"I told her about my website, my blog from a haunted house: Nicole Kidman stars in ‘The Astronaut Dropped’. I kept the details of it to myself and just told her where to find it and to read it. She bit her lip and fiddled with her hands"
Convalescing is a time of looking at flowers and their proud open faces, their tall stems, the way breezes shape and inspire them; while inside, the convalescent nurtures broken stems, frayed and closed petals, and worries at the wind damaging their already haggard, feeble face. So it has been for me. I look at the world around me, and I slowly, slowly endeavour to be more like the natural objects of this world.
No. Endeavour is too strong a word – there’s too much effort implied by it. I plan? No. I attempt? No, still effort involved in that. There’s no effort taking place in me that I’m aware of. I hope and I allow. Yes, I hope and allow. I mostly fail, of course. But, for humans, becoming natural is a life-long pursuit – not just something that you do for a month or so after an asthma attack that hospitalises you.
That night – the night of no gravity and the astronaut invasion of Mordan House – Lizzie did the right thing and used her mobile phone to call for an ambulance – “I did the right thing!” she exclaimed with girlish glee when she told me what she’d done. But it wasn't an ambulance that came to my rescue – it was a helicopter. Owned by the Scottish health service and able to to get to me and get me to a hospital quicker than an ambulance. None of which I remember at all. That night of my full-blown asthma attack, Lizzie also found my inhaler and tried to squeeze it into my mouth, pressing down on the trigger to try and get some of the chemical into my system – “I used the entire can!” she exclaimed and then chewed her bottom lip, partly wondering if that was the right word or the right thing to have done.
"Convalescing is a time of looking at flowers and their proud open faces, their tall stems, the way breezes shape and inspire them; while inside, the convalescent nurtures broken stems, frayed and closed petals, and worries at the wind damaging their already haggard, feeble face"
These words of Lizzie's are probably the first that I recall being said to me after I came round in the hospital. Although I had come round several times before then, I didn’t really remember doing so. Apparently I slept for a week and all I vaguely recall are the occasional blur of faces moving round my bed in my fitful states of consciousness. Who were they? Hospital staff? Lizzie? Both, I guess. That’s if they are real recollections at all. I mention them at the same time as roundly doubting them.
I had been exhausted for so long prior to the attack. I see that now. My brain had been bulging with thought, clamouring noises and congested feelings all colliding inside me, so much emotional and psychological pounding going on – for I don’t know how long! Since the time things started to go wrong with Philip? Certainly from the time when things did indeed go very wrong with Philip. And all growing through my obsession with Kidman – poor, poor Kidman! – and this house, this damned house that I’ve now returned to.
Now that I look back I see how much I was trying to climb over a wave of feeling that was desperately trying to drag me down. What a battle inside! Eventually, what a defeat for me, too! I thought I was holding it together, but something inside needed to delude me in that way – even in the face of the opposing forces rising up against me. What else could I do? The urge to survive was strong, but the damage inside was stronger. That’s all clear as crystal to me now.
The events of my last blog entry happened over a month ago and I wrote it up as soon as I left the hospital and returned to Mordan House. But I suppose I need to tell you what has happened over the last four weeks. Things have changed since the events of that last entry – spectacularly changed, I should say! – and I need to tell you how.
"I had been exhausted for so long. I see that now. My brain had been bulging with thought, clamouring noises and congested feelings all colliding inside me, so much emotional and psychological pounding going on – for I don’t know how long! Since the time things started to go wrong with Philip? Certainly from the time when things did indeed go very wrong with Philip. And all growing through my obsession with Kidman – poor, poor Kidman!"
One particular conversation between me and Lizzie will get the ball rolling, so let me wind back to a couple of days after I’d regained consciousness. I was starting to get a little bit of strength back and I could pull myself over to the chair in my hospital room with some ease, and I would sit there and start to imagine being normal again. A key part of recovery, I believe: imagining stages that are ahead of you and starting to move towards them, both inside and out. Lizzie came into the room and I was struck by the spleandour of her. How delicious she looked, but how out of place too! There was nothing and no-one in this part of the world that was like her. She was preened and coutured to a level that took your breath away. Like Monroe but with fire and bravura. Like Hepburn but with haunting, witch-like eyes. Every inch scented and buffed and polished to streamlined, blonde-haired, long-nailed perfection. On seeing her, my bottom lip dropped like an elevator. Beyond her looks, Lizzie sounded the way she looked with an accent of pristine, refined elegance, but had the sense of humour of a saloon-drinking whore, and she couldn't help but exercise it immediately.
“No, no, it can’t be true! Stephanie Fey dead? Why didn’t the nurse tell me, instead of letting me walk in here to find the bed empty? What have they done with my one and only friend? I need to see her rotting, stinking, stiff-arsed corpse in order to say goodbye to the faulty-breathing bitch! I really do! Until I smell her dead, old, rancid bod I’ll never feel that I’ve said farewell to the thick old tart! And she seemed to be getting better too! She seemed stronger. She seemed to be recovering. Oh, it’s oh so cruel! Cruel, I tell you!”
