"At Mordan House there would be one of two things waiting for me. My car alone in the driveway. Or two cars. Mine and Psychic Psusan’s red car. If her car was gone, then she’d left the place quite naturally and I would know that so much of all that was happening was just stuff going on in my head"
“Yes. Okay. Thank you,” I said.
What? Are you some kind of idiot? You said Yes? You said YES? I can’t believe what I’m reading here! Hush up, good reader, you don’t know what I’ve agreed to yet!
“A wise choice. Very wise indeed,” Mr McKay replied smiling.
Wise? Wise my eye! Wise right IN my frickin’ eye. Wise right in YOUR eye! If that’s wisdom, let wisdom hurt, especially when it’s fired into your eye! See how stupid wisdom feels? For cryin’ out loud, will you give it a frookin’ rest! It’s not what you think, okay!
“Under the circumstances, I have to agree with you,” I said to Mr McKay and tugged at my hair. Just one quick and strong yank. Then I gave a forced mock laugh and rolled my eyes as if dismayed at myself.
You wanna see eye-rollin’? Watch this, dumb fuck! See that? Rolled right the way round, then right out my frockin’ head and rolled across the carpet, so they did! Enough already, gentle reader! Enough. Already. Okay? Listen first; ‘go off on one’ later.
Huh. Later! Now. Listen. Here’s what happened.
We both got up from our sofas and went out to the hotel’s reception area. I stood away from Mr McKay as he made the necessary arrangements with the receptionist. The three envelopes were in my hand. One moment they felt like mine; the next moment I wanted to hand them back. At one point Mr McKay was signing something, I recall. Behind him and to one side of the reception, was another TV screen, the same news channel on show, the volume muted. On display was the selfsame rocket: New Prelude, readying itself for take-off. I knew the name instantly. I knew it as the name Philip had given to the spacecraft that had encountered the mysterious astronaut who had hammered on the side of the main airlock before it plunged into darkness. The spacecraft that was later found with three abandoned helmets inside. The spacecraft that I had looked up on the internet. The one that never existed. I couldn’t quite think straight. I couldn’t quite recall straight either.
A man walked into the reception at an angle. My head seemed to be slightly cocked to one side, so he seemed to me to be even more at an angle. He walked fast and with purpose.
Prelude. Man. Man at an angle. Writing stuff at reception. New Prelude. They’re all just distractions, Steph. Attempts to distract the readers from admitting that you agreed to go back to Mordan House for a month. Right? Wrong, you frunkin’ know-it-all, reader! I hadn’t agreed at all. You want to know what I’d actually agreed to? Let Mr McKay tell you.
Mr McKay came back over with a key and said to me: “There you go. Stay in the hotel tonight. Don’t think about Mordan House. Get a good night’s rest and decide in the morning.”
"I knew the name instantly. I knew it as the name Philip had given to the spacecraft that had encountered the mysterious astronaut who had hammered on the side of the main airlock before it plunged into darkness. The spacecraft that was later found with three abandoned helmets inside. The spacecraft that I had looked up on the internet. The one that never existed"
As he spoke, I found I was distracted and my hand didn’t instantly move to take the key.
Oh, sure. Man. Man at an angle. Prelude. New Prelude. No. By a hard hat. A what? And Sellotape. Now, you’ve lost us!
I recognised the man who had walked in at an angle to my vision. At first I was unsure. Then I recognised the hard hat and the spectacles held together by Sellotape. I had heard him talking to his friend about me and about Mud Woman in a café on the day I had returned to Mordan House after being in hospital. I recognised him completely by the time he got to the receptionist and I recognised the voice too as he spoke.
“Annie, have you seen Susan anywhere? Was she meeting you after you get off work?”
“She said she would. But she hasn’t shown yet. I’m off in ten minutes. She’d usually be here waiting for me by now. You not seen her, Wullie?” asked the receptionist.
“No,” said Wullie looking down at the floor and biting on his lip. “My ma’s still got the half-child. Susan would usually have picked her up by now. She said she had some psychic reading to do, but I don’t know where.”
“Well, she never mentioned it to me,” said the receptionist. “She’s not one for being late though, your Susan. Try her mobile.”
“Tried it. No answer. And she’s got the hands-free too. It’s not like her no tae answer neither.”
Somehow the key had got into my hand. Somehow Mr McKay had registered that I wasn’t listening and looked round at the two people I was watching and listening to. Somehow I realised he was watching me as I watched them, and I self-consciously fiddled with the key as I felt it warm in my hand.
“Well,” said Mr McKay, “shall I see you down here for breakfast in the morning?”
“Yes. Breakfast. Thanks again.”
Somehow he was gone. And somehow all that was in my head was the name of Wullie’s missing wife: Susan. Psychic Psusan. Somehow he was gone. Wullie, that is. Moved off out of the hotel at a slant. Or was it me that was at an odd angle still? Still lopsided. No matter how much I tried to straighten myself. Still wondering why the world wouldn’t get its kinks out of itself, only to realise that I was the misshapen one and the world was cocking its head at me as I stood here all twisted. Somehow I noticed the receptionist was looking at me, studying me. As if wondering …
Wondering why you’re so intent on distracting? Intent on sqiuntiness. Squinty men, no less. Intent on New Preludes. Old Preludes. You’re not exactly helping, reader. Not exactly helping at all, you know.
What did help was sleep. What also helped was breakfast and the car drive back to Mordan House. A quiet car drive with very little said and with three envelopes in my lap.
Mordan House? Three envelopes? Told you! Bloody well told you! But you wouldn’t listen. Intent on distractions, so you were!
I didn’t need distractions. The way seemed quite clear. At Mordan House there would be one of two things waiting for me. My car alone in the driveway. Or two cars. Mine and Psychic Psusan’s red car. If her car was gone, then she’d left the place quite naturally and I would know that so much of all that was happening was just stuff going on in my head. The driveway, and what was in it, would give me so much clarity.
Trees. A turn-off from the main road. The sound of gravel. A narrow driveway. An open space. An old dilapidated house. One car. A Punto.
And that was it. There was no other car in the driveway.
Yet somehow I saw them almost instantly, as I said goodbye to Mr McKay. Little marks.
But you’re staying, aren’t you? Why can’t you just say it?
And in that moment I made up my mind about whether I should stay or go. Those little marks on the ground made me realise what to do.
What? What did you decide to do?
I looked at Mr McKay and held the three envelopes close to my chest. He knew by this gesture what I had decided.
Told you. Totally told you. Told. You. In fact, told you yesterday! Told you even before you’d told yourself!
I got out of the car and watched as Mr McKay’s car drove away, leaving me in Mordan House for one month more. One final month.
Unbelievable! Even though you know that this is all in your head, the product of a stalker’s mind, of all its mental aberrations, you still decide to return to the place of illness, rather than seek out wellness, Un-be-lieve-able!
And I moved over to the little marks on the ground that lay where the gravel ended and the grass began. The grass that headed down into the trees. And I saw that I was correct in thinking that they were fresh tyre marks heading down the slope. Heading down where no car had any reason to go.
Yes, dear reader. Oh.
Next instalment: 63. I Meet Mud Woman