“Are you hungry?”
Words dropped into my dream state. Swirling me around in a blur of confusion. I push up into consciousness and my eyes open of their own accord, not yet mine. They relay visual information to my brain, but my brain coughs, splutters then hiccups.
“Very,” I say it because that is the only thing that makes sense right now. My stomach growls as though to punctuate the one fact that I can hold onto.
I smile and she returns the smile. I watch her turn and leave the room. She closes the door behind her.
I lay back on the bed. Pushing myself downwards. Hoping that gravity will aid me in crushing myself through the portal of the mattress and back to the place that holds some semblance of familiarity for me. I squeeze my eyes shut as thought I can force myself back into my dreams and via that fantasy exit through another door to another, quieter place.
The room is ghostly quiet, but I am assailed by the noise of my situation. I should not be here, and yet I am. There are cues here, but I am refusing to attend to them. This is not happening. I don’t even know what this is.
Tentatively, I open my eyes, true to the cowardice at the helm of my ship. I stare up at the ceiling and breath a single word into the room.
I listen to the word as it travels outwards and I wonder at my selection of it. I haven’t spilt milk, and yet this is what I have come up with. The ceiling stares back at me expectantly. It has nothing else to give me. Before turning away from it I return to the visitation.
Emma is John’s mum, and John is my friend. Not my best friend, but a friend all the same. We would not be friends if he could see into my mind and read my thoughts, desires and intent. I console myself with the glib excuse of a generalisations that is no one would relate to a person who was laid bare in such a way. Dissected and rendered helpless and all wrong.
I am guilty and I have doubled down on my guilt with denial. I have coveted John’s mum. Lusted after her. My eyes have been visual weapons that have provoked a thousand lustful thoughts. I have captured Emma’s image, imprisoned it in my mind and committed adultery again and again. I know she is the impossible made unreal, but that makes what I do all the more wrong.
Now I am here.
In John’s house.
And I don’t know how I got here. I don’t belong here. I should not be here and I have this a dark creature gnawing away inside me. It wants to draw my attention to how bad my predicament is. It needs me to know that it is worse than I could ever imagine. It thinks it is clever. It has outwitted me and it wants to gloat in my defeat.
Reluctantly, I turn my head and I begin to see where I am and with that growing knowledge, I have insight into what I am. What I have knowingly and unknowingly become.
This room is feminine. I am certain that it is not John’s room. There is not the look or feel of spare about it. This room smells all wrong. It smells of her. Often have I inhaled her scent in the wake of her wafting by and that scent has inflamed me. Now it deflates me and fills me with dread.
There is a foreboding expanse of bed behind the back of my head. I reach an arm out that way and it will not find the edge of a single mattress. I feel the presence of another set of pillows. Her pillows. Creatures of habit, we have a side of the bed that we feel we must possess.
Slowly I turn my head and rise. That side of the bed is undisturbed, but that tells me so little and is scant consolation. Emma was dressed. She could well have fussed at that side of the bed and tidied it whilst I slept the slept of the damned.
I am seated now. I can see more of the room. An all too feminine room. Her room. To see an absence takes more effort. I feel the absence first. A lack.
I cannot see my clothes.
I raise the duvet. I already know that my chest is bare. That is unusual. I sleep in t-shirts and accompany this with a boxers. There is balance in that, and a safety of reassurance that helps me on my way to sleep.
I find that I am naked and my nakedness shames me. I have tasted from the fruit and I can never take that transgression back. I turn in the bed and my feet find the floor. Pausing for a moment, I wonder how much time has elapsed from Emma’s visitation and I discover that I have no clue. She could be back in a matter of seconds, or I could have plenty of time to traverse the room and secure an unequivocal understanding of my potential to address my nakedness.
Bravely I stand, hope driving me forth. I hold a belief that my clothes must be here. I do not know how I came to be here, but I do not think that I got here naked. The possibility of that is remote and farcical. A silly notion that should not be entertained.
There is a chair in the room. My clothes, if they existed, would be on that chair. The secondary option is the floor. I do not want to see a mess of my clothes on the floor. Their positioning on this carpet would tell an obscene take that I do not want to hear. All the same, I walk around the bed to check that my clothes are not there. In their absence, I desecrate the sanctity of the room by opening draws and the wardrobe in the vain and outlandish hope that my clothing is secreted therein.
There is no ensuite. In my fantasy of Emma, she would always have an ensuite. The missing bathroom concerns me. That anteroom would afford me sanctuary whether there was a lock on the door or not.
I do not know why I do it. The action almost feels compulsive in its nature, but underlying it is something like panic. I stifled scream within me is a warning, but I am set upon this course of action and I am not to be stopped. I turn the handle on the only door in the room and as the catch disengages I am told something deeply disturbing by that door.
I am locked.
