"I knew what was behind me as I walked to try and get away. Kidman, like some furious banshee. Fiery hair blowing in the wind and her dress billowing around her. Hair like snakes and eyes like dark pits. Breasts pushed forward, indomitable and untouchable. Face set like something permanently carved in marble and protected by curators. An idea pursuing me. An idea that didn’t exist. A sprite. A nymph, a brownie. A delusion. A myth, most certainly. But one of my own design"
I don’t know when, but at some point I’m sure that a white light ghosted by on the other side of the window behind me.
Who does it seek out, this dead, dropped presence? And what does it want from what it seeks? Do other similar dead presences haunt this world, haunting the night skies above our heads? When we’re not fully aware of this world and when our senses are dulled? That sheen of light that we sense behind us as we walk in the dark – is it a streetlight, a headlight, a light from a window? Or is it a dead aura, a hanging presence in the sky above, just glimpsed between those buildings, momentarily glimpsed between those trees, vaguely detected far off in the distance just to one side of that church’s steeple? And there, on the opposite side of the sky from where the sun is setting, suspended above that roof? Or there, just above that hill? Could that be a human form, shining white, but with a black face that reveals no form, no detail, no soul? And why does it just hang there? Is it looking at you? Could it be looking at you? What does it want? Is it moving? Did it move just then?
"Who does it seek out, this dead, dropped presence? And what does it want from what it seeks? Do other similar dead presences haunt this world, haunting the night skies above our heads? When we’re not fully aware of this world and when our senses are dulled? That sheen of light that we sense behind us as we walk in the dark – is it a streetlight, a headlight, a light from a window? Or is it a dead aura, a hanging presence in the sky above"
As I sat there on the floor, I could see such dead apparitions all across the world, everywhere drawn to emptiness. Smelling it out and hanging above it in the night, staring coldly and blankly, and drawing it all into itself. The cash machine mugging with its vicious threats and its drawn weapons. The gang consuming pills and booze on the street as they watch with avarice the women walking by. The man sitting in his flat, hands rung-out and brow tight, staring at the names of all the people who have wronged him. The bombers pulling their ingredients together in between prayers to the elevated image of their own reflected hatred. The one car speeding through its second red light, the one driver intent on suicide, empty of any thought for others: “My hurt is everything,” he thinks, “it is all that matters”. The woman thinking of all the moments in one day and wondering how to fill them up, how to enact something physical within them, while the future lies dead at her feet, and while everything inside echoes dull and hollow. The buying and selling and hoarding, the buying and selling and returning and exchanging, the buying and selling and throwing away and buying again. The knowledge of things, of bits, of stuff, of nonsense. The gun. The invasion. The rhetoric. The locked door. The overflowing bin. The acerbic lie. The empty fatness and the empty thinness. The empty muscle. The empty face. The dead hands. All of it. All of it the dead ghost-men hang over and feast on, ingesting ever more deadness. Our empty world mirroring theirs.
At some point it became morning. Morning! Delicious morning! The universe saw a spark and it blew on it. James lay asleep on my bed like an empty cave, and I lay there beside him. I felt the components of me scattered into pieces. But the pieces weren't there in the room – the dead, dropped presences would have eaten them up in the night. Somewhere up in space, in the bleak void, parts of my soul now floated in their natural, lifeless home.
I sneaked out of the bed and away from him. After all, who was he? What did I know of him? He was a stranger, lying large and heavy and heaving with unknown life, right there beside me, and I had to get away from him.
My mouth was horribly dry and distasteful, my stomach queasy, and my head felt bruised inside. How much exactly had I drunk the night before? I had absolutely no idea.
But that was not the question that I really needed an answer to. That was not why I had to get out of bed. Yes, I needed to get away from this ‘James’ person, but I also had something else to do. I threw a dressing gown on and a pair of slippers and went out of my suite of rooms and into the main hallway of Mordan House. I looked everywhere, it seemed. Everywhere logical, at least. No sign. Then I glanced out of a window to the front of the house. There she was: close to the trees on the other side of the driveway.
