"Before I knew it, I had come to rest again at the bottom of another embankment, a hard rock against the side of my head. Aware of the abrasion from this second fall, I was however more concerned about the astronaut, and my eyes darted feverishly around me to see where he lay. Then I knew that light again, this time from the other side of a group of wavering trees. I screamed, I know"
My arms flailed, my legs kicked out, my head buckled painfully as the image of the dead astronaut disappeared from my eyes and I realised that the ground had disappeared from beneath my feet.
Before I knew it, I had come to rest again at the bottom of another embankment, a hard rock against the side of my head. Aware of the abrasion from this second fall, I was however more concerned about the astronaut, and my eyes darted feverishly around me to see where he lay. Then I knew that light again, this time from the other side of a group of wavering trees. I screamed, I know. I know also that I hunched up my legs and looked about for a way to escape. I know also that I suddenly heard a voice saying: “Come over here, quickly, quickly to take shelter, hurry, come on, yes you’re nearly there, now come inside.”
I moved without thinking. This was the voice of safety and I needn’t think about it or question it. It was not dead hands. It was not a dead face inside a visor that was like a great hole. It seemed seconds before I was inside the car, its headlamps appearing to dispel the astronaut’s light.
The speaker was an elderly woman. She handed me a towel and looked at my dishevelled and bedraggled form as if I had been the one who had fallen from space. As she looked at me, I glanced at myself. I saw that I was caked with mud and as soaked as if I had been thrown into a lake. I felt a throbbing at the back of my head from the second fall. I felt the cold and ruined clothes around me like a horrible and infected skin, and I felt my lungs heaving up and down as I tried to soothe my breathing.
The woman beside me was in her sixties. That was the next thing that I noticed, after the soothing quality of her voice as I’d heard it coaxing me towards her. She had two distinct eyebrows: one that was down and close to her eye, and that looked at me tenderly and with concern; the other one was raised in awe, dazed by my appearance. This dual quality was also present in her words: “Well, that was a wee downpour. Don’t you think? Something nice for the flowers. You look as if you had a downpour all to yourself!” You see what I mean? The first part of the sentence consoling and gentle, the second part barbed - and with no real transition between the two parts!
I found it hard to conceive an answer. Instead I breathed out a kind of exhalation of agreement and confusion. I wriggled, feeling sticky and uncomfortable. Underneath me, I realised, was an open newspaper and it rustled as I moved.
“That will help absorb the wetness for you.” Soothing. “No point in destroying nice upholstery when there’s protection at hand.” Barbed.
Yes, I was dirty. No, filthy. And I was starting to smell the rainwater and mud. Even I was a little disgusted by me.
"She had the upper hand as well as the upper eyebrow. What could a stinking, soaked, mud-caked American say in her defence to a woman in a flashy rain-mac with a warm car and a flask of something hot! All I could do was take a good eyebrow lashing!"
I could now see that the woman wore an expensive waterproof coat. If she’d been caught in the storm then she looked as if each drop had swerved away from her respectfully. I could see a couple of drops here and there but that was about it. She started to unscrew the top of a flask as I finally found some words.
“I’m sorry. I fell. Something frightened me and I fell. Goodness, just look at me.” My final words trailed off, embarrassed. I was looking down at myself and I was ashamed. My hand went up to touch my hair and I felt it hanging limp even as drops of water kept dripping down my face.
“Oh, it sounds as if you’re a bonnie tourist come to visit these shores from across the great pond, am I right?” I smiled. She said the line with such sweet surprise and fondness. All lower eyebrow stuff. “What a shame you left your intelligence back home, eh! But, in your country, you fair spread the cleverness out pretty thin, so I hear!” Raised eyebrow bitch, I thought.
She had the upper hand as well as the upper eyebrow. What could a stinking, soaked, mud-caked American say in her defence to a woman in a flashy rain-mac with a warm car and a flask of something hot! All I could do was take a good eyebrow lashing!
Suddenly she looked at me more quizzically than before as if something had just occurred to her.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Aren’t you the homeless girl who lives in a car! I’ve seen you park and sleep outside of my house before! Better not let the police see you doing that they’ll arrest you or something. You should hunch down a bit more when you’re bedding down. Sometimes I can see your feet, dearie!” Then she kind of giggled to take the edge off her warning.
Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. Twitching curtains. This was the woman in the neighbouring town with the twitching curtains. It had been about three times that I had slept in my car on her street. She must have twitched those curtains each and every time!
I tried to explain. “No, no, I don’t live in my car …”
“You know,” she continued, laying a gentle hand on my arm, “feel free to knock my door if you want like some water to brush your teeth, or something. Do you brush your teeth? Not often I suppose! But there’s always mountain streams - they’ll suit you nicely! You can even stand inside the door, I’ll just put a bit of old newspaper down. Doesn’t bother me!”
“Really, I do have a place to …” I should have been putting up a robust defence, I know. But I hadn’t the energy and the different eyebrows were hypnotising me into submission and silence.
“Oh, poor, poor you! My heart just so completely goes out to you!” she said, eyebrow crestfallen and conciliatory. “I suppose you have to wear such masculine clothes for practical reasons! What’s the point in heels and nice little tops when you’re constantly elbow-deep in bins looking for scraps, I suppose!” I think the term ‘arched, pointed, foolish eyebrow-raising whore’ went through my head. Can’t quite recall word for word.
My house was close-by though. It suddenly occurred to me that I was near to Mordan House. Why was I sitting here? I didn’t need to be! I’m sure she was still talking as she poured tea into a plastic beaker. Something about getting a nice warm wash at her place. Lovely, delightful ageing little woman! Then something about how surprised the garden hose would be when she put warm soapy water through it as I stood naked on her patio. Stupid old crinkle-arsed, grave-grabbing hooker, I thought. She was like more rain, bombarding me without respite! And eyebrowing me without let-up.
“Thank you,” I mumbled aloofly, not sure what I was thanking her for. I grabbed the car handle and I felt the outside blow on my coldness all over.
As I stepped out of the car I heard the woman say something like: “Richer pickings here I guess than in the drug-infested, gang-ridden neighbourhoods of Detroit! Not much crack here though. Ah, shame! You must really miss the crack!”
As I swung the door shut I heard her words fade: “Ring the bell anytime. I’m Mrs Ormsley. Come in for a cuddle. I’ll just put old paper round me first, it’ll be no bother.”
There was a rustling coming from me as I walked. The newspaper I'd been sitting on in her car! It had stuck to me! The day was a disaster! How deadly, how despicable it had all been! There was one thing I could do though. Get that blasted hat out of the bin! I crudely threw the plastic lid of the wheelie bin back and peered inside. Nothing obvious. Damn it! No, I thought, not another failure! So I pushed up my wet sleeves and began to pick my way through the little tied bags of old food on the surface. Then I pushed them a little higher and started to delve around frantically to feel the hat’s fabric. I was frustrated. Close to tears. Desperate for a meagre little ribbon of success to adorn the day.
"There was a rustling coming from me as I walked. The newspaper I'd been sitting on in her car! It had stuck to me! The day was a disaster! How deadly, how despicable it had all been! There was one thing I could do though. Get that blasted hat out of the bin! I crudely threw the plastic lid of the wheelie bin back and peered inside"
Then the sound of wheels on gravel. Mrs Ormsley’s car slowed as she drove past the masculine-dressed female vagrant hunting through another bin! She put one hand up to her mouth and motioned as if brushing her teeth - she was reminding me. I softened towards her slightly and that considerate brow. Then she screwed-up her face and stuck her tongue over her front teeth as if they were rotten, and she shook her head at me warning me of the dangers of not brushing. ‘Dirty old rancid deflowered prostitute cow’, I thought. Or something of that ilk. And my face took on a petulant and condescending sneer in her direction. As she drove away I felt the scanty, pathetic, little flimsy hat arrive under my fingers. Having lost interest, I let go and left it where it lay.
Back inside Mordan House, I was too stunned to cry. Too cold. Too wet. I applied some care and attention to the graze beneath my hair and bathed for over an hour. All the time I endeavoured not to think. Not to think. About anything. Nothing at all. Just to keep it all back. All my foolishness. All far away from my mind. As far as possible. Far enough that I might sleep well all through the night. Right through until morning.
I did. Although the sleep seemed like a very small victory indeed.