"There are moments that can make you instantly drop all the baggage of life that you’ve been holding onto for so long without ever getting a rest. Bang! They hit the ground. And when such a moment comes, a wash of recognition sweeps apart futility’s great doors as if they were just painted onto life’s landscape, just a watercolour picture of doors that you had long believed to be real"
And during this discussion, Kidman also told me that she was planning a gift for me. What she called a very special gift indeed. Hm, was my response to that too.
And as I somewhat dismissed her comment, I seem to recall picking up a bottle of wine that we had been consuming, while throwing on a heavy cardigan and making for the front door.
As I stepped outside, the cold hit me like a great shove and I let out a cry of indignation.
“Cold?” said Kidman, suddenly at my elbow. “Huh. I don’t feel it.” And she sauntered past me, sashaying her hips somewhat. “What are we doing out here, anyway?”
There was a light covering of fresh snow on the ground and the flecks were still falling, although snow clouds only partially filled the sky. The moon hesitated at times behind the muddy-looking snow clouds, before striding out confidently at other times as the sky above changed regularly from clear to overcast. Kidman glanced back at me, awaiting an answer to her question. I looked at the profile and shape of her amidst the swoop and flurry of so many deft little snow birds, and she seemed extraordinary. She was a bounty of subtle hues and dramatic little gestures that made the head whoozy. Briefly, I wondered what the real alcohol was here.
“We’re taking a breath of fresh air,” I finally answered, my lungs clenched, my words squeezed out through limited breath, before then turning back towards the front door.
“Where the hell are you going?” she called out.
“I said ‘a breath’,” and I continued walking.
“Come on!” Kidman called in a drawn out, jovial manner. “A little walk. To clear our heads. Come on. It’ll be fun. Who knows? We might die! How exciting would that be?” And she did a strange movement where she bit her bottom lip, ducked down and shoogled her knees from side to side. “Anyway, I want to talk to you about something,” she added.
I was standing on the step at the front door. One more step away from going back inside. I looked back at her, looking at the tiny white petals drifting one by one onto Kidman’s head and looking at the great performance of her in this theatre of slow-falling snow. I couldn’t speak. Instead I screwed up my face in such a way that asked what she meant. But she was still walking away, in the direction of the line of trees that encircled Mordan House. All I could do was follow her.
Light from the sitting-room window stretched on the ground before me, bringing a calmness and slight giddy confidence to me. Although my arms blistered with goosebumps, and muscles began to vibrate to some unknown rhythm not of my own body’s making, it felt good to be where I was: outside, at night, in a light snowfall, with an imaginary Kidman in my line of vision, a peek-a-boo moon toying with dark errors of cloud, and Kidman’s ebullient steps enticing me forward.
"I was standing on the step at the front door. One more step away from going back inside. I looked back at her, looking at the tiny white petals drifting one by one onto Kidman’s head and looking at the great performance of her in this theatre of slow-falling snow. I couldn’t speak"
There are moments that can make you instantly drop all the baggage of life that you’ve been holding onto for so long without ever getting a rest. Bang! They hit the ground. And when such a moment comes, a wash of recognition sweeps apart futility’s great doors as if they were just painted onto life’s landscape, just a watercolour picture of doors that you had long believed to be real. For me, this moment came with the sight of Kidman looking back at me and beckoning me with an upraised finger. In amongst this grand, mythical moment, I found myself stepping forward just as her beckoning finger requested.
And stepping forward and stepping forward. Along a path through the trees. The path and the trees lit then ill-lit. My pupils widening and shrinking to the rhythm of moonlight and cloud.
“What did you want to talk about?” I asked, seeing only the back of Kidman as she walked a few steps in front.
“James,” she answered. James? How strange to hear the name! The sound and shape of it had been retreating in my mind day by day, even though the sound and shape of him still reverberated from some distant corner within. The man from the neighbouring town that I had fallen for, based upon only one meeting and only seeing him twice – this was what Kidman wanted to talk about? I blinked and blinked, while still stepping forward and stepping forward. Where exactly was I? How far had I walked and in what direction from Mordan House? James? James!
