"The realisation came quickly that the song wasn’t just in my head, but also coming from the house"
Time to conclude my recollections of the astronaut and bring things up to the present day. Deep breath. Okay, here goes.
I started jogging. Yes, in a Scottish winter! Proper jogging too - not the running, jumping and falling down the side of a damn mountain stuff of before. That’s right, jogging with all the gear on. When you have so much delicious countryside around you, then it almost seems crazy not to. But, there again, when squirrels, deer and rabbits stop what they’re doing, and look at you with that aloof stare that seems to say “And the purpose of that is what exactly?” then you begin to suspect that the real craziness lies in what you’re doing! The way to deal with that feeling? Run away from it. Run fast, run true and keep on running! Look at me, look at me! I’m a slightly hippy gazelle!
Oh, and of course there are so many animals out at this time of year, aren't there, Steph! I hear you, dearest reader. But, listen, they come out when they hear me go by. They break off their big ol' sleep just to have a squint and a snigger!
The late afternoons were great for running; the mornings blustery and with a gritty, piercing cold that swirled its fog into my lungs, making me cough and wheeze. With the cold, distant sun lowering in the afternoons, so that its rays streaked and flashed through the trees and through the clouds, the countryside around me and the Clansman took on a silvery tinge that, at times, turned to flame. In essence, this world seemed balanced: waves of meager light mitigated by waves of coldness, and all the colours of the day presented in a perfect light that left no combination of the universe’s palette untouched and unpresented. Except darkness, blackness – only that element of the world’s character was nowhere to be seen. Barred! Banished, so it was! And in response, I breathed. And how I breathed! At those moments, the world has never seemed to me more perfect. And I have never felt more comfortable within it. Not bowed. Not dimmed in the slightest.
The odd afternoon shower would roll by though. On those days, the brightness would step aside quickly and make way for a disconsolate and broody greyness. If I was out jogging on those occasions when the sky would suddenly flip its colour chart and its character, then it was a matter of getting back to the house as quickly as possible. Especially if my run had taken me part of the way up the mountain; the pathways could turn muddy and slippery, fast-moving rivulets opening up in minutes, and the way home would rapidly become treacherous. I certainly had memories of that!
One afternoon, just a couple of days ago, the sky turned in such a way. My mind was wandering through a collection of memories that drifted into fantasies as I ran, and I think I was late to realise that something in the sky above me had rebelled, and that ominous, bulging, solemn grey clouds had at some point terrified the daylight to an early bed.
I was about a mile from home, but on a path that I was familiar with, so although I turned instantly for home I was not overly concerned. The first tiny drops began to fall when I arrived at the front of Mordan House and I knew that I would have time for some warm-down exercises before it came on heavy. The I realised that it wasn't rain, but snow that was falling. The flakes descended like great white flies and buzzed around me, stinging my eyes and delivering little pinprick stabs to my nose. As I stretched and pulled and prissied about like a poor man’s ballerina, I enjoyed taking in how the day around me was changing. For all the dark skies above me, the world still seemed bright all of a sudden, as if there was a window in the world somewhere that was still letting in sunlight. I looked up momentarily and saw the millions of flakes falling everywhere like little astronauts.
"It was only then that I shivered and felt as if I had swallowed something caustic and razor-sharp. It was ‘Catch a Falling Star’. The realisation came quickly that the song wasn’t just in my head, but also coming from the house"
I realised then that I had a song in my head that had been there for quite some time – probably since I had stopped daydreaming on the side of the mountain and turned to head for home. How strange! It had played itself out in my head with no opinion at all being made by my thoughts – it was only then that I shivered and felt as if I had swallowed something caustic and razor-sharp. It was ‘Catch a Falling Star’. The realisation came quickly that the song wasn’t just in my head, but also coming from the house.
I froze and my mind emptied of everything. Only the evidence of my senses was allowed in for analysis. The house seemed to be holding its breath and averting its gaze from me – only the slight, isolated song from within seemed directed towards me.
As I listened, completely lost as to how to respond, I felt the snow come on stronger. There seemed nowhere else for me to go except inside the house. My car was there, but the key to it was inside the house. It was a clear but limited choice: stand outside, having no idea how wet and cold with snow I would get, or go inside, having no idea what awaited me. I felt the wind pick up and it cast a cloak of snow into my face and for a moment I couldn't open my eyes. I went up to the front door of the house; but the doorway gave me limited shelter from the snow. But as I looked down at the snow beginning to stick to me and amass, I decided it was time to at least enter the hallway.
