>I’ve had this sitting around for almost a year now, and I can’t get anyone to accept it for publication. Maybe it’s too depressing. Anyway, I thought I’d share it with the blog.
I didn’t even hear them coming. My basket, snatched right out of my fingers, was the first thing I knew of it. The sickening smash as their bumper tossed it into the air, tiny white wheels still spinning, made me shriek. I covered my ears, I don’t know why. A blast of whump whump whump filtered through my gloves as their music died away; my ears throbbed as if trying to copy the sound.
I stood in the road, breathing in the thick scent of hot oil and rubber, left alone with the agony in my wrist. I didn’t know what happened to me, just a blur of motion, colour and noise. It took a long while, I think, before I realised how close I’d come to being killed like a rabbit or a bird, the ones you see at the roadside, all fur or feather and nothing else.
Do you know what that’s like?
It’s easy to say I’m past my sell-by date. Tell me I’ve had a good innings; tell me I must know my time’s short. I know. I think about it regular. But when faced with your own mortality, realising how easily you’re snuffed out….I’m not ready. I thought I was. I’m not.
I stood in the middle of the crossing, white lines leading away in either direction. My basket’s tartan sides were torn open like….like I could have been. Shopping sprawled across the road. Fresh fruit mashed into the tarmac. A tin had rolled into the furthest gutter, beans I think, not that it matters.
I stared down at the white lines, completely blank in my head. It’s funny how the brain works, when it works at all, but all I could think was:
“There’s black lines between the white ones. Every white line has a black one on either side.”
It’s silly, but that’s what I was thinking. Strange how you never notice something like that.
Another car stopped, a young woman I think, and she tried to help me out of the road. I know I struggled and fought her at first. She tried to take me across the road and I wouldn’t go. There was something…something about the beacons. The way they flashed so regularly on their stripy poles, like laughter in lights. I knew stepping between them would be the end of me, I just knew it. I think I told her that as we turned back. I think I did but hope I didn’t.
She left me at the kerb, huddled in my skirts like a crippled pigeon, to clear the road. My body felt like it wanted rid of something and it was trying to shake it out of me in a fever. I couldn’t tell you when the shaking had started but it wouldn’t stop. I know when the weeping started though, right there and then. I cried and cried like I did as a girl when I skinned a knee, grabbing at my wrist to stop the ache. I think I rocked.
The oak trees at the roadside whispered to me, tried to hush my tears.
I refused every offer of help given. My pride was knocked enough. Although, as I walked the extra half an hour’s route to the subway, my arm wrapped in a sleeve like the walking wounded, I cursed my own stubbornness. Every inch of my body ached, even more than usual. The shaking had stopped but threatened to come back whenever I thought too much. I rested a lot as I walked. I probably flinched as cars sped by, but don’t tell anyone.
I finally found myself on a familiar stretch of pavement; a returning trench soldier limping home, determined to reach loved ones after an age at war. Only I had no one to return to. No one would sit me down, press a hot cup of tea into my good hand and slap my back with hearty congratulations for my bravery. I’d have to do it myself. I wished again that I’d taken the young woman’s offer of help. If I’d asked her, she could have brought me home, helped me over the formidable step, sat me down on the sagging, lumpy settee. Instead, I stood at the end of my shabby garden path alone.
I’ve lived in this place for most of my life and no longer know any of the faces that blink at me day to day as if amazed that I’m still breathing. I knew them all once, but things change, as they say, and now the street that was once mine is nothing but a row of twitching curtains.
Every time I reach that spot I feel with undeniable certainty that I won’t make it the last few feet to my door. That time was no different. My body had had enough. My legs were too tired to carry my weary little frame this time. This time I’d stand stock still until my rusty bones refused to move. Then, under the weight of my years, I’d crumple to the ground.
But I made it to the door, as I always did, fumbled for the key with my free hand and shouldered open the door to my solitary confinement.
It struck me then, the smell of my home. Like old newspaper. I could almost smell the ink. When had it begun to smell like that? When had I let it?
Finally sat on my settee, what remained of my shopping still lay where it’d landed just inside the door. The bruising in my wrist was starting to show, spreading under my skin like the shadows of fish under water. A constant throb came and went like a siren. I eyed the District Nurses’ box, the one with the bandages and dressings they’d use when they came. That wouldn’t be for another week, they’d only visited this morning, and it was never for long. I’d have to wrap the wrist myself.
I cried. Again and again I cried. Not for the pain, not for the things I’d lost, not for the embarrassment or the dignity that had been stripped from me, but for the loneliness. You don’t realise how truly alone you are until you need someone who isn’t there; until you speak out loud and your own voice is unfamiliar.
I’ve wandered through the last few years of my life seeing other human beings as nothing but speeding shapes that jostled or tutted at my slowness. The nearest thing to conversation I have is the monotone boredom of the checkout girl, and I like it that way. Getting too attached leads to sorrow. I’ve lost the only person I’ll ever need, or so I thought, and no one else can compare. But on that day, the sound of my sobs echoing back to me in my sparse living room, I would’ve given what remained of my soul for another person to be sat on my settee. The only people I have now are etched in sepia, staring out at me from dusty gilded windows.
At first, all I could think of was the drone of fading horns as the car passed close enough to ruffle my clothing but, slow as the rising of bread I came to myself. I remembered other things. The blurred colours started to clear, like a watercolour left in the rain, but in reverse.
That didn’t make sense at all, forgive me.
What I mean is that as the shock wore off I remembered details that I didn’t know I knew. The car’s colour, how the fallen leaves scuttled like mice, and something I wish I could now forget. Four pale faces with dark eyes, twisted by speed, staring at me from beyond glass like explorers in a submarine. Their laughter standing out even above the music. One voice rising above the others, shouting something I couldn’t make out. That I’m thankful for.
It comes back to me in dreams, made fuzzy by sleep. The faces change. Sometimes they’re people I knew; sometimes they’re my husband, cold as he was when I saw him last; sometimes they’re me; mostly they’re the same old whooping ghosts.
I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke up. That happens more often of late, these dozing periods. I wonder if it’s my body practicing for the longest sleep I’ll take.
I’d slumped down on the settee, my head drooped back, but I still cradled my arm like a baby. Right down to my fingers was a horrid purple, the skin stretched too tight by the swelling. The light had gone out of the day, leaving only an amber streetlight to see by. I didn’t close my curtains, check the door, or move my shopping from the doorway; the only perishable I cared about putting away was myself. The stairs are always an effort of tugging; an impossible feat of strength; a chore of Hercules. I remember that story from when I was a school girl. It’s taken me seventy years to understand how he must’ve felt. He toiled alone, every day, silently pressing on with whatever task was given to him. The difference between me and him? He went down in history, I’ve been forgotten.
Perched in my night gown at the edge of this old bed, pain rattled my bones. All I’d wanted to do was get home, just get home, and I’ve no idea why. Nothing’s made better by being here anymore. What I once loved, what I needed from this place has gone.
I’ll carry on, because I’m afraid of what happens when I don’t.
Thanks for reading.