“Yes, Lizzie, alright. Ha ha, the world's laughing. Job done,” I drawled.
Then she looked over at me in the chair. “Ah, there you are! Not dead? Bummer!”
She sat on the edge of the bed, her face a picture of genuine warmth and concern, and we talked about how I was feeling and a number of forgettable, pleasant nothing-very-muches.
Then I said what had been on my mind since the moment I opened my eyes. I had wanted to ask her this for days, but I'd had no courage to confront it. Now, I did: “Before I passed out in Mordan House, Lizzie. You mentioned something to me. About something you saw above the trees. You remember?”
“Oh, yes. That. Stinky little brats! What pricks!”
“Brats? What do you mean? What exactly did you see? You said you saw a shining figure. Or something like that. How did you describe it?”
“It was late at night. I didn’t know what I was seeing, of course. I saw it though when I went back to Morbid House to get some things for you. Right there, it was. Waving in the breeze.” And she waved her arms around like children do when they pretend to be the wind in school plays.
"A balloon thing. It was a balloon. You remember those Michelin man things – those big inflatable white figures that advertised those tyres? One of them had been attached to a tree outside of your house. It was a prank. I’m sorry. I hated having to tell you"
“What?” I asked suspiciously, now dreading what it was she was going to say. “What did you see?”
“Of course, at the time it looked like an astronaut hanging in space or something. But I could see what it really was."
There was an uncomfortable silence. Lizzie looked away as if she knew what I was thinking. I wondered for a moment if she knew something of the events in Mordan House. I looked away too.
Then Lizzie said: “Some balloon thing, if you must know. It was a balloon. You remember those Michelin man things – those big inflatable white figures that advertised those car tyres? One of them had been attached to a tree outside of your house. It was a prank. I’m sorry, Steph. I hated having to tell you, but I wasn’t sure if you remembered what I said that night. I hoped you hadn’t.”
I said nothing. Had I survived only in order to get here? In the hope that it was actually all real? And not just a disturbed, damaged imagination? Only to find this? I felt sick. Totally and unforgettably sick. So sick that I almost did feel like throwing up. I must have changed colour because Lizzie put one hand upon my hand, while the other she played with the corners of the bed.
“Listen,” she said. “I’ve been to the local town out your way. What’s it called? Monck? Ponck?” I shook my head. “Anyway, I’ve spoken to a couple of people there. And I know a little bit about what’s been going on. It was a just a stupid prank. Some of the children had heard what was being said about that house and what you were seeing there. You must have said something to someone and word got round. Hell, it’s just what was being said – I mean, how important is that! Only you can know the truth. The local garage had one of those balloons left over from years back and they put it there as a laugh. Ha ha, huh!”
"I said nothing. Had I survived in order to get here? In the hope that it was actually all real? And not just a disturbed, damaged imagination? Only to find this. I felt sick. Totally and unforgettably sick. So sick that I almost did feel like throwing up. I must have changed colour because she put one hand on my hand and with the other she played with the corners of the bed"
Two things in my head as she spoke: that bitch Ormsley and my unguarded words to her the night I was drunk in the woods at Mordan House, and also some vague musings on truth. So, Lizzie thought I would know the truth about events at Mordan House better than others. Me? Huh! That’s a laugh! What a bleedin’ giggle! Funny girl, this Dizzie Lizzie, funny, funny girl!
Funny also that I suspect it was this thought of the astronaut being real and another person having seen it that had sustained my recovery to this point, that allowed me to get the rest, the internal healing, that I needed. And where had it got me to? I'd arrived at another point of pointlessness, that’s where! Another joke of life. The astronaut that Lizzie had seen had just been a shiny white balloon from an old advertising campaign from years ago!
She saw the look on my face – although I can only presume what it was: despair, blankness? In response to whatever that look was, she scowled at me and kicked one of the legs of my chair.
“Screw it! Screw the bleedin’ lot of it!” she said in a typically fiery and hardship-slugging way. That was Lizzie: she slugged hardship; hardship always doubled-up at one of her slugs. She knew where to hit hardship so that it hurt.
“I want you to read something,” I said. She cocked her head at me like a little bird in a tree that has just heard a curious sound. “Read?” Yes, it was the thought of reading that made her cock her head, much more than the thought of what it was I wanted her to take in. Reading was not quite Lizzie’s thing. So I told her about my website, my blog from a haunted house: Nicole Kidman stars in ‘The Astronaut Dropped’. I kept the details of it to myself and just told her where to find it and to read it. She bit her lip and fiddled with her hands. It was a challenge for her, I knew.
It was a challenge for me also. To let Lizzie read my innermost thoughts and delusions. But she had been there at the height of my traumas over Philip and over Kidman – surely she could handle it. Or would she think that I had gone so far that I was beyond saving? Was it different to think of everything that comprises me when you're on the outside? But to see it all from the inside, would that be too much for her?
My answer came slowly, but also rather quickly in a way.
Next instalment: 57. Rumours of Mud