Once inside, I stood just behind the front door and listened. In the distance, from way upstairs, I could hear the song still playing. I could also tell that it was a recording and not, for example, some intruder singing as he stole – if any thieves in the world are disposed to do such things! Yet everything else was still and peaceful-looking. There appeared no threat at all – in fact, the house appeared oddly inviting and hospitable. This may have been an illusion brought on by the fact that it was still daylight outside – whatever the reason, I was thankful for it. One other thought came with this realisation: without fear I was less inclined to be affected by my asthma. If there was ever a time for me to be brave and explore what was happening in the house, then this was it. Events at night had taken the wind and courage right out of me. I had seen too much by night. But, by day, things might be different.
Not that I didn’t feel any trepidation at all. I did. And plenty. But it was masked as if by alcohol – muted as if a hand was pressed against it, partially stilling it, partially preventing outright fear or terror from invading. I felt it as if my uncertainty was contained within some actual person standing beside me, and I was aware of this person almost follow me, reluctantly. Someone? Lizzie perhaps. For that reason alone, because the fear didn’t seem like a part of me, I started to climb the stairs. And if you’re wondering why I was so stupid as to move towards the music, bearing in mind what had happened before, it was because I was feeling perfectly fine. Honestly. Really. No, please, believe me, it's true! It was the Imaginary Lizzie, the one walking beside me, who was terrified! And she was only following me because she didn’t want to be left on her own! Typical Dizzy Lizzie!
“There is no way we should be doing this!” the Imaginary Lizzie whispered fiercely.
“Shh! It’s fine. We’re just going to take a little look.”
“A little look? A little look where? At what? A little look right into the astronaut's black deadly eyes, you thick little bitch?”
I sighed and grimaced slightly. “No, a little look to see where the music is coming from. I want to know what room,” I told her as I climbed pretty confidently up the first flight of stairs.
“I can tell you that!” said the Imaginary Lizzie. “It’s coming from a spooky room! And no-one in their right mind should go in there – ever! Period! Unless they’re on their period! That’s the only time women are allowed to be wreckless, plain stupid and severely pissed-off, all at the same time! Oh, Jeez, you’re not, are you?”
I stopped momentarily. “No,” I answered tartly. “That was last week. Noww, here are your choices, Lizzie: stay with me and shut-up; go back and talk all you want.”
The Imaginary Lizzie rolled her eyes, then moaned at me with a silent mouth. And she was still doing this when I turned away and started back up the stairs.
Perhaps due to the changing sky outside, everything seemed a little darker all of a sudden. Not so doused in daylight, not so uncovered and gaudy. That wasn’t good, I thought. I glanced at the Imaginary Lizzie and she mouthed the words: “Did it just get darker?” I shrugged and carried on up the stairs.
With the stairwell darkening, the house’s atmosphere had changed slightly too. The face of friendliness had shifted, the muscles hardened and the brow knitted – the look of ease and conviviality that had induced me up the stairs had, it struck me, been a charade, a ploy to control me. From above, there was another hard whiplash sound of increasing snowfall churned by an increasing wind.
We were now climbing up to the second floor of the building. We had passed the floor that contained the room with the radio. I had only ever been up to the second floor once in the time I’d been living here. Everything seemed more dilapidated on this level of the house: the floorboards were more uneven, the wood more splintered and broken; the banister was rickety in places; old wallpaper vied with old paint for decorative supremacy, yet with busted plastering seeming to win the day; and daylight seemed to have quit long ago, taking all hint of shadow with it. Near the end of the one corridor of rooms that this floor contained, I noticed, for the first time, a break in the wall denoting a small flight of stairs leading up higher. It was hard to see, but my eyes seemed to have adjusted the higher we climbed through the house. The Imaginary Lizzie tapped me on the shoulder as she noticed that I was planning to move towards the small flight of stairs.
Breaking her vow of silence, she said: “You wouldn’t throw yourself under the wheels of a juggernaut just to see how it feels, so why would you go down there and open that door just to see how many demons are inside it, and how it will feel when they devour your innards with you still alive and kicking? Are you freaking mad? Are you freaking insane? Are you freaking losing it? If so, lose it on your own. This Imaginary Pal chooses life!”
"What was I? A little like starlight itself: not dazzling, but distant, and with a brightness that was almost shy, almost brittle – so brittle that at times people could be forgiven for thinking that I was falling. Was all of this about me? Was this the astronaut’s aim? To catch me, put me in his pocket and never let me fade away?"
I wasn’t listening. And I don’t know how much of it I did listen to. I was on the move. All I was aware of was that I was sure that the music was coming from the stairs at the end of the passage and that the Imaginary Lizzie had started singing John Lennon’s 'Imagine'. I glanced round at her. She was following me with her fingers in her ears, singing meaningfully, her eyelids flickering: “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky.”
