I wake up to the fresh smell of clean linen, rinsed with lavender fabric softener. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to know where the hurt is. I don’t want to know where I am. So I lie there inhaling the perfume of the sheets. For a moment I’m twelve and at home in my bedroom, with my entire life ahead of me. My bladder starts to nag. No matter how still I lie, the bladder will eventually win. I sit up too quickly, the room spins, I try to stand, but a stabbing pain fells me, and I vomit on myself and faint.
I wake up, back in the warm lavender envelope. Everything hurts. I turn over, and my face thumps and stabs my eyes in protest. My left eye can’t open more than a sliver, and my cheek is hot and painful, and ... my bladder is empty. How humiliating! I must have pissed myself. Then I notice another smell. The soft floral aroma of another woman’s scent. Somehow I’m dressed in her pyjamas. She smells like orange blossom in the dry heat of summer. I lift the pyjama sleeve to my nose and fall asleep breathing in her beauty.
I wake up exhausted by my dreams. The hurt is still there, but I feel hungry, I guess I'm getting better. Very slowly I get up and stand in the pain then hop to the door. I press the handle down, and it jams, it will not budge. In disbelief I try again, it’s locked solid. I yank the handle bash the door and yell, then turn around, it’s light outside, and the windows are frozen, but at least they are smashable.
I find my clothes neatly folded on an old wooden desk, everything else is also on the table: my purse, phone, pill bottle, they’re all there. My phone is dead. I grab the jeans and pull the pyjama pants down as the door opens. In comes Gareth, with a bowl of soup. He looks at me and freezes at the sight of my pubic tuft. I yank the pyjamas up and shout.
"Why the fuck are you locking me up?!"
He looks at me as if I’m mad and twitches.
"W-W-What?" he asked.
"The door! You locked the fucking door!"
He grins and laughs at me.
"Don't laugh at me you bastard!"
"It’s upside down, PSYCHOPATH, the handle."
"Oh REALLY? "
I stand up, and he steps back, like a dog expecting a beating, I hobble to the door and pull the handle up. The door opens. I feel so embarrassed. Gareth leaves the soup, slips past me without a word and down the passage.
"Thank you," I say meekly to the empty room.
I drink the chicken broth and can’t help thinking of Gareth. And how he had held me and how he let me cry and how I dribbled on him and how he just stood there and held on. I remember his warmth, the arm’s heat and the freezing white confetti. He made me feel safe and warm. And I gave him that permission. He saw me. I hate him for that. I also remember that I punched him and ran. And I feel so ashamed.
Except for the crackle of a wood fire, the living room is empty and quiet.
The walls sparkle with light. It’s a mosaic of crushed glass, shards of mirror, broken china and coloured tiles. The furniture must have all come from the street and been carefully repaired. I look around the room and then it strikes me that everything in the cottage had been broken, and mended, yet the fix isn’t hidden. And seeing the repair, so obvious, is what makes it special, it is still beautiful, still relevant and still useful. The wall decoration is very intriguing, and as I admire the mosaic I spot a small shard of a mirror that shows me a bulbous purple eye. My eye. I immediately touch my face, and it’s hot and sore. I want to see how I look now and wander off down the passage. I pass a second bedroom before I find the bathroom, which has no mirrors. No mirrors? So I look in the next closest room, Gareth’s room.
It is the opposite of everything I have seen so far. It’s ugly. The roof is a black stain, with mustard at its perimeter, the air tastes like old coal. The bed isn’t a bed, it’s a black iron bench with a spring mattress covered by chain mail. Is this where Gwen had burnt? Is this a shrine? I close the door without entering.
I hear boots stomping and scraping on a bristle mat, so I head for the kitchen.
The backdoor opens and Gareth enters patting snow from in his apron and gloves. He takes them off and starts to prepare dinner. My offer to help is declined so instead I set the table instead.
"HER-RRR. HA. Nice. BISCUIT. The weather has shifted, you must leave soon. What's your name by the way? FIREFLY."
"Oh sorry, I um forgot ... Harry, my name is Harry."
He looks at me, directly in the eye, but that just causes nervous ticking "DIRTY. HAHA. HAIRY. HARRY." so he breaks eye contact. Pauses. Then continues calmly with "My uncle was called Harry. Harriet is so much better. It rhymes with Chariot and PUBIC HAIRY", he rolls his eyes in embarrassment.
I can’t help it and burst into laughter and nod my head, then mimic him "HAIRY. HARRIET. CHARIOT. FUCK. FUCK. CUNT!"
