"I would live with it. I had lived with so much over the last few years. I could live with returning to Mordan House for the last time, I could live with gathering up my possessions into the Punto, and I could live with doing it all alone and without Lizzie. After all, I could live with having no planned destination. I could live with having no plans for my future at all. But what I was unsure of was how I was to deal with the woman who appeared unexpectedly at my door"Let me get one thing clear before we go any further: I am not Mud Woman.
And, when I first overheard those two men in the cafe, I had not heard of Mud Woman before, let alone had any idea who she was, or why she should be seen in various places around town and the surrounding hills, covered in mud and forever digging holes. Perhaps with a male partner. Perhaps not.
I’ve learned since then that she was the talk of the town and local newspapers were full of sightings of her and stories of her, but I had heard none of them as I recuperated.
No, not me. And not known by me either. And it wasn’t something I felt I had to care about. I had issues of my own to deal with. The issue, for example, of Dizzie Lizzie.
“I want you to read a blog I’ve been writing,” I said while sitting in my dressing gown in a chair in the hospital. I shouldn’t be doing this, I was thinking. “I want you to read about what’s been happening to me since I left Glasgow,” I clarified. I shouldn’t be telling anyone who actually knows me any of this stuff, my mind said as it barked and chased its tail in agitation. “Once you know everything, you can decide if you still want to know me,” I declared with a degree of finality. I don’t even want to know me, came a wave of thought crashing down over those words as soon as they had been uttered – not a new thought, of course, but more an underlying and unmistakeable impression.
Lizzie, chewing a bright red bottom lip with a visible gleaming white tooth, cocked her head at me. Two garishly varnished fingers slowly and carefully took the scrap of paper with the blog address written on it, handling it as if it were a snotty hanky or a shoe with poo. The next thing I remember was the sight of her blonde hair bobbing with a tremendous lustre, swaying to the musical sound of her heels clicking on the hospital floor as she left the room. Then I recall the length of hours, that turned into days, of wondering if she would return, gradually merging into the drawn out realisation that my only friend in the world would not return. Ever.
"Two garishly varnished fingers slowly and carefully took the scrap of paper with the blog address written on it, handling it as if it were a snotty hanky or a shoe with poo"
Why should she? Lizzie was a fragile thing in her own way. She possessed a mind within which only a few avenues were open. Those that were open were fully open, and she hurtled down them confidently and at top speed – but any dark streets off those avenues were ‘no go’ areas for Lizzie. And she would resist the lure of going down them without hesitation or remorse. She had endured my obsession with Kidman by refusing to deal with it; she had dealt with my court case by shrugging her shoulders and acting as if she was watching some tedious theatrical production. But now I had pointedly asked her to make a choice. Her choice – probably taken without a second thought – was to continue pacing the avenues that she knew best: those of fashion (Oh, yes, she bows and scrapes before that false God!), pampering, men (Yes, she does a lot of those!), playing the ukelele (Yes, she actually does that!) and avoiding any friends who fell pregnant, as if the condition was catching (Yes, I suspect she may actually believe that to be true!). That was Lizzie. And so Lizzie would stay. And so Lizzie would stay away. I couldn’t blame her. But I loved her and her silly head dearly. And I missed her. And there was a bruise that I felt, as if it were under blankets, deep down inside, beneath the subtle warmth of recuperation.
But I would live with it. I had lived with so much over the last few years. I could live with returning to Mordan House for the last time, I could live with gathering up my possessions into the Punto, and I could live with doing it all alone and without Lizzie. After all, I could live with having no planned destination. I could live with having no plans for my future at all. But what I was unsure of was how I was to deal with the woman who appeared unexpectedly at my door.
I didn't hear a knock at the door, instead I heard a shout. The front door was open at the time, so too was the main door to my suite of rooms. I was busy loading essential possessions into the car at the time, so the doors were open to make the ferrying of objects back and forth easier.
