The woman—lines just starting to show around her eyes, hair beginning the long, slow transition into straw—stands by my bed.
Her eyes show sorrow if I didn’t know better.
They tear up, salty water buds glistening across her eyelids. She ain’t no sad person, though, no. Those tears are happy tears. They’re the sort of tears you have when you’re cracking open the fizzy wine.
“Mom,” she says.
I’d answer, but I’m too busy licking chicken soup off of my lip hairs. I remember seeing those same kind of hairs sprouting out of my Great Aunt’s chin. Thick and stringy, wiggling like drunk tapeworms when she talked.
The soup tastes like dishwater.
That woman, still fussing, always fussing, pats at my mouth with a tissue.
“There, there,” she says.
There, there. Like I’m some sort of imbecile.
Like I’m some sort of macarooned, muffin dumpling that can’t shit its way out of a diaper.
Lisa, she’s called. Lisa Mary. Geoff used to call her Lairy, and she used to giggle.
Insert pictures: laughing child, feet off the ground, dress swinging around her legs.
She’s not Lisa.
She’s someone else.
They think I’m crazy, that’s it.
This woman, the one with the mousy face, she starts to brush my hair with a soft paddle brush. I hear it scraping against my scalp, all crusty, like pulling Velcro.
She’s talking all the while, and I’d listen, but pancake, mustard, jezebel, dancing, and so I ask: “Who are you?”
And the brushing stops, and she puts her face in front of mine, and then the glint is in her eyes again, and she says: “I’m your daughter.”
And I know she’s lying.
But it’s ok, they’ve done this before. I am a fine hand at horse-smoked mildew.
“Oh, of course,” I say.
And she starts brushing again, talking about someone called Dave. She must mean Brian, my eldest. Then she’s talking children, monkeys, doodling, jitterbug, and to make conversation because the drone in her voice is making my head hurt, I ask: “Where’s Geoff?”
And she pulls my hair tight, and my skin creaks against my skull.
“Dad passed away a few years ago now, Mom.”
My mouth is dry and elephants in dressing gowns, and now I know for sure she is lying. Geoff is hamburger at work.
Insert pictures: Geoff, straightening his tie, picking up his briefcase, peck on the cheek and then out the door. His kiss leaves a sweet spot on my cheek.
She stops with the brushing and fiddles with moon-dust unicorns, and now there’s music, sounds like Presley.
I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of Presley?
“Remember this?” she asks, and her wicked smile twitches at the edges of her mouth.
Remember this, my arse, I think, but my mouth just dribbles. Hot, wet drool that leaves cold, crispy stains down my chin.
Candy, clowns, derivative, diabetes, broken, charms, cats, stockings.
“It’s nice, dear,” I say, finally.
And this time she properly smiles and for a moment I can see her, really see her.
Insert pictures: Lairy climbing trees and crying about eating peas and playing tag in the garden.
And then Lairy is gone, and the woman is back, and her greasy, straw hair is all I can see as she leans in, close.
“Let’s do your nails now, Mom,” she says.
And she’s rubbing the file against my grizzled nails. The vibrations run through my bones like bananas, pepper, ding dong, girl gone, news at ten.
If only Geoff were here, I’d tell him we need to get away, to go away while we still have the chance because all they do here is lock you up and torture you until you’re ready to confess.
If only he could come back from work, right now.
And if I knew what it was they wanted to hear, then I’d bleeding well tell them polling, mucus, pig spleen but I don’t know what it is.
I don’t know what it is.
What it is.
I want Geoff.
Who is Lairy?
And I’m sorry and please don’t leave me and monotonous drone, and buzz and ringing, and hedgehogs, and something in the shadows behind you. I’m sorry.
And please don’t leave me.
And I hate you.
And I sabotage, spotted, half, building, gun, sausage, tree, stroked, windmill, treacle, brick.
And I love you.
And I don’t know you.
But I do.
And I don’t know me.
And please remember.
Insert pictures: please.