The snow is falling and I am falling with it. Softly, silently it falls. No sound as the flakes touch land. Just a vast, empty winter’s landscape, inside and out. Enough is enough. Let there be oblivion: an end to the live sparks of human emotion. Just the snow out there, softly falling, carrying me with each indifferent flake; and the hovering, ever-watchful forest. But tonight it isn’t watching, because the huge encroaching whiteness has stolen it, along with everything else. Tonight the forest, too, has become indifferent.
The candle is flickering and I am flickering with it. My breath, my senses, the beat of my heart – all these flicker on, regardless of oblivion. They have no choice: they are not part of the ‘me’ that will soon dissolve into the earth on that gentle flake of snow that is carrying me down, down, down, until there is no deeper a depth to go to. The candle incites the room and my pulse to flicker with it, but all in silence, all in automation.
The music is dying and I am dying with it. No more energy to get up and walk over to the CD player and select another disc. Choices consume energy, and I have none left: neither choices nor energy. I am fading, preparing for the final short circuit.
Yesterday I was still here, somewhere inside these bones and sinews and flesh; tonight I’m gone. Or soon will be. I’m in my bed right now, half-propped up on pillows; my gaze tracing the falling snow, the flickering shadows of the silent bedroom; my eyes tasting the salty residue of yesterday’s raw sparks; my maimed arms feeling the smarting of yesterday’s razor … but all that is mechanics. As for me – I’m on my way out. No more battles, no more scars. Tonight there is neither truce nor defeat nor victory; just a slow, silent withdrawal. Emptiness.
Yesterday morning I still felt pain as I struggled on with my existence. I staggered out of bed, laden with the flu – or maybe just a bad cold, but feeling wretched, whatever it was. I made the children their breakfast, switched on the television for them, staggered back to bed, drifted off to merciful sleep until the doorbell woke me up early afternoon. I thought it was you, cruel Loverboy, come at last to save me, save us, prove yourself to be the Lancelot I so craved. I even smiled in anticipation of your loving hand on my burning forehead, stroking the fever and sweat away, assuring me the children would be all right, that you’d see to them. And your deep voice, telling me to rest, to sleep, to stop worrying about the school, to forget everything.
But it wasn’t you, as I knew it couldn’t be. I was just kidding myself – or maybe it was the fever. Disappointment: one of the vilest human emotions. And disillusionment, a close relative. Neither did my phone offer any sympathy. My silent, pernicious phone. I knew it wouldn’t, but nonetheless I hoped, fool that I was. Hope: another of life’s heart-teasers.
That was yesterday, when I was still alive – still hurting, hoping, sweating, fevering away – but really just flaking to oblivion. Softly, silently flaking.
No, the knight in shining armour wasn’t you. It was one of the teachers from our school. He called at about noon to return something he’d borrowed – can’t remember what. Or maybe it was just an excuse to have a chat, because he must have been lonely out here in these harsh Slavonic climes: his first teaching job, no family or close friends around for support, only moaning mothers and relentless hurdles of slow, cutting demoralisation.
When he realised I was sniffing and coughing and burning away in bed, abandoning my poor cubs to their perennial Disney nasties, his halo simply glowed.
‘You’re not lookin’ too smart,’ he said, hovering in the bedroom doorway, a fusion of awkwardness, righteousness and humour reflected in his snow-splattered glasses. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve been ‘aving nightmares about them fascist mums, ’ave you?’ It was a miracle any of the non-English children in his class were able to understand his broad Northern accent.
I managed a feeble laugh as I heaved myself into an upright position. ‘Don’t worry. I haven’t thought about them since we broke up for Christmas.’
‘That’s my girl,’ he said. ‘Any road, what can I get you? Tablets? Medicine? Vodka, rum …?’
‘I’m fine, thanks. I don’t need anything.’
‘So where’s Loverboy, then?’
‘He ought to be ‘ere, lookin’ after you.’
I shrugged, then coughed. ‘Well, as you can see, he isn’t. Anyway, I’ll make you a cup of tea. You look frozen solid.’