He erupts with hysterics and slaps his leg, and his smile is incandescent with happiness. When he stops, he spoons his empty plate and nods to himself and says, "you see Harriet, how easy it is to be happy?".
My eyes immediately drop into my lap. I fidget and the silence turns awkward.
Gareth looks at me again, with his eyes, the ones that make you naked.
"Sometimes things just break. And even if you do manage to mend them, they are still broken, they will always be broken. But ... they are also mended."
Gareth gets up, collects his plate and spoon, then comes around the table.
He reaches down for my plate.
"Thank you", I say and I reach up instinctively and takes touch his hand.
He jerks back, snatches away, the plates smash, and he clutches his hand, teeth clenched in agony, his body rigid and trembling, his eyes start screaming, wide with fear, absolute fear. He timidly retreats to the sink, for his gloves and side steps to the back door, not once breaking eye contact and then he disappeared into the cold night.
I am repulsive. Hideous. Millions of ugly words arbitrarily taxi around my mind only to discover the runway is gridlocked. The ugliness can’t get out. The only faculty still intact generates oxygen. So I practice breathing but that just makes me desperate, and then the demonic baubles reappear and sweep everything away and present me with a one-word solution for everything.
I skip to my room to check if, by some miracle, I might have missed a single pill stuck in the bottom of the bottle. There isn’t. So I ransack the kitchen for the next best thing. Alcohol. Not a drop. Calm down Harry, calm the hell down and think!
Chloe! Oh yes! Chloe, God bless Chloe! On the backseat is my suitcase, my medicine cabinet. But. How would I ... a broom, that’s how. The broom is next to the fridge. Great. I flip it upside down, and now the broom is a crutch.
I grab my bag and jacket from the room and tentatively test the broom down the passage. It holds me just fine. "Clever girl", I tell myself, and then I hear the backdoor open with a very quiet click. I have absolutely no reason to sneak down the passage, but I do. I have no reason to hold my breath, but I do, I have no reason to be terrified, but I am.
I tap into the living room, and across to the front door, and I noticed something that I had missed before. A plant pot on the patio. Inside are wilted flowers, leftovers from summer. Daisies. A gust of cold wind sweeps past, and the taps the fly screen against the door frame. Dawn is not near, but it is Dusk and the sky is a tinted purple.
This is like my dream. I know exactly what is coming next.
My name whispered in full with pleading mercy.
But there are no curtains. No blistering paint. No wallpaper. It’s not my dream because it’s not a dream at all, it was a reality, it was Gwen's reality, and all her horror is unfolding again just for me.
I open the door.
I look back as Gareth appears. But he is not the Gareth of yesterday. A furnace is growing inside his solar plexus, his fingertips are white, his hands glow red, his pupils have gone, his eyes are solid white and he is gargling lava.
He sputters incoherently then screams "Harriet ... RUN!" and his chest bursts into flames.
And I do. I run as fast as I can. And I run straight at Gareth the Balrog, just like Gwen had done. I leap through the air and grab him with both my arms and legs. And it hurts like hell.
I’m burning alive. And in that microsecond, I know that if I let go now, I’ll burn up. And I know that Gwen had let go because she had something left to lose. So I tighten my grip like a vice and kiss his gaping furnace mouth of lava, and let it flow into me like hot honey. With my soul, I scream into him, "I know who you are!"
And his soul replies, "Oh God no!" and all his flesh ignites.
He carries me through the door screaming and screaming, and we collapse into the soft powdery snow, burnt naked.
The pain was so severe that I found myself lying on the highway. Cut and grated by glass and gravel. I had just been thrown through a windscreen because I hadn’t fastened my seat-belt. I looked up just in time to see my car burst into flames and my daughter, beautiful little Jasmine, was in the back, in her car-chair, crisscrossed by sturdy black straps. And then I was inside the inferno, sitting next to her, watching her burn.
Jasmine looked at me, she was very sad, and said: “Mummy, I think it’s time to get better.”
I nodded at her and stroked her blistering little face, and straightened the melting cherries in her hair, and stayed with her to the very end. I wanted to follow her but Gareth called me by name. He kept calling, and calling, and calling until I climbed back into the pain of my burnt body.
The burns were bad, really, really bad, but they healed entirely. My hair grew back platinum and I never left New Bethesda. While I recovered I slept a lot, and read a lot too and apparently “Bethesda” is an ancient Aramaic word. It means “The house of mercy”.
Isn't that nice?
I live with a daemon now, and he lives with mine.