CW: suicidal thoughts
My mother dropped a thermometer once when I was little. I leaned over the mosaic of broken glass and mercury beads, and a hypnotised hand extended to pick up one of the perfect balls. The sight ripped a screech out of my mother, so shrill it sounded prehistoric, making the hand retreat immediately. She took me in her relieved arms. ‘You’re like a magpie, aren’t you? Can’t say no to shiny things.’
It’s twenty-five degrees outside. I know because I’m looking at a thermometer similar to the one she broke that time, hanging outside my living room window. It could be one way, to drink the shimmering liquid. I wonder what the aftermath would look like. Would my eyes bulge out, would my tongue swell like a prickly, angry blowfish? Or would it all happen inside, the shield of the skin faithfully guarding the bleeding organs until the very end?
I was still sat in her lap when mother told me razors were made of mercury as well, except crystallised. So I shouldn’t ever touch those, either. Same went for knives and mirrors. The last one must have been to repel me from leaving finger marks on her pristine surfaces. She killed a lot of birds with one stone that day, and her inhuman shriek echoed in my head for weeks.
This place is full of razors, knives, and mirrors. It’s twenty-five degrees outside. A gentle evening to go into, and then, a good night. Fingertips are tickling, ready to steer the machine to the scrapyard, but the engine fights back, too flooded to start up. ‘Come on,’ I mutter, trying to stand up, and the phone screen lights up. My mother’s calling. The same hand that once almost dived into mercury shoots to pick it up.
‘Yeah?’ I ask.
‘Darling, I have a question,’ she says without a hello, as quick as the silver she’d warned me against so brutally. ‘I can’t remember what you put in that cleaning liquid you make yourself.’
‘White vinegar and baking soda. Just a sprinkle,’ I reply. I can feel a tug where all my ribs meet, and the mind idly pictures her face, a little wrinkled now. Her neck is sagging, and her hair gets thinner every year. ‘Mum, I can’t talk now. I have to go.’
It’s Friday evening, so she won’t question. ‘Come again?’ she asks simply.
The message is rewound and played again out of my mouth. ‘I need to go now,’ I say. The voice box, like an old radio, doesn’t properly catch any stations anymore, and the sounds that break through are always lined with white noise. But it won’t matter tonight.
‘Yes, yes,’ she replies. ‘Have fun, sweetheart. Such a lovely night.’
She clicks off. The phone is just an intricate piece of plastic again.
After the incident with the thermometer, I asked her whether forks and spoons were made of the same lethal substance. ‘No, of course not,’ she laughed, but she couldn’t deny the impeccable logic. I ate carefully all the same, sticking out my tongue and sliding food inside, quickly withdrawing the cutlery. She laughed at my expense and ruffled my hair.
The mind’s distracted, remembering some of its childhood favourites. Beans on toast, a little disgusting, nothing special, but she heated them to a perfect temperature. Or chicken roast sandwich smeared with gravy, sloppy, a little disgusting, but she cut the bread into perfect triangles. I’m finally standing, so the trick must have worked.
I have pills, I realise. I don’t need silver instruments coaxing the crimson out of me. The narrow hall, the bathroom, lights on. All parts of a ritual so routine it is never remembered. The medicine cabinet. I have momentum, kinetic energy built up from walking. The lips move and I listen. ‘You have reached your final destination.’ That’s funny, I think, well done, you strange creature hidden inside of me, shielded by skin. We’re at the scrapyard now.
A hand lies flat against the cabinet door, trembling a little too much, and eyes travel to shoot it a disapproving look. There’s a ring on the index finger with a single onyx. A graduation present from my father. ‘Remember how you used to be scared of anything metallic?’ he asked after I’d opened it. ‘Kids are so odd sometimes.’ He didn’t know about all of my mother’s curious parenting tricks.
I can’t do it with the ring on. It’s twenty-five degrees outside. My knuckles feel swollen as the hand with the permanent death wish forces the ring off. It jumps off my finger and falls into the bathtub with a drawn-out rattle before settling down. A mean little viper eating its tail, coiled up in a perfect circle, with a single, blind eye.
I lean over it. Come again? It stays silent.
The finger is pasty under where the ring has sat for years. How many years? Another distraction technique while hands go back to the cabinet, filling up with plastic bottles and small boxes. Seven years, no, eight now. Dad bought a suit especially for the occasion. I’m holding enough pills to kill off a small stable. The hall again, only a few steps, light suddenly flooding the room. This is what photographers call the golden hour, but mine isn’t that, it’s still silver.
I sit down at the table and stare into the sun. It sets right before me, I never knew how smoothly it glides down the sky, like a drop of olive oil down the bottle. Who stops to look at the sunset? A silly question to outsmart the mind while the hands pop open plastic bottles and shake strips of tablets out of boxes. Maybe farmers after long days. Old people on their porches with iced teas in their arthritic hands. My parents will look the same one day.
The buzzer goes off. I could ignore it, but it’s too late, the mind is jerked out of the fog, dragging the body towards the sound. The innocent hand picks up the receiver. ‘Hello?’
‘I’ve got a package for your neighbour,’ a familiar voice. Pat the Postman. I can’t remember his name anymore, exchanged awkwardly once, but I know how many sisters he’s got, how his red vest is made of the least breathable material out there, how the smell of curry makes him gag and the hall here always smells of it. A collection of negatives, meaningless snippets from his life he offers whenever I have time to listen.
‘A little late for packages, no?’ My tongue moves back and forth like a tuning knob, trying to find a clear frequency. ‘For a Friday night.’
He sighs and the crackle makes me grimace. ‘I’m just about to knock off. Do you want to get a beer?’
‘Are you hitting on me through the intercom…’
A faint rustle of the red armour betrays him. He’s shrugging. ‘I guess so.’
Now the other hand’s heard the exchange, it reaches for the button. I hear the buzz of the mechanism releasing the front door. Legs, those legs I dislike, shorter and more stubby than I ever wanted them. Neck, never quite as firm as I wished for. These are the parts of me which look forward to him most, stepping out of the door and extending to see. He climbs the steps slowly, as if it’s all a cruel joke, stopping at the last step. His forehead glistens.
‘Can we go now?’ I ask him.
‘I’ve still got some letters to drop off,’ he replies, waving a bunch of envelopes held together by an elastic band.
‘I don’t mind. I could do with a walk.’
He shrugs and his head tilts, but a smile creeps in, so cautious it’s painful to look at. ‘Can you give me one minute? I’ll see you outside.’ Does it matter which one of us just said that?
Hall again, light on, the sterile bathroom. I grab the ring out of the bathtub, and it doesn’t bite when I slide it back on. Bag, phone, pullover just in case. Nights are moody in the city.
He’s waiting outside. He wasn’t prepared for this, so he hides behind the rhythmic noises his enormous cart makes as he pushes it along the pavement. I walk next to him. He’s embarrassed. He’s always embarrassed near me, of being the errand man, nothing more than a red-vested delivery driver, except without the van. ‘Heart not a servant,’ my mother always says. So I don’t care, and neither does he, or at least not enough.
The first stars are cold drops of mercury spilled across the darkening layer of blue, and I could still reach out and grab one, once and for all. But his free hand searches blindly until it finds mine. It’s twenty-five degrees out here. In the rickety half-silence, his slightly sweaty fingers alternate with mine and resuscitate so gently it takes a while to notice: the stars twinkle like gold, not silver.