My world turns. I do not know why Emma would lock the door of her bedroom. But then, I do. I am locked in and in being locked in I am held captive. My captivity is all the more appalling for the vulnerability of my unclothed state. The removal of my clothing is emasculating. I am rendered both helpless and ashamed.
There is clothing in this room. I know that, but I cannot bring myself to appropriate any of it. Instead, I take the sheet from the bed, double it up and wrap it around my waist. Waddling against my too tight makeshift attire I cross the room to the other side of the bed. Emma’s side of the bed. I take the thick, lined curtain in my hand but before I pull it to one side I am presented with a revelation.
The lighting in the room is unnatural and all too bright. The ceiling was speaking to me after all, I wasn’t listening. I’m listening now. The lighting in this room is alien to a bedroom. There is too much of it and it burns with an unnecessary intensity that tells me of its necessity.
I crossed the room to look out of the window of the room that I am trapped in. I was looking forward to seeing out of that window. The window and the world beyond it would diminish the power of this room and provide me with much needed perspective. That is the job I gave this window and it is a role it was made for.
I bite my lip and I see that the hand that grips the redundant curtain is trembling. Do I dare draw back that curtain to confirm what it is that my fetid imagination is telling me?
I fear I must and I hold that fear at bay as I pull the heavy curtain aside. As another truth is revealed, my fear rushes me and I swoon at the reality of my life and the threat it wields. Where a window should be, there are breeze blocks. Cold, grey blocks that have been lying in wait for me. The choice of material is deliberately blunt and brutal. Bricks would have been more welcome.
I turn to the door and expect Emma to enter. This moment is good enough of a cue. That she misses it makes my plight all the worse. That door broods and stares and I know that when I opens I will its teeth and hear its predatory and foul roar.
My failure to look around the room and to prepare myself for the eventuality of that door vomiting peril upon me weighs upon me. A dark animal wrapping itself around my chest, impeding my breathing and dragging me down.
I don’t sit as much as fall into a seated position. I have the decency to stagger away from the absence of window and I sit on the chair that has been robbed of my clothing. As I come to rest another revelation is presented to me and now my heart beats a tattoo in my chest and my ears join it. The blood in my head raging. The sound of a raging sea threatening to drown me.
John is dead.
Nearly a year ago, he took his life. None of us saw it coming until the stark reality of his death confronted us. Then we saw it well enough. We saw what it was that we could have done. We understood that we should have done. We were found lacking in the most terrible of ways.
John was never my best friend. It turned out that I was his. He made me the best of us and I never lived up to his expectations. Those idealist expectations of his tumbled down upon him and crushed the life out of him.
Emma was devastated. Her devastation was alive. We could see it as we filed quietly into the cold and empty church. She was possessed of something that writhed and lurched during the service. A furious shadow that would not rest. It was terrible to witness and fear assailed us all.
Our ignorance did not clothe us in the safety that we required. We laboured under a delusion that was dispelled at the graveside. We had arrogantly believed that Emma would not turn on us on that hallowed ground. We silently claimed sanctuary as we went through the motions in front of her.
The vicar cleared his throat as though about to conduct the graveside ceremony, but something gave him pause. That something was the dark creature within Emma rearing up and casting us all in shadow. She turned on every one of John’s friends and drove them away.
I do not recall the words that she used. I was transfixed by her transformation. She cast aside her humanity and within her arose a monster of such dark power I no longer saw a woman. She was rage personified. There was no grief there. There was nothing other than a lava flow of hate and retribution.
We killed her son and she damned us all to hell.
We ran. We actually ran from her fury and as we ran, we disintegrated. None of us ever spoke of that day, nor of John. We kept up the pretence of our friendship for a matter of weeks despite its dissolving in the rain as we ran away from our friend and his grieving mother.
There was a time when I wished I was here. Emma was that dream we sometimes harbour. A right of passage. I never had a poster of a hero on my wall. I never found one that I was worthy of. But I had her image in a shrine in my mind. She was as close to perfect as it got and I wanted her in a way that I doubt I’d ever want another woman.
You should never meet your heroes. That never goes well.
The door feels that bit closer now. The door is all there is. I know she is coming and I know she wears that dark cloak still. The anniversary of John’s death was approaching whether I wanted it to or not. I suspect that today is the day he left this world because I let him down.
Emma has been possessed of a hatred that is all consuming for a year now. It is not her that I can hear approaching the door, it is the dark and vengeful demon that possesses her still.
I thought Emma’s words were for me. I thought she was asking me whether I was hungry. She wasn’t asking me. She was never going to pass the time of day with me. She was talking to the devil and asking him if he was ready to receive my corrupt soul.
The sound of approaching steps is the soundtrack to my pitiful end. Whatever comes through that door may look like Emma, but I know what it really is. I saw it at John’s grave and I ran. I didn’t run far enough and now it has caught up with me.
And it’s hungry, so very hungry.