I tutted and drew her a look that is untranslatable, but carries two year of emotional and psychological weight as well as baggage. She shunned it.
At the end of the corridor, the break in the wall gave way to three stairs leading to what could only be an attic-type room. The door was closed over.
The Imaginary Lizzie suddenly stopped singing: “You may say I’m a dreamer – ”
Why did she stop? All I could hear now was how clear the song was from the other side of the door: “Love may come and tap you on the shoulder some starless night,” said the words.
The song suddenly held me in thrall, it fascinated me. The jazzy, middle-of-the-road tone was off-set by a staccato bassline that had an air of foreboding about it, of expectation. The chorus began again, but now with backing singers echoing the main singer: “Catch a falling star and (catch a falling star and …) put it in your pocket, never let it fade away (never let it fade …)” – something dreamy in this style made me feel a tad drowsy and out of sorts.
I think that it was just as the door started to open that something began to form in my mind. Those words: ‘Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away’ – they had greater significance. What was I? A little like starlight itself: not dazzling, but distant, and with a brightness that was almost shy, almost brittle – so brittle that at times people could be forgiven for thinking that I was falling. Was all of this about me? Was this the astronaut’s aim? To catch me, put me in his pocket and never let me fade away?
At the same time, I realised that my hand was not on the door knob. There was no hand that I could see. Instaed, the dooor was opening from the inside.
Who started to run first? Me or the Imaginary Lizzie? I’m sure I heard her scream: “Run!” As I heard it, I realised that I was already behind her. Lizzie’s scream was like nothing I had ever heard from Lizzie before – but she was an Imaginary Lizzie, so she could be forgiven for acting out of character! To see her running in front of me as if death had grabbed her and she only had seconds to break free was bizarre also. For a second I glanced at her shoes. All I saw was a red flash and a high, thin and sharply pointed heel. Almost as soon as I had thought how inappropriate the footwear was for an ‘escaping the clutches of death’ kind of occasion, an ankle turned and one of the heels snapped in two. At that moment, the clutches of death ripped her out of the air and she flew past me. I turned back to look at her and heard her screaming my name over and over and over. All the while I was trying to remind myself that she was imaginary; yet something else kept asking if I was sure of that, if I wasn’t perhaps forgetting something? The last I saw of the Imaginary Lizzie was the sight of her being dragged back along the corridor towards the attic door by a force that was completely invisible to me, but that was inordinately powerful.
"It could have been her last breath of life that contained my name, except for the very last sight I had of her face. Again she mouthed words towards me. Out of that mouth came transistorised, flat, monophonic words: 'Your turn, now, Steph. It’s your turn.'”
“Steph! Steph! S-t-e-p-h!” she screamed with everything that was inside of her. It could have been her last breath of life that contained my name, except for the very last sight I had of her face. Again she mouthed words towards me. Out of that mouth came transistorised, flat, monophonic words: “Your turn, now, Steph. It’s your turn.”
Then her body was pulled violently round the far corner, up the small flight of stairs and she was gone.
I think the door slammed shut but I was running again by that time. And everything was masked by the sound of my own feet on the hard floorboards. All I wanted was to get out of the house. The front door was torn open and I heard it slam against the wall as I threw it out of my way and ran outside. I stopped running a few feet outside of the door, close to where my car was parked. Only then did I turn and look back at the house. But it was not the house that I saw, but the character of the day. The sun had returned and the clouds had disappeared. The air was completely still as if all wind had been packaged and sent out of the land. It was my first encounter with the strange phenomena of the house where everything appeared to be an illusion. As if the entire thing had been in my head. From beginning to end; from the first bars of the song to the last strident chord. I sat on the gravel, folded up my knees, placed my head in my hands and wondered how much I knew about myself and how much I recognised myself since I had arrived at this house. I didn’t realise that my hands were tugging at my hair until I looked at my fingers and saw thick strands laced round my knuckles.
Over and over, I thought. Over and over she had called my name. Over and over again. And where was the song? Where was the song now?
And that takes me up to today.
Hm, today. Quiet day, actually. Nothing much happened. Just endless snow. No astronaut. But what of tomorrow? What if there’s nothing to write tomorrow? What if there’s never anything else to say about all of this ever again?
Well, if that turns out to be true, then I’ve got this house back – and this house might start to become a home of sorts.
If that happens, then good-bye! And hey, good riddance to all of you! Interlopers, eaves-droppers, nosey-parkers! And I’ll have my promise back again! In this day and age, too! One little value salvaged! Kidman will be pleased. I won't be looking her up on the internet anymore. And my promise not to do that ever again will be back in my hands.