At first, the female voice shouting "Hello? He-llo!" filled me with terror and I froze on the spot with a box of cooking utensils in my arms. The voice of the Imaginary Kidman had seemed so real to me. It had depth and resonance and brightness and spontaneity in it, just like real voices, so the terror lay in the strong possibility that this was not a real person, but something conjured up by me. Within that frozen moment, my mind wondered what it should do: move towards it? acknowledge it? ignore it? run at it brandishing something heavy?
"The voice of the Imaginary Kidman had seemed so real to me. It had depth and resonance and brightness and spontaneity in it, just like real voices, so the terror lay in the strong possibility that this was not a real person, but something conjured up by me"
"Is there anyone there? It's me! It's 7 o'clock! I'm here for my appointment! He-llo?"
I moved. Ever so. Slowly. Into the corridor. And looked. Down. Towards the front door.
Shadows. Light. A silhouetted figure shuffling in the doorway. Browny autumn trees behind her. Gradually starting to drop their leaves. I walked. Ever so. Slowly. Still. Down. The corridor.
"Hello?" Her voice again. This time I knew it was a voice that I hadn't heard before. That, at least, was something of a relief. Then the sight of slightly greying short hair, colourful loose-fitting clothes, lots of accessories, a large bag of some wooly material. "Is that you?"
"Who are you?" I asked, as I came out of the shadows, at the same time as she became clearer to me.
"Oh," she exclaimed. "You're not her. Uh, where's the other woman? I have an appointment to see the other woman."
I felt the temptation to say that Kidman was gone and that both the Imaginary Lizzie and the real Dizzie Lizzie were gone too. And that, for my own part, I had been gone, but I was now somewhat on my way back. But I was trying not to be too nutty to myself as well as to others, so I said: "What other woman? Who did you say you are?"
She grunted as she turned her face down to her large cloth bag and started to fish around inside of it. At last she pulled out a card that I could just make out in the dimming light. "I met with another woman who was here a few days ago," she continued, keen that she should try and make sense to me. "She phoned me and asked me to come here tonight. Is she not here? Has there been a mix up of some sort?""
Three things then happened in very quick succession. I looked down at the card and saw the words:
Psychic Psusan – the clairvoyant with the silent 'P'. Fortune-telling, seances, exorcisms and healing. No supernatural case too big or too small for the woman with the silent 'P'.
Still trying to take in the words on the card and understand how they related to me and how the woman had come to be standing at the door of Mordan House, I looked up, sure that I was frowning and sure that my mouth had dropped open. At that moment, running through the trees in the background, just a little way from where the Punto was parked on the gravel, I saw what I can only describe as an apparition covered in mud from head to toe. A woman quite clearly with long hair. Clothed, but filthy, and running along the treeline in the hope of not being seen.
"I saw what I can only describe as an apparition covered in mud from head to toe. A woman quite clearly with long hair. Clothed, but filthy, and running along the treeline in the hope of not being seen"
And over the sight of this phenomenon, almost like a voice-over, I heard the woman before me say: "That's right. I'm Psychic Psusan. Just llike it says on the card. I'm here to perform a seance in your house. To connect with the spirits of the dead." And she grinned, a big phony, toothy grin that both disarmed and disconcerted me.
The third thing that happened – that wasn't really a thing or a happening at all, but rather a shift in sensibility – was that I saw the Punto get smaller and smaller in my mind's eye.
Weakly and with little awareness of what I was really saying, I said: "I suppose you'd better come in then, hadn't you." And my body moved to one side and Psychic Psusan walked into Mordan House. In the trees before me, there was nothing but trunks and leaves and grass, all shimmering slightly as the shifting day dappled the world with unknowable magic. Momentarily, the logic of cars and travel and leaving seemed tired and pedestrian and unreal. Yet, as I was to find out, in trying to decide what to do – in amongst the blurred lines between dream and reality, between subjective self and the physical world – I'd once again made the wrong choice.
Next instalment: 59. "I'll Gobble You Up, Stephanie Fey!"