THE JOYS OF RECOVERY
Truth is, I'm quite tired, and my fingers are thudding down onto the keyboard like the heavy legs of a shire-horse. But I had in mind to share one thing with you, and one day you too could be like me...
In my abstinence, and occasional serenity, I somehow won a little short story competition, and I thought you might, or not, like to read it...
Here it is...
ON GOING BLIND
Amok in copses, wild in municipal allotments we’d run, throwing matches lit over blazered shoulders, hoping our uniforms wouldn’t be identified by uncalled-for onlookers. Jet-black’n’wet in our wake, Morrissey danced a zigzag through nascent flame. It was too early to know if we were in trouble yet, as we tore across the Town Hall car-park, and into the air-raid shelter, ivy-clad.
Morrissey panted and pawed in the grit, seeming to know we’d overstepped. Through mesh, David said small fires were forming, pooling their rapacity to flourish as one. This was more than just knocking on doors, or stealing gum. Can’t undo the done, I thought, in honour of a senior family member. I could almost feel myself telling myself off on their behalf.
David had to take Mozza back - he walked him for an agoraphobic lady, who stayed indoors making lavender potpourri. He said we should go, but I was afraid, half-thinking to earnestly seek assistance, making out to anyone who’d listen that we’d stumbled on the blaze, playing Doctor Who among the plum-trees. My head was aching again. Was it guilt, as that same senior relative had once suggested?
Lead jangling, the pair shuffled out, and I followed, smelling smoke, choosing not to look back. Down the subway slope at speed in a shopping-trolley, dog chasing, David dared on, as I stumbled in his wake, dodging broken glass and dog-mess. Then, surfacing by the bingo-hall, we parted at the pillar-box.
Home, I could hear a sibling strumming, smell a joss-stick. In my room, Kate Bush was still spinning, needle having missed the cradle. Sibling had a guest, the record-shop owner, bearded and bespectacled, demeanour of a Timelord, but for the beard – Timelords rarely have beards. He was at the top of the stairs, and I wondered if my face looked convincingly innocent as he smiled and waved goodbye.
From the end of my bed, I could see into nextdoor’s garden - even the mouldy Satsuma I threw down the day before was still there, gleaming by an upturned bucket. The back door showed activity, a figure, vertical and vitric, made many behind corrugated glass. It was Wendy, and out she came with bin-bag hanging. She looked up, waved, and when our eyes met it felt as if I saw beyond her face, and she mine. My brain felt probed, researched, lovingly reconnaissanced. She did a little jig with the bin-lid spinning, like those ladies in Mikado. Then, closing the door, multiple Wendys vanished in shade. Sibling called up the stairs, asking did I want cheese on toast. Mum and dad were at a parents’ evening for the other one. I called down yes, and lay on my bed, cos my eyes felt gritty.
Later, when mum and dad were back, I ate some salt’n’vinegar crisps, but they made my mouth sore, and they weren’t even that vinegary. My eyes had kind of sleepdust on the lids. Mum took my temperature, and it was a little bit high. I watched Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em in my pyjamas, and went to bed, but felt hot, even though it was November, and the window slightly open. I thought about the fires, those orange demons we’d left to their own devices amid municipal plum-trees.
When I woke, something was wrong. My eyes were all crusted up, wouldn’t open, and my mouth was like paper. I called out, and mum came, and when she saw me I could tell there was more. She said I had a rash on my face, and when I swivelled round and put my feet on the floor, there were blisters all over me, like bubblewrap, on the souls of my feet too, and I couldn’t put any pressure on them, for fear they’d burst.
‘I’d better call an ambulance,’ mum said, and used the phone on the landing. Her voice sounded unfamiliar, like a blackbird singing in a minor key at unrecognised weather. I’d been in trouble with the ambulance and fire-brigade before, for sending them to fake emergencies, reporting a fire at Lance Baxter’s house, whose dad was a racist, then watching the engine arrive from the end of my road, to no blaze. Mum sat me up, but I was breathing with a wheeze, and her hand on my forehead felt so cool it almost stang. She wiped my eyes with a wet tissue, and they opened a little, but were gritty. The light through the window seemed to glare, and I shrank from it. I had a glass of Ribena by my bed, but when I tried to swallow it, that hurt too.
It wasn’t long before an ambulance came, and a woman and man took me out on a stretcher. I couldn’t put my feet down cos of the bubblewrap. Out on the street, I was slotted into the back of the ambulance, and the siren began, and my mum sat next to me in her red jumper. It was like being in the womb of a screaming woman.
When I got to the hospital, nurses circled like vultures of altruism, put a thermometer in my armpit, and when a doctor came, he said I should be put in isolation. Soon I was in a cubicle on a creaking metal bed, with a tube down my throat. Before me, thick glass, the children’s ward beyond, to my left a window showed the garden, where a man was smoking in the drizzle.