“James! Why talk about him?”
“You should seek him out. Seek him out accidentally, purposefully by accident – you know, the way we women do.”
“And do what exactly when I see him?”
I felt Kidman smile, and then saw her stop and turn round to face me, that smile there on her face just as I had sensed. I stopped too. I saw a swathe of white light across one side of her face, illuminating that smile, creating little pockets of light brown shadow at various parts of her face. Then I saw her glance away and up into the trees behind me, at the same time seeing the smile fade away. I took a drink from the bottle of wine, then wordlessly presented it to Kidman.
“Well, If I were you,” she answered, her tone serious and her words pointed, “I’d show him your lady cupboard and then run like a mad-arsed whore!”
What? “What? James? When I go to see him? Are you crazy?” I said incredulously.
“No, idiot! When you see him!” And Kidman’s hand pointed in the direction of the moon that was casting that white light upon her face.
My head turned elegantly, as if my neck contained the same mechanism as in some fabulous Swiss watch. Smooth and unflinching, the look went from Kidman all the way round and up to the moon, in the sweetest, cleanest move imaginable.
I saw him through the trees, hanging in the air to one side of the moon’s distant, cloud-encompassed image. The moon itself seeming so passive, so wrapped in some insular sensibility that it seemed to care not what was happening to me. The astronaut, on the other hand, shone like a bit of carved-out moon that the winds of space and of emptiness had buffeted and eroded over billions of years into this dead spaceman shape. A lifeless bit of rock taking on a shape appropriate to the 21st century of the planet it haunted: the shape of a dead spaceman – desolate of hope, purpose, ambition, vision, life.
There was a rustle sound from Kidman. I glanced round and saw her hitching up her dress slightly and running further into the trees, without a single look in my direction. This was probably the same time as the astronaut started a rapid descent towards me and about the same time as I realised that I had no idea where I was, or where Mordan House was. Finally, it seemed, the astronaut had me on his territory. Right where he wanted me.
"I saw him through the trees, hanging in the air to one side of the moon’s distant, cloud-encompassed image. The moon itself seeming so passive, so wrapped in some insular sensibility that it seemed to care not what was happening to me"
It was also barely apparent to me that I had, at some point, decided to run and then started to run. The trees into which Kidman had vanished were also my own destination. I knew I mustn’t stay out in the open. In amongst the trees might slow the astronaut down. He was both ethereal and physical – he didn’t move through things, that much I had noticed over time and through events; he went round them or over them or in between them. If I was to survive then I had to try to use this to my advantage.
I ran with a ferocity and determination that I have never known before. Desperation is a sprightly little engine, seldom really used in life – but due to the fact that it so often lies dormant, it often appears to be in tip-top condition when called upon. That’s what I found as I ran in and out of trees, over verges, through bushes and thick undergrowth, running without destination, without thought. Desperation’s inner eye and survival’s goal were the only two elements that I seemed to need.
I only became aware of fear when I thought about glancing round to see if I could see the astronaut, and realised that I was too afraid to. Too afraid to look and too afraid to slow down. Ultimately, too afraid to die. It was as I became aware of this – this fear of death – that I started to cry. Even as I ran, using every droplet of fuel I could beg, borrow or steal to channel through this body of mine, the tears started to flow, and the sound of my sobs started to interrupt my breathing as I ran.
I looked up and behind me – I don’t know where I got the courage from! – and saw an entanglement of branches high above, black against a night-sky that looked a muddy bluey-grey. The branches moved as I ran, as if creeping overhead, creeping down and around. From all around me I could feel the silence of the night, heavy like an ocean, with only the crackling and rustling of feet on dense natural ground for company, only my breathing and sobbing for friendship. How bizarre! The slight sound of my rasping, sick, asthmatic breathing was now a comfort! Tears were an indicator of life and thus a bonus too! It was life, even if it was flawed and busted life. At least this life was not entirely characterised by staring into a black visor that only reflects back the shape and character of dead things. It was not absolutely owned by gloved hands that will only grip what will soon no longer require its life.
