The winter lurgy got me this week. Started feeling a bit off last Friday, got worse over the weekend and dragged myself into the office on Monday. That didn’t last long and have spent the last few days at home, keeping my snuffling, coughing and sneezing to myself other than keeping the grey girlie fed and watered. Decided that trying to write might stop me thinking about the razor wire lining my throat and making me sound more like Darth Vader than Darth Vader, so here’s this week’s dark little offering.
Sylvie loves her house. It has been crafted and curated (a fashionable term which I find to be rather de trop) so that she can move from room to room, and let her eyes caress each picture, each carefully placed object, and allow the muted palette of each setting to bathe her in harmony. It is not a grand house, just a little two up, two down in an unremarkable terrace in an unremarkable town. The care she put into creating her surroundings creates the impression that the decor has evolved over time, perhaps under a designer’s hand, but Sylvie has only lived in this perfect backdrop for a few months and disdains the work of interior designers.
She takes the same care over every aspect of her life. Her job is demanding, up to a point, and allows her to express her skills without flamboyancy. Her friends love her, find her supportive and trustworthy, although they might say that she never entirely gives of herself. You can chat to her for hours and feel that she is absorbed by whatever you tell her, but you walk away feeling that you haven’t learnt anything about Sylvie, and maybe you’ve told her just a little more than now feels comfortable. You want to envy Sylvie her perfect life, her sun streaked blonde mane, her translucent skin, her trim waist, the flash of her smile, but somehow you don’t. You do, though, covet her perfect little house.
The walls of the her bedroom show Sylvie’s eclectic taste in art. Five of her ex-husband’s creations face a lesser known Klimt print which hangs above her bed. A print, a birthday present from her equally lovely sister, complements a collection of lino-cut prints of birds and hares. Sylvie revels in this room, it epitomises her character and give her a sense of profound well-being. Her bed, with its French cast iron frame and eye wateringly expensive mattress, is always dressed in white, high thread count cotton. There is no duvet, Sylvie prefers cashmere blankets and her great grandmother’s hand stitched quilt. The non-matching French night stands have been painted and distressed by Sylvie, and their marble tops gleam in the yellow pools flowing from simple lamps. The chair, which she re-upholstered to match the walls holds carefully folded clothes. Violet or lavender-scented candles fill the air with fragrance. Sylvie prefers to light the violet votives in the mornings, and the lavender tea lights at night. Sylvie has created a room that rocks her gently to sleep and fills her senses with hope and joy when she wakes. And this is how it has been.
Until today. Sylvie has slept badly. She hasn’t slept this badly since she was a small child, when her night-time terrors would send her screaming from her bed and into her father’s arms. He would hold her until the spasms faded, stroking her damp forehead with his rough, but gentle hands.
This morning, the sheets are tangled round her legs and her whole body is clammy. Her pulse races and her eyes won’t open fully. The alarm radio tells her it is five a.m., two hours before it will creep into life and fill the air with something harmonious and enlivening. Unease slips into her belly, gripping her stomach, forcing a sour taste into her mouth. Sylvie fights her way through the bed linen and sits on the edge of her bed. She takes a few deep breaths and drops her chin onto her chest. Slowly she circles her head, stretching the tautness out of her neck and slowing her breathing. Her bladder demands relief, so she pads down the landing to the bathroom. When she has peed, she washes her hands and splashes tepid water on her face. She cleans her teeth, spitting the sour taste into the green glass bowl so carefully mounted on the black Welsh slate shelf. She dries her face with a fluffy white towel that smells, very faintly, of calming lavender. Sylvie doesn’t like any change to her routine – she is a creature of fastidious habit and knows that sleep is not likely now. She decides that she needs tea. She will take a cup of a herbal tisane back to bed and read for a while, and then she will run. Running always sets her back in balance with her world.
She heads back along the landing, then turns left before she gets to her bedroom and goes down the fifteen stairs, counting (as is her habit) each one as she descends. At the bottom she turns left again to open the dining room door. Except there is no door, just a passageway, identical to the landing leading to the bathroom upstairs. The same bookcases on her left, topped with candles, a green dinosaur she made at nursery school, her two thirty-four-year-old teddies and two small pictures she made a few years ago. The walls display the same photos of a childhood Sylvie, and that collage she made at an art workshop last year. The same cream Berber which carpets the stairs, landing and bedrooms. Sylvie pauses, decides that this is a dream. She climbs the fifteen stairs back to the first floor and turns left into her bedroom. She gets back into the French cast iron bed, pulls the sheets over herself and turns off the bedside lamp.
As she lies under the beautiful quilt, the cotton sheets smooth against her long, tanned legs, Sylvie’s pulse increases. Those long legs start moving, slowly, then into faster, uncontrolled cycling as a prickling sensation makes her want to scratch the skin from her thighs. The sheets are tangled round her legs and her whole body is clammy. Her pulse races and her eyes won’t open fully. The alarm radio tells her it is five a.m., two hours before it will creep into life and fill the air with something harmonious and enlivening. She sits up. That sour taste washes over her tongue and gums again. She needs to pee again. She sits up, waking from this disturbing dream and pads down the landing to the bathroom. When she has peed, she washes her hands and splashes tepid water on her face. She cleans her teeth, spitting the sour taste into the green glass bowl so carefully mounted on the black Welsh slate shelf. She dries her face with a fluffy white towel that smells, very faintly, of calming lavender. Sylvie doesn’t like any change to her routine – she is a creature of fastidious habit and knows that sleep is not likely now. She decides to run and goes back to her bedroom to dress. The vest and knickers she slept in are dropped into the laundry basket, she pulls on joggers and a T-shirt and she heads downstairs, counting the fifteen steps as she descends. At the bottom she turns left to open the dining room door.
Except there is no door, just a passageway, identical to the landing leading to the bathroom upstairs.
Sylvie’s heart starts beating just a little faster. She turns around and goes back upstairs, not bothering to count the steps as she goes. Oh Sylvie, see how easily your habits fall apart.
In her bedroom, the alarm radio tells her it is five a.m., two hours before it will creep into life and fill the air with something harmonious and enlivening. Sylvie opens the curtains – heavy velvet drapes that feel sandpaper rough against her smooth perfectly manicured hands.
Outside is dark. A pitch-black dark so thick that she can’t see anything. No streetlights, no irritatingly tawdry twenty-four-hour fairy lights in next door’s garden. No moon, no stars. The dark sucks heat from her body.
Sylvie puts on her reflective running top and heads downstairs. Sylvie, you’ve forgotten to count again. Maybe there were only fourteen steps?
The same landing to her left. She turns right and goes into her bedroom. Sylvie sees that she hasn’t made the bed or opened the curtains. She plumps the goose down pillows. Carefully smooths the high-count cotton white sheets. Folds the beautiful quilt. The alarm radio tells her it is five a.m., two hours before it will creep into life and fill the air with something harmonious and enlivening.