My dad arrived, cos mum had rung him at work, but they were only allowed into my cubicle with masks over their mouths, not because they’d catch what I had, but because their germs might harm me. Dad looked like stone, his trapezium face rigid, eyes almost crossed with bewilderment. A nurse said it was best if I was left for a while, and it wasn’t long before I was staring, leaning back on a pile of plumped pillows, at mum, dad, and the siblings, lined up behind the glass, their faces like I’d never seen them, zipmouthed, due to lack of reference points. I think I’d been given something to make me go to sleep, cos next thing I just woke up with my head hanging down, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Next morning, my eyes were gummed up, and my skin felt so tender. The Scottish nurse came in, with cream for the inside of my mouth, which was all roughed up with thrush. The medicine was called Daptharin, and meant to be orange flavour. She dabbed my eyes with wet cotton-wool, and slowly I pried them open. She said, ‘Can you see the locum in the garden?’ I looked at the window, asking, ‘Is it foggy?’ She dropped the wool in the bag on my locker, and said the doctor would be in soon. The orange flavour stang my throat, and I felt like I was lying in leaves.
Feeling down my side, the blisters had mostly burst, but the skin around them had peeled off, and I was lying in flakes, feeling nakeder than naked. Then I realised it wasn’t foggy outside at all, it was foggy everywhere, a white veil had fallen between me and the world, outside and in. I held my hand out, but saw little more than a flesh spectre, unsure even as to how many fingers I was holding up, failing a test that I myself had set.
My mum had stayed over in a room for family, and was soon at the end of my bed, her voice kazoo-like, due to the paper mask. I mentioned my vision, thinking I might need contact lenses like one of the siblings. I’d never known her so uncertain, so not knowing what to say. If she couldn’t console me, then something very serious was afoot. And when the doctor came, they went outside and I could hear them discussing me. It was his belief that I had something called Stevens Johnsons Syndrome, which was probably due to a toxic reaction, maybe to a medicine, and he asked her what, if anything, I’d taken in the past month. She told him about a few painkillers, something for a sore throat, then began to cry, in case she’d given me something harmful.
Later, dad arrived. They were both allowed in, masked. I was given a portable telly, but I couldn’t see it, and it was too far to reach from the bed. I wondered if I would get lunch, but that’s what the tube was for, putting liquid goodness down my throat on my behalf, because I couldn’t swallow. My temperature was now really high. Mum stayed in the family room for the next few days, as I, peeling and delirious, listened to programmes I wouldn’t normally have watched, or listened to. Each morning, I was eased sideways onto a waiting stretcher, so my bed could be changed, and I could hear the dead skin falling to the floor, like confetti at a ghoul’s wedding.
News of my demise had got home, and to school, and one morning my mum brought in a get well card from Wendy. She handed it me, I ripped open the envelope, and pulled out the unreadable card. I could never see Wendy again, I thought, because of what I’d become, like someone in Doctor Who who gets turned into one of the monsters, and although they have a human mind, they’re now a flailing thing, with pincers and the eyes of an insect. Mum read Wendy’s words, but I felt like I was in a different universe, and the portal was like a funnel, you could only go one way through.
Days passed, and once my skin begun to heal, and I could swallow again, I was allowed to eat something soft, jelly and blancmange, but I just had the jelly, cos the blancmange had skin, like custard. It was November 5th, and the hospital was having fireworks, and I was wheeled out into the children’s ward, where I could watch the display. By now, my temperature was nearly back to normal, but even propped up on four pillows, and pointed at the window, I could still only see fireworks that rose above the level of the windowsill, the top half of a Catherine Wheel, the fizzing tip of a Roman Candle, and other jubilant flourishes. Then, festivities done, I was wheeled back into my room, where I spent the next few days.
And then, one morning, the doctor said I could go home, but it didn’t feel like me going at all, or at least not the me who’d arrived. Seems I couldn’t see, and my new skin was shiny and sore. It hurt just to put clothes on, but off I went in the car in a pair of dark glasses, because daylight was now too bright, and I said to mum I was like a pop-star who didn’t want to be recognised – but there’s a thin line between vanity and paranoia. At home, one of the siblings gave me a card from both of them. Dad described it. It had a TARDIS on, but the words inside sounded awkward and unsure.
Dinner was soft, mashed carrot’n’potato, with melted cheese, and it wasn’t long before David came round. He’d been walking Morrissey down the municipal. We went upstairs, and he said our fires had petered out, because it was damp, but there were dark patches where some had nearly taken. Nextdoor, a dustbin-lid rattled, and David confirmed to me that Wendy was in the garden. I pictured her little jig with spinning lid, her corrugated selves shifting behind glass, the mouldy Satsuma, and how I’d learned to see, and be seen, in a way I’d not known before. David read his card, without even handing it me first, and I felt ashamed I could no longer run amok with him, making fires, doing dares. Had she seen me?
End. Thanks for dropping by. Here's a song...