"I felt the components of me scattered into pieces. But the pieces weren't there in the room – the dead, dropped presences would have eaten them up in the night. Somewhere up in space, in the bleak void, parts of my soul now floated in their natural, lifeless home"
I went outside and walked over to her, my arms folded – not indignantly but self-consciously – only just holding together the great fragility I felt inside. Soon, I was standing behind her and she remained with her back to me.
“How could you do that? Why did I let you do that? That was my moment. My moment to be me. And it became your moment. It shouldn’t have been your moment. How could you do it to me?”
I said the words in a slow and measured manner. The emotion in my voice was restrained. The words were conceived and executed so as to get an answer, not a response.
But Kidman responded and answered in a way I had not anticipated. She spun round so quickly that I found myself stepping back. Her voice had that sing-song quality that it took on from time to time, jovial but laced with sparks that could ignite the world around it at any moment. In her eyes, something demonic smouldered.
“Well, what exactly could I do? When I entered the room, there it was, extended like a pirate’s plank – he wanted action, and action was what he needed from you. But you weren’t exactly going to give it to him, Steph, were you? No man wants to be screwed as if he’s a character in a Walt Disney movie! That's all you'd have given him ..."
I didn't know how to respond. Again I was on the back-foot, as I had been the previous night, and I felt my mind was racing to catch up with what she was saying.
“… and did I feel like a hungry shark as I circled below that plank, waiting for food! Here’s what we did in bed, Steph. Listen, you’ll like this. I started off by giving him a minky, but it went a bit wrong and he ended up with sneek all over his polty. Should have used the Hepelpfaft technique! Then we did the Auntie’s Hoover. Oh, oddly he likes a bit of General Lee on his face – never sure of that in a man! Also – now, this will interest you – he liked giving my schubin a right good dose of milp by using his linny-loo on the bossa-mobleys! You might want to remember that, but keep your bossa-mobleys pretty tight or the wenf goes everywhere! Jeez, show me a woman who doesn’t despise getting her face full of wenf! Then we finished up doing the Poor Man’s Tractor! One of my personal favourites! You should thank me for it. I gave him a good time ...”
To my mind, she just didn’t seem to stop – just endless descriptions of her sexual exploits with my man. I felt as if I was somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. Birds flew overhead and the trees swayed behind Kidman, and I wasn’t sure where they ended and I began.
“… Oh, of course, you do understand that he’ll never date you, don’t you.”
I looked at her quizzically. No, I didn’t understand.
“Oh, Steph! You had sex with him straight away! Okay you were drunk, but he’ll not want anything to do with you. He shouldn’t have had sex with you, really. Not in your condition. But I didn’t see you complaining! But as a strategy to win a man over, it’s about as appealing as a face full of wenf!”
She was right. It was all ridiculous. What had I done? How was any of this a foundation for a relationship? And I felt love for him too. Actual love. But what would he feel for me now? Actual contempt and disgust.
"To my mind, she just didn’t seem to stop – just endless descriptions of her sexual exploits with my man. I felt as if I was somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. Birds flew overhead and the trees swayed behind Kidman, and I wasn’t sure where they ended and I began"
I repeated the only question that was in my mind, this time though I wanted a reaction: “How could you do it to me?”
Yes, I felt it was all Kidman’s fault. All I could feel was my own position. My own shame and my own uncertainty, and her role in it all. I looked at her. I know my face was pathetic. Full of self-pity. Full of empty scratching, clawing for help from someone, anyone. No, not anyone! Clawing for help from Kidman. As, it seemed, I had been doing for so long. So long.
But Kidman’s face was different. Physically, she loomed larger and her face was piercing: her eyes, her nose, her eyebrows, they seemed to be leaning towards me with sharpness and a sense of intent.
“How could I do it to you?” she asked, her tone incredulous.
There was something she was intent on saying. I could feel it rising to the surface. What was it? Whatever it was, it was coming. And it had always been there. These words, just under the surface of her. What were they? I could vaguely remember something. Something about Kidman. What was it? What were the words? What did she want to know? What was it I had spent all of my time in this house trying not to think about? A bird swooped by and a branch dived down in the wind. Which was me? The bird? The branch? This empty thing standing here before the looming presence of Kidman?
Then she asked it: “How could you stand outside my house every day for months?”
House? House? Yes, there had been a house. Sometime. Somewhere. I seemed to remember a house. Whose house was it though?
