“I looked up and round as I hurried on, wondering if I might see the dead astronaut drop. Had she summoned him? Was he on his way to grab me? Pluck me? Bushes seemed to amble like muscular horrors, tree trunks leaned down and over me with dark menace, delighting in the onset of terror”I quickly got dressed after I saw Kidman's mood change, my eyes and my mind staying fixed solely on the task at hand, even though I could feel her seething presence behind me everywhere I moved.
I loosely tied back my hair, aware that I looked a fright and hadn’t washed or preened myself in any way. I put down the key to the basement somewhere – on a table or something, I wasn’t too bothered where – and with flat black shoes and my heavy coat on, with my copy of Charlotte Bronte's Villette tucked under my arm, I aimed hurriedly for the front door. I felt I desperately needed to get away from this particular Kidman. Whatever kind she was.
There was trepidation in me but my own anger was still there too, and the two feelings took turns at leaning forward then stumbling back, again and again – this inner dance fuelling my physical progress towards the door in a staggered, confused fashion.
Outside, the snow was all gone save for some resistant clumps where my car wheels had forced it into little banks. The sky above was wan and dismal looking, forming a canopy of unperforated cloud right across the sky. Here and there, patches of white gleam were visible, the sun clearly smothered away somewhere under the deep, heavy covers of cloud.
I didn’t have the energy to climb the Clansman – even the mild foothills were too much for my wasted lungs. I opted instead for a soothing, invigorating stroll round the perimeter of Mordan House and its land. First of all it was the gravel of the driveway that I walked on, then onto a dirt track dappled with puddles due to recent drizzles of rain and melted snow. The dirt track skirted round to the back of the house, running on the other side of a wall that framed the house’s small garden area. The wall was taller than me and edged with a grass verge. It was old and misshapen. Weeds decked it, and bushes entangled with the weeds giving it a wild and forlorn appearance.
From time to time as I walked I would hear the bushes rustle and this heightened my unease. I clutched my copy of Villette tightly in my hand, up close against my breast. A quick glance round, then a quickening of pace.
"I clutched my copy of Villette tightly in my hand, up close against my breast"
My main preoccupation was Kidman. How could I have felt about her the way I did before I arrived in Mordan House? How could I have been such a fan of hers for years? How could I have wanted to be like her? To want her to play me in a movie of my exploits? This endlessly posturing freak show! This empty spectacle!
“Posturing freak show? Empty spectacle?”
The sound of her voice came from behind me, yet seemed slightly elevated, and I half-expected to see her hovering in the air like a dead astronaut. But when I looked round, there she was standing on top of the wall, towering above me. I’m not sure what it was that made her appear to me so terrifying and formidable. Maybe it was her posture in that long, sleek dress and the way she stood aloft the high wall with such confidence and stature. Or maybe it was the blood-red look of anger that shot from her eyes, along her nose, across the divide between us and into me. Perhaps it was the tone in her voice – alive and pointed, visceral, unlike anything I’d heard from her before. Whatever it was – one, some or all of these things – I found myself stepping back from her.
“How dare you! How dare you say such things about me! Me! Who am I to you anyway? Tell me!”
I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t quite know what she meant. What was she looking for from me? What answer was I looking to give? One that was an answer of honesty or one of appeasement?
“Who am I? Who am I to you?” she demanded again.
I continued to step back as I was scared to turn my back on her. She started, however, to move along the wall, moving towards me; walking like a lioness, confident and proud, almost floating in that long dress. The trees in the background waved in the breeze, but as if whipped up by her anger, and the darkened windows of Mordan House stared on like a brooding audience. I felt alone, even nature having turned against me.
"I’m not sure what it was that made her appear to me so terrifying and formidable. Maybe it was her posture in that long, sleek dress and the way she stood aloft the high wall with such confidence and stature – or maybe it was the blood-red look of anger that shot from her eyes, along her nose, across the divide between us and into me"
“Kidman! That’s all I am to you! Kidman! A concept of your own making and that you cling to, no matter what! And then you tell me that you despise the very concept that you yourself created! What is there about your idea of me that's not been created by you? Strong Kidman! Resilient Kidman! Kind, warm-hearted Kidman!”
I finally turned away, my head down, my steps fast. I could still hear her words as she progressed along the wall, resounding across the air and through the trees.
“What you demand from me is to be the empty concept that you want me to be, that you believe you need me to be! I can never get away from it! I struggle to just be Nicole. because of your Kidman! The last thing you want is Nicole! You could never handle Nicole! It would be too complicated, too layered, too contradictory for you! Kidman is all you can handle and then you throw it back at me! You make me into a flat two-dimensional notion and then you slam the book shut on that notion and rubbish it, trash it! Why? Because you can’t be it! You can’t be what you made, what you dream of, so you hurl insults at someone who was never that notion in the first place! Rubbish me? Trash me? I’m not even in the equation! I’m not even here!”
We were nearing the end of the wall, she would have to stop at the end or come down to my level. I hastened my steps. Would she take to the air then? Would she fly then in pursuit of me?
“Who are you without me? I know who I am without you! I’m me! Free of your definition, your straight-jacket, your clumsy, tired, empty, vacuous concept that endlessly tries to drag me out of reality and into your void – your attempts to make me as empty and lifeless and superficial as you are! Without you, I might actually just be me!”
Then she began to call out in a different way, but not to me. To someone or something else.
“Dead astronaut, take her! Come down and pluck her! Take her! Feast on her! It's all she's good for!"
Walk, Stephanie, walk! Don’t turn around. No, do not turn around! My heart raced, my throat was tight like there were fingers inside seizing and constricting it.
“Pluck her!” I heard her call out again, her voice twisted and possessed. This time I knew she was above me and I clutched my head with both hands, my copy of Villette falling to the ground.
"Walk, Stephanie, walk! Don’t turn around. No, do not turn around! My heart raced, my throat was tight like there were fingers inside seizing and constricting it"
I could hear her, yet the more I walked the more I could hear the sound of my own feet on the ground as I rustled leaves and branches. This rustling sound added to my worries. I looked up and round as I hurried on, wondering if I might see the dead astronaut drop. Had she summoned him? Was he on his way to grab me? Pluck me? Bushes seemed to amble like muscular horrors, tree trunks leaned down and over me with dark menace, delighting in the onset of terror.
Before I knew it, I came out of the woods and found myself, unexpectedly, at the front of Mordan House. The clouds had turned white with just a touch of grey and the house looked without mood – just another big old building. And I found that my breathing was free and easy, my lungs open and without any discomfort or rasp, or frailty in my muscles. I stood still, closed my eyes for a second and enjoyed the luxury and joy of breathing.
That night, inside my suite of rooms, I sat and knitted, soft music playing in the background to try and soothe my mood. Yet all I could hear through the sweep of orchestral strings and the little clicks of the knitting needles, was Kidman, somewhere upstairs, sobbing loudly and uncontrollably.
And for the first time since she’d tumbled out, or down, or whatever it was she did to become so apparent in my life, I quite liked her. She was just like me, full of depth and illusion, full to the brim with the stuff of life and the stuff of death. Just another person full of empty concepts, and with a heart within it all that beat against the limiting parameters of every superficial notion, loudly and uncontrollably. More often than not, in sobs.