‘Cathy wake up! Call the police there’s somebody in the house again.’ Mike slid out of bed and crept towards the landing like he was the intruder in their home. Cathy, blinking awake and dazed, fisted her eyes trying for clear vision – blurred, like looking through a heavily licked window. Mike spoke again, still hushed but stretching his mouth wide as if he was talking to a deaf woman that could only lip read. ‘Cathy there is somebody in the house. Call the police now. Tell them to send someone right away.’
Cathy turned towards the phone on her bedside table and dialled 999 for the third time that week as Mike stepped out onto the landing with the battered cricket bat that now lived at his side of the bed.
Cathy placed the receiver down and crept towards the nursery where ten-month old Albert was sleeping soundly – for once. She peeped through the crack in the door willing the boy not to wake. Mike sprung up behind her causing her to jump and grasp the cage that housed her heavy heart.
‘They’ve gone. I must have scared them off again. Come away, no point in waking Albert. Go back to bed. I’ll wait for the police downstairs.’ As he whispered into her ear the wispy lanugo hairs on the back of her neck soldiered up to attention as she chilled.
‘I can’t sleep now Mike. What if they come back?’
‘Did you call the police?’
‘Yes.’ Cathy’s skin had assumed a greyish tinge of late, at best a pale yellow. Her lips were cracked, a desert dehydration creating crusty lesions. She was seriously dehydrated. The only time she managed to keep the water she forced down her funnel from heaving back up was when she bit her tongue so hard that it bled – a self-taught technique to distract her brain from throwing the pills back up. She needed the pills to take her from the dark that consumed her to the best she could hope for anymore, translucent. Once the numbness spread over her she would let the fluid out any way it wanted. Hell, she would even give it a helping finger or two.
‘Then go back to bed.’ Mike urged. ‘I’ll make you a nice hot cup of tea and bring your pills.’ Mike pressed his palm lightly on the small of her back ushering her back towards their room. ‘Go on Sweetie, we don’t know how much sleep we’ll get before Albert wakes again.’
Mike adored Albert, their son. She watched as his face brightened at the mere mention of his name. Cathy knew Mike thought him the miracle that had saved them. She had given up praying to feel something similar. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t.
Cathy slumped on the edge of the bed, attempting to steady her breath. She glanced towards the book on the floor: Coping with Grief. The front cover alone was enough to make you want to hurl the book at the condescending prick who thought discourse about unrelenting agony was enough to make good again. Even if that prick hadn’t been the mother-in-law.
The constant anxiety that was lodging in Cathy’s breath escaped her mouth again. She could not afford it to leave. It was hard enough getting air past her throat let alone it escaping. Her heart thundered in her now little boy chest (once described as the apples in Mikes eyes) as if she was having one of her nightmares. When the sleep paralysis would freeze her to her tortured core and the only thing palpable in her ethereal world was the hammer whacking the inside of her trunk. This was not in her head. This was tangible. Her vision tunnelled. The open space confined her. The creeping dread rose from her pubic bone to the back of her throat. She tried taking an in-breath but it stuck at the top of her boy chest, just above where the missing moonstone pendant that had belonged to her late mother once sat, who had inherited it from her mother and so on. It had been in the family for generations and Cathy had no idea where she’d last had it. A missing item of jewellery was the last thing she had to concern herself with now though. God, she wished that was all she had to worry about. She knew deep down Winnie had taken it, to mess with her head that little bit more but her mother-in-law would never admit it. Her head was fuzzy. The sight in her left eye twisted into the eye of the kaleidoscope: zig zag lines in her topsy turvy world. The buzzing saturated her cheek, spreading down the left side of her face, into her neck, tickling her spinal column, seeping down the twisted muscles of her left arm into her bones, her fingers, eventually drenching the whole left side of her body. Her psychiatrist’s voice chanted through her head, “in through your nose, out through your mouth.” She was sinking again – fast. It was happening more often.
The doorbell chime startled her, jolting her, relieving her from the horror of yet another fit of terror. She heard the sound of distant gruff voices – men’s voices. She crept out onto the landing, her left eye closed. Her hand curved her orbit, blocking out the blinding light that intensified the sickening stab. Her legs weak, she strained her ear over the banister. Mike appeared on the stairs, interrupting another moment’s contemplation to throw herself over and have done with. Maybe she would land at the feet of the Policemen; neck twisted, face contorted, dead, just how she wanted it. Mike always appeared just in time. Her personal unwanted guardian angel. ‘The police are here. Come on Sweetie, please get some rest. Here drink this, take these, they will help.’
