed no use looking when you didn’t know when you’d found the damn thing – blast it!
This is utter madness! In 43 I could put a STEN together in under a minute in the pitch of my bunk – maybe they got me. I froze. Maybe they got me, and I’m being tortured. Bent and bowed backwards until my spine releases poisons into my brain. It’s possible. Maybe this house isn’t real – whose things are these anyway? Where are my things? Where are my friends?
I was alarmed by the sudden shriek of sound above my head and all at once my panic became terror. I could taste impending death – metallic and ripening in my mouth with every passing moment of anticipatory hell. I stared anxiously at a singular slipper huddled beneath my coffee table – it made my heart heavy and suddenly it, and I, sunk.
Were we drowning? Am I dying?
‘Mister William?’ she said it like a question. ‘Mister William it’s ‘Chelle, I’m here to take you to the optician’s appointment this morning. How are we today?’
I turned and she was in my house – but I recognised her. I didn’t know her name. I paused and tried to collect the slippery frail threads of my thoughts; they were spooked and fled away. She continued chatting and moved backwards into the kitchen; two cats – my cats – followed her. I watched them, usually surly with me, purr and grope up her ankles for her affection. I wondered what I was meant to do. What was I doing?
I was stood still in the center of my living room – it was mine because it had my coffee table with the familiarly scratched top, it had my piano, it had the smell of leather polish and cigars that seemed to fit with it neatly. It all made sense in the abstract, only I felt like I didn’t belong in it. But I did. I turned instinctively and found a picture of my dear late wife. Was she older than that picture when she died?
Did I dream her too? Maybe they have caught me –
‘A nice cup of tea for you Mister William’. She’d returned again, her hand on the center of my hunched back made me unstable but I shuffled to my seat nonetheless, grateful to have an adult take charge. I felt slightly more at ease and so, when she handed me the cup, it barely shook at all.
‘We’re going out today, the optician. Mister Murphy, you remember him? We’re just going to get you a second pair of glasses so we have a spare – you know, just in case. You never know when your glasses are going to wander off – mine do it all the time!’ she said conversationally. She continued this way until all of the tea was gone.
‘Well, look at you! You’re almost ready. You’ve done a lot today. Did Stan help you?’ – Stan? ‘We just need to put your coat on and find your other shoe and we’ll be off!’ she carried on chirpily. I looked down. Poking out from baggy fabric was a bony foot that was not matching its pair, pressed bare into the distressed carpet. I glanced back at the picture of M—huh. Well, Her.
‘Shall we find your other shoe then, Mister William?’ she asked, suddenly near my elbow offering me a hand to pull me out of my chair. Oh, I thought stupidly. My shoe. I was looking for my shoe.
‘It’s very, very important I get dressed’ I repeated weakly and she smiled so brightly that even the restless ball of uneasiness in my stomach could not bear to ask why I was getting dressed or what her name was again.