Then I realised why the sky had a murky blue tinge to it: it was due to the white glow of the astronaut overhead, following me above the treeline.
"Too afraid to look and too afraid to slow down. Ultimately, too afraid to die. It was as I became aware of this – this fear of death – that I started to cry. Even as I ran, using every droplet of fuel I could beg, borrow or steal to channel through this body of mine, the tears started to flow, and the sound of my sobs started to interrupt my breathing as I ran"
I tried to run faster, yet what more was there to give inside? Yes, what more was there inside to give? I continued to run, I continued to stumble, I continued to push on relentlessly, desperately. And I continued crying, tears blurring my vision, forming mythical twin objects all around me and confusing me in my progress. Maybe it was the alcohol that started to play a part in how I was feeling, but, all of a sudden, I felt I couldn’t progress anymore and I sank down to my knees. Not because my body was too exhausted, but because some enormous and clear emotion opened up inside me, within its own white light, and so much of my inner world turned inside out, illumination taking the place of subterfuge. It had a voice, and the voice said: Stephanie Fey, what more is there to give?
As I heard these words in my head – my own words, you understand, very clearly my words – I wondered when I had last heard such words inside of my head, so absolutely there, so precise and large? I couldn’t say. Certainly not since Philip, my ex-boyfriend from before arriving in Mordan House. Always other people’s words, always the words of the walls I had constructed inside to protect me. Not genuine and honest words. Oh, not for so long!
All I could hear was those words, reverberating: what more is there to give?
There was so much more. I hadn’t even begun. I had so much more inside to let out. I hadn’t even started. What would happen to it all if it didn’t find a way out? What would happen to me? I just needed someone to want it all, not someone who would kick it like a dog. Just someone who would want it all to come out, and to come out in straight lines, not in pockets, squashed packets, little warped, unrepresentative chunks. Love wasn’t made for that.
Because that’s what it was all about, of course, all this feeling. It was about love and about having so much more to give than this life had yet seen. And the awareness of it stopped me in my tracks, right there, right beside some grassy slope.
"It was life, even if it was flawed and busted life. At least this life was not entirely characterised by staring into a black visor that only reflects back the shape and character of dead things. It was not absolutely owned by gloved hands that will only grip what will soon no longer require its life"
I could now see the small clearing and the grassy slope around me very clearly, even through tears. I looked up, my movement slow, jagged. The astronaut was hovering in amongst the branches of a tree, head angled towards me, its light revealing everything that was around me. The only thing that was black was that rectangle upon his helmet, like a sunken coffin, so deathly dark. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to run anymore either. I just wanted to be, and to feel what it was like to be me, with all its yearning and sadness. And then, as I knew he would, he began to move towards me.
Yet no sooner did the astronaut drop than the astronaut stopped. I stared at him, mystified. Why was he no longer moving? I wiped the tears from my eyes to see better, but it was unmistakeable, he had stopped for a reason I couldn’t understand.
The wood was so still, so silent. The air, however, was charged with some powerful and dreadful sensibility. I hadn’t really noticed it before. Yet, also, there was a scent, something putrid and foul, that only seemed to exist where I lay. This spot, this particular area of the wood, had a character to it that was menacing and consuming. Was it this that was stopping the astronaut? Was this repulsive location somehow charmed to protect me? Yes, perhaps it was. From behind me, I became aware of a second white light. I don’t know why, but I instantly thought it was the headlights of a car. A charmed location had worked its charm and produced something to save me also.
But I was wrong. Looking up and round, I saw the one thing – above all others – that I did not expect to see. Throughout all the events of Mordan House, I had never expected to see the apparition that presented itself before me in that moment. It was a second astronaut. Hovering, still, poised, empty, looming in amongst the black and snow-speckled branches, its darkened visor focused on me, just like the visor of its partner.
It was my turn. Now, it was definitely my turn. And I would accept it.
Next instalment: 46. "Run, You Dozy Bitch, Run"