"How could you stand there, day after day? How could you follow my car? How could you haunt every step I made? How could you send those letters? How could you send those emails? How could you terrify me? How could you terrify my family? Even when we travelled to another country, you'd still be there! How could you be so crazy? How could you let yourself get so damned crazy?”
"There was something she was intent on saying. I could feel it rising to the surface. What was it? Whatever it was, it was coming. And it had always been there. These words, just under the surface of her. What were they? I could vaguely remember something. Something about Kidman. What was it? What were the words? What did she want to know? What was it I had spent all of my time in this house trying not to think about?"
Yes, I was remembering some of this. I could see me standing outside of a house. Was that Kidman’s house? And flights. I remembered those. And I think I remembered the driving too. I felt sick. Disgust. Anxiety.
“How could you make my life a misery? You made me sick. I had sores on my face. My hair was limp and dry. I lost weight. I was depressed. I was scared to go out. I bit my nails - bit them! I'd rip off my false nails so that I could gnaw away at them for some relief from the fear of you! Why did I have to get lawyers involved? Why did I have to get a restraining order? Why did I have to stand up in court and tell them how you were destroying my peace of mind? Clawing your way into my world, my emotions, my fears, my family. Why did you scare me right down to the bone? Why would you do that?”
The answer came before I’d even thought if what I was saying was true. “I was sick. I was unhappy. I thought you could help. I got help eventually. From a doctor. I’m much better now. Much better. All of that is … not even a memory, quite, now.”
Yes, my words were all true. But the truth came from some deep place inside that I wasn’t aware of. Memories were speaking without me being able to quite see them. They were so small as they came out of me.
“Yes,” I said quietly, “I’m much better now.”
And I found myself starting to walk away, in the direction of the Clansman mountain, still hugging my sides, my face looking at the ground, my mind making great turns but turning as if on a pinhead. The last thing I saw though was Kidman’s face, the anger and venom in it, the indignation, the horror that she felt towards me. I could walk away, but that wasn’t the same as getting away.
“You feel better? Well, good for you! Good for you! Am I better? Will I ever be better? How do I recover from being stalked by someone like you? Yes, Stephanie Fey, stalked! You stalked someone who doesn’t exist! It was just a flattened image of a person – just an illusion – and you followed me and haunted me and demanded that I be what I can never be, what I don’t want to be! An idea of a person! I’m not responsible for that idea! It’s just bits of a person joined together. Because I sleep under a quilt, does that make me a quilt? Am I not still a complex, multi-faceted human being? The world doesn’t want me to be real! People can barely handle the idea of reality existing within the people they claim to know and love! They don’t want it from their stars, their celebrities! And then you pursue me demanding that I be what you’ve created! Because you, in your sickness, need me to be it! If you want an ideal, Stephanie Fey, then you be it! Accept responsibility for your own dreams and your own inadequacies! And leave me and my family alone! Leave my life alone! Accept you don’t know it, you’ll never know it, and you’ll never be a part of it! Because it only exists for me! Do you hear me, you sick, stalking, uncontrollable bitch? Do you? Get your own life and keep the hell out of mine, you sicko!”
Did I hear her? I certainly heard something. It was a car. James’s car. And it was leaving. Kidman was right. He wouldn't countenance a relationship of any kind. I stopped to watch him leave and then I turned away to continue walking, trying to get away from Kidman. Or perhaps from myself.
"The last thing I saw though was Kidman’s face, the anger and venom in it, the indignation, the horror that she felt towards me. I could walk away, but that wasn’t the same as getting away"
“I’m asking if you hear me? When will people like you ever hear?” she called.
I heard. And I saw. Yes, there had been a house and me standing outside of it. That was after Philip. I wasn’t quite myself then. I wasn’t right. I knew I wasn’t right. I needed a friend. I needed someone strong to help me through it. Someone who had herself been through so much and come out the other side. Someone who was like a goddess. Not me. I couldn’t be that for myself. But Kidman, I thought, could be it for me. Yes, there had been a house, and a car, and journeys overseas, letters, emails, endless following of her and her family, screaming in the street, ugly scenes, a court appearance and a restraint order. Publicity. Humiliation. Therapy. No, I hadn’t quite been myself. Had I really done all of that? Did I really plague her like that? Was that really me?