Mike passed her the promised hot cup of tea and her drugs. He kissed her forehead and led her back to their bedroom where she now spent ninety-six percent of her time. The remaining four percent was also spent avoiding the boy.
Mike was so protective, at just over six feet tall, with his rugged good looks. He was one of those guys who looked sexy either freshly shaven or whether he’d been healing the sick for twelve hours straight, which, quite often he had. He could’ve had his pick of women, especially being a doctor. Cathy had witnessed women swoon often – and some of the men – back when she had dared to venture from the house unaided and when they found out that he was a doctor to boot.... well she had just known that she was the luckiest woman alive. He had chosen her. Her life had been as perfect as perfect can be. But then she’d expected nothing less. Her childhood, her entire life up to that point had been the kind one would write about and not in some Greek tragedy either; more a romantic fairy tale – without the frogs, witches, cauldrons or any other undesirables. Cathy had lived a life wrapped in fluff. Some would say naive but she had been blissfully happy and had never encountered hard, apart from the odd school ground disagreement, until she had met Mike and realised for the time that you don’t get everything you want that easy. Still, as difficult as it had been she had eventually won and when she met Winnie, even before life had spewed its lava all over her contended spirit, she had stupidly thought she’d be able to win her over with a smile and a few complementary words – ha what a joke. The bitch was steel. Still she was patient and she refused to give up on Winnie Proctor so easily. Cathy was not used to not being loved by all.
She had beamed her way through their short honeymoon. Could have had something to do with the blessing growing inside her too. If she’d had any anxieties about Mike’s commitment to her before, this baby took those away. Not that she had trapped Mike in anyway, at least not intentionally. Winnie did not quite see things like this.
The light had continued to glow bright. Cathy had skipped around in a near state of orgasmic pleasure after they wed. It was a small ceremony with Cathy’s parents, a tight-lipped, crossed armed Winnie (whose face had stayed the way the wind had blown the minute she was introduced to Cathy) and Cathy’s best friend, Belinda. Those who had warned that the first year of marriage was the most difficult clearly had never experienced the unconditional love that Mike and Cathy shared. She had believed her life fool proof. Even though they had been plagued with what Alexis, Mike’s ex-wife, had done. Their love had been enough to see them through. Perfect life, perfect parents, perfect husband and soon to be perfect baby. They just needed to move out of that house, get away from Winnie and everything would be amazing.
She was, by that point, beginning to realise that Winnie would never accept her. She was by far the most difficult person Cathy had ever come across. The polar opposite to every challenge she had ever encountered and conquered. Even the agony of Mike still being hitched when they had fallen in love hadn’t proved as impossible as Winnie. If only the woman could have grasped that Cathy had helped Mike, not ruined his marriage. Winnie had no idea what Alexis had put him through, didn’t want to know. Alexis had been placed on a golden pedestal so high in Winnie’s beady eyes that even exposing the truth about her monstrous ways would have been lionized.
Mike had needed Cathy more than anyone could ever understand and her love for him convinced her that it was possible to overlook the mother-in-law, even if she did live under the same roof. It was only temporary after all. But as time went by she realised it was not as simple as pretending she was not there. It was impossible to ignore the looming presence that was Winnie Proctor. You could not ignore a person who fed from your misery following you around like the shadow of the condemned.
Cathy was now trapped somewhere in-between yearning for her perfect old life, the reality of the black, rotting, maggoty underbelly pulling her in that was her now life and the frustration of knowing that all she could do about it was take in whatever air her anxiety moths would allow in with them and hope that her last breath was not too far in the future. It did not help being trapped in this house. She hated it. The living room saturated in bistre permanence. Everything was dark-brown with wall-papered burnt orange leaves plastered everywhere. Cream crocheted shit with glass beads on hung from the ceilings. The coffee table was shaped like a foetus, as if Alexis had known what was coming for Cathy and was having the last laugh. None of it was Cathy’s choice. This was all Alexis. Alexis and her fucking grim personality. She hated this house but she was too ill to even pull on her shoes anymore and so she remained tied to it and its inhabitants by an invisible umbilical cord of wretchedness that only death could sever.