Thirty-five

I rip my silk dress from its hanger in the wardrobe and cut a gaping mouth in it just below the waist. These scissors are sharp so it’s easy, like sliding metal through water. My blue wrap-dress gets a diagonal slit across the chest. I lay them side by side on the bed like a couple of sick friends and stroke them.

It doesn’t help.

The stupid jeans I bought with Cal never fitted anyway, so I hack the legs off at the knee. I split the pockets of all my jogging pants, gash holes in my sweatshirts and chuck the lot next to the dresses.

It takes ages to stab my boots. My arms ache and I’m wheezing. But I had a transfusion this morning and other people’s blood runs hot through my veins, so I don’t stop. I slit each boot along its length. Two startling wounds.

I want to be empty. I want to live somewhere uncluttered.

I open the window and throw the boots out. They land on the lawn.

The sky is solid cloud, grey and low. There’s a thin rain falling. The shed’s wet. The grass is wet. The barbecue set is rusting on its wheels.

I haul the rest of my clothes out of the wardrobe. My lungs wheeze, but I’m not stopping. Buttons ping across the room as I slash my coats. I shred my jumpers. I lacerate every pair of trousers. I line my shoes up on the window ledge and cut off their tongues.

It’s good. I feel alive.

I grab the dresses from the bed and push them out with the shoes. They tumble onto the patio together and lie there in the rain.

I check my phone. No messages. No missed calls.

I hate my room. Everything in it reminds me of something else. The little china bowl from St Ives. The brown ceramic jar Mum used to keep biscuits in. The sleeping dog with its silent slipper that belonged on Nanna’s mantelpiece. My green glass apple. They all make it to the lawn except for the dog, which smashes against the fence.

Books fall open as I chuck them. Their pages flap like exotic birds, rip and flutter. CDs and DVDs like Frisbees over next door’s fence. Adam can play them to his new friends at university when I’m dead.

Duvet, sheets, blankets, all out. Medicine bottles and boxes from my bedside table, syringe driver, Diprobase cream, aqueous cream. My jewellery box.

I slash my beanbag, decorate the floor with polystyrene balls and throw the empty sack out into the rain. The garden’s looking very busy. Things will grow. Trouser trees. Book vines. I’ll chuck myself out later and take root in that dark space by the shed.

Still no message from Adam. I throw my phone over his fence.

The TV is heavy as a car. It hurts my back. It makes my legs burn. I drag and heave it across the carpet. I can’t breathe, have to stop. The room tilts. Breathe. Breathe. You can do this. Everything’s got to go.

Onto the ledge with the TV.

And out.

It roars, explodes in a dramatic smash of glass and plastic.

That’s it. Everything gone. Finished.

 

Dad crashes in. He stands for a moment, still and open-mouthed.

‘You monster,’ he whispers.

I have to cover my ears.

He comes over and takes me by both arms. His breath smells of stale tobacco. ‘Do you want to leave me with nothing?’

‘There was nobody here!’

‘So you thought you’d wreck the place?’

‘Where were you?’

‘I was at the supermarket. Then I went to the hospital to visit you but you weren’t there. We were all frantic.’

‘I don’t give a shit, Dad!’

‘Well, I do! I absolutely give a shit! This will completely exhaust you.’

‘It’s my body. I can do what I like!’

‘So you don’t care about your body now?’

‘No, I’m sick of it! I’m sick of doctors and needles and blood tests and transfusions. I’m sick of being stuck in a bed day after day while the rest of you get on with your lives. I hate it! I hate all of you! Adam’s gone for a university interview, did you know that? He’s going to be here for years doing whatever he likes and I’m going to be under the ground in a couple of weeks!’

Dad starts to cry. He sinks onto the bed and puts his head in his hands and just weeps. I don’t know what to do. Why is he weaker than me? I sit next to him and touch his knee. ‘I’m not going back to the hospital, Dad.’

He wipes his nose on his shirt sleeve and looks at me. He looks like Cal. ‘You’ve really had enough?’

‘I’ve really had enough.’

I put my arm round him and he leans his head on my shoulder. I stroke his hair. It’s as if we’re floating about on a boat. There’s even a breeze from the open window. We sit for ages.

‘You never know, maybe I won’t die if I’m at home.’

‘It’d be lovely if you didn’t.’

‘I’ll do my A-levels instead. Then I’ll go to university.’

He sighs, stretches himself out on the bed and closes his eyes. ‘That’s a good idea.’

‘I’ll get a job, and maybe one day I’ll have children – Chester, Merlin and Daisy.’

Dad opens one eye briefly. ‘God help them!’

‘You’ll be a grandad. We’ll visit you loads. For years and years we’ll visit, until you’re ninety.’

‘And then what? You’ll stop coming?’

‘No, then you’ll die. Before me. The way it’s supposed to be.’

He doesn’t say anything. Where the dark filters through the window and shadow touches his arm, he seems to vanish.

‘You won’t live in this house any more, but somewhere smaller near the sea. I’ve got keys because I visit you so often, and one day I let myself in as usual, but the curtains aren’t open and the post is on the mat. I go up to the bedroom to see where you are. I’m so relieved to see you lying peacefully in bed that I laugh out loud. But when I pull the curtains, I notice your lips are blue. I touch your cheek and it’s cold. Your hand’s cold as well. I say your name over and over, but you can’t hear me and you don’t open your eyes.’

Dad sits up. He’s crying again. I hold him close and pat his back.

‘Sorry. Am I freaking you out?’

‘No, no.’ He pulls away, sweeps a hand across his eyes. ‘I better go and clear up outside before it gets dark. Will you be all right if I go and do that?’

‘Sure.’

I watch him from the window. It’s raining hard now and he’s put his wellies on and an anorak. He gets a broom and the wheelbarrow from the shed. He puts on gardening gloves. He picks up the telly. He sweeps up the broken glass. He gets a cardboard box and piles all the books in it. He even picks up the pages that lie shivering against the fence.

Cal turns up in his school uniform with his rucksack and bike. He looks sane and healthy. Dad goes over and hugs him.

Cal dumps his bike and joins in the clearing up. He looks like a treasure hunter, holding each ring up to the sky. He finds the silver necklace I got for my last birthday, my amberlite bracelet. Then he finds ridiculous things – a snail, a feather, a particular stone. He finds a muddy puddle and stamps in it. It makes Dad laugh. He leans on his broom and laughs out loud. Cal laughs too.

Rain batters softly at the window, washing them both transparent.

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