I knew what was behind me as I walked to try and get away. Kidman, like some furious banshee. Fiery hair blowing in the wind and her dress billowing around her. Hair like snakes and eyes like dark pits. Breasts pushed forward, indomitable and untouchable. Face set like something permanently carved in marble and protected by curators. An idea pursuing me. An idea that didn’t exist. A sprite. A nymph, a brownie. A delusion. A myth, most certainly. But one of my own design. Kidman’s haunting of me was just my own haunting of myself. Huh! Clever line! Clever notion! But it didn’t make it go away!
Kidman again. But her voice was suddenly different. Not hollering and filled with frustration and rage. So I did stop. And I looked round at her. She was calm now. Still billowing, but the face was softer. I yearned for it, even as I knew it was just a mixture of a basic human template with make-up and graphics and marketing and technical wizardry and popular mythology, giving it that power and allure. Oh, and money-spinning entrepreneurialism, of course. Huh! Mustn’t forget that!
She said quite calmly: “Just remember this. When you finally come to face your demons – and maybe you will now – you don’t just do it inside, in a nebulous, vague way: one part of you questioning another part of you, like bits of cloud trying to interrogate and influence other bits of cloud. You do it with everything that you are. Changing yourself doesn’t just happen on the inside – it’s a real, physical act! Not ethereal. Not just some inner exercise carried out in the darkness of your own mind and emotions. Real! It takes place all around you, and with everything that you are!”
"She was calm now. Still billowing, but the face was softer. I yearned for it, even as I knew it was just a mixture of a basic human template with make-up and graphics and marketing and technical wizardry and popular mythology, giving it that power and allure. Oh, and money-spinning entrepreneurialism, of course. Huh! Mustn’t forget that!"
Was this to be my last glimpse of Kidman? And it was of her giving a little kindness. Some wisdom. Advice. Like a goddess. You know goddesses, those things that don’t exist but that we all crave for! And I turned away from the beautiful concept who was like a goddess but who wasn’t really a goddess at all. Just a concept.
"But I doubt you'll have the chance to change, Steph. The dead things are waiting to pluck you from the earth. Some day soon they will all descend to pluck you. And you'll be alone. Because I doubt you'll find the ability inside to change. Darkness will eat darkness."
The clouds seemed to roll ever so quickly and portentously above my head as I again turned away from this presence. I needed to hide and to think. The sky itself seemed to throb above me, as if the empty void was marshaling its forces, biding its time, its dead heaviness growing.
“Oh, Steph! Sorry, one last thing!” I turned back and looked once more at that face and that body of elegance and poise. For a second, there was that mischievous quality about her that I had come to know here at Mordan House.“I forgot to say that you’re mother asked me to say ‘hello’!” And she laughed, if not cackled, as she turned away. For my part, my face fell, my scowl returned and I looked after her suspiciously – in fact, long after the sound of her laughter had disappeared.
In the distance I could see Mordan House. Just me and it now – that was all there was. Yet it was so totally me, this house. Rooted to the earth. Stuck there. Empty of all ambition other than to feel differently about myself and my life. And these feelings were chilled by cold winds that found so many ways of getting inside. And all taking place within a home that had never ever been a home. And haunted by a dead presence that was intent on dragging the last embers of my life into extinguishing space. Yes, it had been a long time since I’d thought of killing myself. But, I suppose, deep inside, it had never really gone away. It had been hovering above me in dark rolling clouds all the time.
And that was Kidman’s gift to me: a beautiful delusion giving me the ugly truth of me. I knew now that she wasn’t anything that concurred with my mental image of her. And, for the first time since my life had started to go horribly wrong, I could see my life – including all the things I’d tried to hide. It ached. Every bit of it. It was horrible! What a horrible life! It was so horrible I couldn’t even arouse any tears for it! And it was all so lonely! Especially now without Kidman in it. How would I survive without the image of her? All I could do was imagine flying overhead and beating my wings, and rustling my leaves as another cold breeze moved me, and wonder who I am and where the hell I was.
Next instalment: 54. Breaking a Promise – Part Two