My saint almost visibly lurched forward. ‘You stay right where you are, you daft beggar! I’ll make the tea. I’ll also feed them kids of yours. You’re not in a fit state to be doin’ nothing.’ As he trotted back down the stairs, I heard him call out to my two Polar cubs: ‘Who fancies makin’ a snowman after dinner, then?’ Cheers were their reply.
For the next three hours I was granted the luxury of lying in bed without having to worry about seeing to anything, because my saint insisted on seeing to everything for me. He conjured a make-shift lunch out of the skeletal fridge; he washed up, ordered the cubs into their polar gear, made the promised snowman in the garden, ordered them back out of their polar gear, made a final cup of tea, put the Disney nasties back in place, and poof! Off he vanished back into the celestial clouds. But his very saintliness highlighted Loverboy’s lack of it, and, above all, Loverboy’s absence.
Early in the evening a second lot of visitors arrived: my Polish friend, aka Wise Owl, together with her seven-year-old daughter. Three bright pairs of little eyes were now transfixed to the screen in true dedication. In the meantime my friend and I sat ourselves at the kitchen table with coffee and cigarettes. I needed a break from my sweaty bed, and I was desperate for a ciggie, sick or not.
‘Why he not here?’ My concerned friend glared at the empty chair opposite us, where he most definitely was not.
I shrugged yet again. ‘I don’t know and I don’t care. And even if I did, there’s nothing I can do about it, is there?’ I inhaled and coughed simultaneously, enjoying the pain of both.
Wise Owl blew an indignant jet of smoke into the cold air. ‘There is something you can do,’ she said. ‘You can change him for better man. Like your ex-husband. Why you two not get back together?’
But we’d been through all this before and I didn’t want to hear any of it. I didn’t want to change my sexy, intimidating, all-consuming Monster-Lover for someone better, quite simply because there was no one better. And never again could be, for me. Neither did I want to go back to Hubby, despite the desperation to do exactly that, little over a year ago. I just wanted – oh so despairingly, hopelessly, painfully wanted – my Monster to phone me and tell me he was coming round, and make a token gesture of seeing to the cubs, and creep into the yearning folds of my bed later at night, where I could at least die a passionate death in the ecstatic frenzy of his embrace.
That’s what I wanted, and the fact that I knew I wouldn’t get it didn’t make me want it any the less. Oh, no. Human nature isn’t like that, is it? Knowing I wouldn’t get it made me want it all the more. Just as my awareness of his growing distance from me didn’t make me need or desire or love him any the less. Just more. All the time, more and more and still fucking more.
‘I suppose you not coming to party tonight?’ Wise Owl continued, sensing a change of subject was called for.
I shook my head, adding a cough for emphasis. ‘Afraid not.’ The plans had been for all of us – me and my two cubs, Wise Owl and her daughter, plus Loverboy – to go to the Namesday party of a mutual Polish friend, arriving early because of the children, and getting back home early. But either Loverboy had forgotten all about it, or he’d got waylaid in an all-night drinking session in one of Kraków’s nocturnal haunts.
‘You want me to take your kids?’ Wise Owl kindly offered.
I declined. ‘Thanks all the same, but they could do with an early night.’ What I really meant was that I didn’t want to be dragged out of my panadol-induced slumber later in the evening, and faced with the exhausting prospect of putting two over-enlivened cubs to bed. Parties always over-enliven children. Especially grown-up parties.
Wise Owl and her daughter eventually took their leave. I got the cubs off to bed, shed a good few self-pitying tears, fell asleep on the sofa in the living room, and later, staggered upstairs to the cold but sweaty expanse of my lonely bed.
I somehow got through the following day without the help of glowing saints or spurious knights. My cubs were veritable angels. Perhaps they sensed the gravity of my flu, and therefore forgave me my dire negligence as a mum. That really was a survival-training day for them, bless their little polar hearts. I think all I managed to rustle up for them was some toast. The rest of the day they survived on cereal, biscuits, chocolate and orange juice.
And now, as the snowflakes descend upon the frozen January landscape, so does my mood descend with them, and then my consciousness, and finally, the very frame of my human existence. There we are: all of us falling, descending, dissolving – those soft, silent flakes and the varied bits of me – until the few remaining live sparks of my human aura fuse on impact with the earth.
Emptiness. I am gone.
The above extract is taken from my novel, ‘Thirteen States of Being’.