I can't go there. It makes me sick to go there. It's the fear … not 'fear', but 'THE fear'. Fear is a momentary, transitory event, it flashes across like lightening or some half remembered dream. THE fear, well that grips you in a stranglehold and it won't fucking let you go. When I say 'I can't', people hear 'I won't', and it's just not the same. You can't control THE fear, intellectualise it, or analyse it. I reckon Poe had it with his nameless thing, that black void, stark darkness, empty fullness.
You get a choice, or at least I do. I can trade the fear for rage. Both are completely fucking unreasonable. Be frightened or be angry. Hmmmm. Frightened of what? Angry at what? “You're never gonna be happy until you deal with your anger issues,” she said. How did she think that was going to help? Did she HONESTLY B E L I E V E I didn't already know that? It infuriated me, her lecturing, patronising tone, so I didn't listen. I don't want to deal with my anger issues. I don't want to be permanently terrified.
Sometimes I can't sleep for weeks because I'm scared to shut my eyes. Of course I know why, he used to fuck me up when I was tucked up in bed. Yes, yes, some description here: mustard coloured carpet, a feather pillow in a white pillowcase decorated with small, pink roses, magnolia wood-chip wallpaper, teddies arranged at the foot of the bed, two large orange ones, daddy and mummy, who sat staring, their eyes, legs and arms open in static sincerity … I stopped going to sleep. I hated waking up, confused, in the dark, smelling whisky and cigarettes.
And there was the heat: dense, a damp fug, humid humiliation. It breathed that heat, and when it broke out of the dark and kissed me, it had a moustache and a beard, just like Father Christmas, manufacturing all sorts of nonsense promises. “If you're a good girl …” I fucking hate Father Christmas.
Then, when I was nine, I got my own demon. Much later, I gave him a name, Albert, and a form, that of a soldier. He started off as a shadow, behind me. I could never see him, only glimpse him out of the corner of my eye. I believed he would kill me. He told me he would kill me. My father had already promised an identical outcome, if I said anything about anything, and just to prove his point he used to teach me the occasional lesson, like when he sealed me under the floorboards, or the time he threw me down the stairs and broke my arm in several places.
Bella was innocence. You can destroy innocence if you try hard enough and long enough. She had the capacity to forget: school books, her chores, to clean out the gold fish; but she never forgot her promise. Silence, that was Bella's thing. She swallowed it all down, every slimy globule.
Veronica was more rambunctious. She learned to shout. He taught her. How can a girl that shouts and screams with such aggression not defend herself? She could. She did. He stopped then, everything, talking to her, curling up with her on the sofa to watch cartoons, getting her to pull her finger so he could fart. Veronica was invisible to him.
Christina was make believe, the result of a fantasy union between husband and wife. She got one of her mother's names and two belonging to her father. How perfect, a child of their old age. They were still up to it. Christina senior proved her fertility and Leslie senior his virility. As it turned out, he had rather a knack for that.
There is someone else. You don't need to know who she is.
Albert morphed over the years, from indistinct nightmare to communicable curiosity, his etymology closely replicating the disease they diagnosed her with. When merely a silent presence he was considered unimportant, if an example of her paranoid tendencies, once he began to speak they became somewhat more fascinated.
“Who is he?”
“Albert,” she answered simply.
“What does he say to you?”
She looked at the floor. She couldn't tell them. He had sworn her to secrecy. If she told them it would be worse. He had promised to be kind, if she stuck to her side of the bargain. “Always from behind,” he said, “You won't feel any pain. I'll be quick”. Her father was quick, deft almost. The spiky, grey fabric on the chair made her legs itch. She watched the psychiatrist's hands, shuffling papers, writing. When her mother did the washing she watched her hands as well, as they folded and smoothed. Deft. People are deft. Albert promised that gentle experience.
“I'm warning you now, giving you plenty of notice.”
She nodded mutely.
“I have to. Do you understand that?”
“And I keep the blade nice and sharp. You won't feel a thing, it'll be like cutting butter.”
Soft and yellow.
“So don't turn around. You won't be able to escape.”
She knew she could never run far enough or fast enough.
For many years she's been waiting for him, sometimes even hoping. When she's in crowds she looks for his face. Sitting in her car she checks her rear view mirror. She's searched through archived photographs at The Imperial War Museum, visited various memorials, some with statues of men, some with Celtic crosses ankle deep in paper poppies. And it frightens her, that she watches, constantly, anticipates, wishes.
Wouldn't it be good if life was a description of dichotomies, if wrong and right existed, if black and white were both colours? She thinks it would be. It would help a lot, you know, if this could be this and that could be that. There would be some solutions then maybe, questions would have answers, opposites would have equals, every story would have two sides. But it doesn't work like that. Fear and anger are both sides of the same coin, both sides, not individual sides, opposed. One fist isn't going to hit you marked hate while the loving knuckles on the other hand stroke you blind. She knows this, we know this …
I'll go to sleep tonight, with my back pressed into the mattress, so Albert's knife can't find the soft, pulpy space between my shoulder blades. I'll listen to the radio, because silence scares the shit out of me. At a certain point, I'll feel like someone's strangling me. I won't be able to breathe. I'll smell whisky and cigarettes. If I'm lucky, I'll pass out, pass over, pass away, and the fear will lie down, exhausted for now, next to the anger, and I hope neither will wake until sunlight reaches through the curtains and pulls back another day.