She turns the lock, opens the door, teasing me with a cheeky smile as we enter her flat.
“Go in there and I’ll get us a drink.”
I like the way she said that and the way she looked at me as she said it. It’s gotta be in the bag. I’m getting that vibe.
Off she wanders. I take my coat off and bound into the living room as directed. Then I see it. The fuck? Surely not? I keep looking; it’s not going away and I just can’t stop looking at it. I can’t believe that I’m looking at a massive picture of Adolf Hitler positioned perfectly above her mantelpiece. What a body blow. The crushing disappointment and anger quickly succumbs to the momentary hope provided by rampant intrigue. If I do a runner now, never knowing why, it will forever itch away at me. Perhaps it is some ironic artistic statement or commentary, like modern art? Or is it post modern? Whatever that means. Or perhaps she just is a bloody fascist? Right, I better act normal here. I don’t want to do anything or say anything that will make her think I’ve been unnerved by seeing “it”. But what if she is pretending? What if it is a test? A joke, even? She did tell me to go into this room. Look, you’re over-thinking this. Just ignore it. Forget it. Stop looking at it. Fuck! Here she comes.
“Here, sorry, only Miller Lights left.”
Piss weak beer is the least of my worries. No amount of liquid is going to moisten my parched throat with that thing staring at me.
“No, aye, that’s fine…that’s great. Thanks.”
“Are you okay?”
“Aye…I’m fine, nae bother.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Naw…naw, it’s nothing.”
“If something’s up, tell me.”
“Emm, well, that picture on the wall there.”
What picture? The fuck? She has to be on a wind-up. What picture!
“That picture of Hitler above your mantelpiece. There!”
I look at her. Her mouth develops a strange half disbelieving smile while her eyes are bulging with a mixture of astonishment and increasing anxiety. Now I know I’ve blown it.
“I’m no fucking high! I had a few drinks. You were with me all night. You saw me?”
“I don’t know what’s got into you, but there’s no picture of Hitler – it’s a mirror.”
I look again, hoping to see my reflection, but all I see is his vile glum mug, his cow’s lick and that ridiculous mini-moustache he wore.
I turn back to face her. Her lips are moving, but her voice is starting to sound distorted. She puts her hand on my shoulder, but it melts into my torso. Everything is beginning to blend together, the ceiling with the floor, black with white, reds, blues, greens and yellows. Everything except that picture with the wall, it remains in tact and omnipresent. I feel a sensation like I’m sinking but physically I remain static – my perspective becomes increasingly distant and blinkered into staring straight at Adolf. I want this to stop, but, oddly, and despite the momentary feeling of seasickness, I’m calm. Things begin to resolve slowly, and the picture of Hitler eventually disappears into the distance. My eyes close involuntarily, and when they open and I find myself in a kitchen with unwashed dishes, half eaten food, wine glasses, empty bottles, and plastic cups lying everywhere, in what looks like the generic aftermath of a party. She reappears again through the door. She is dressed differently. Her demeanour is different too. Initially apprehensive – but now she looks downright scared, of me? Her throat is bruised. Her nose is bleeding. She tells me to sit down with a peculiarly aggressive hand gesture – at least that’s my interpretation. Her lips are moving, but there’s no sound, not even that sound of silent air. She walks behind me as I sit. I glance over my shoulder but she uses her hands to turn my head to face straight forward. I don’t know why I let her. I can feel her whispering in my ear but I still can’t hear what she’s saying. I turn to face her. She has a rolling pin in her left hand. It’s cocked and ready to hit me. It comes down before I can get my hands up.
This feels like my own bed: it is, it is, it is. That was a dream. Thank god. Walking towards the en-suite I notice there’s new furniture everywhere, the kind of IKEA shite that I’d never buy. The walls are a hideous light green colour – they should be white. Have I woken up yet? Nothing makes sense, except one thing: the ghastly intuition of its presence. I have a vision of it and where it is. I rush downstairs. I stand outside the door of the living room, hesitating, afraid to open it. I compose myself, before slamming the door open. The sight of it drives me down on my haunches. My light headedness morphs into a familiar corrosive pain, and my stomach feels instantly cavernous. The pressure in my chest increases, like something heavy is gripping, pinning me down, increasing to the point that I feel physically weak. I topple back into a sitting position on the cold varnished oak floor, leaning against an equally cold leather armchair, trying to stare into space. This has to end.
I hear someone fumbling at the front door. The key is now in the lock and being turned. I look around the corner of the door frame. It’s her! She sees me peering round the door as she enters. It gives her a shock.
“Babe, what are you doing down there?”
“Andy, are you okay?”
Why is she talking to me like this – as if she knows me, and even cares about me?
“Fuckin stay away, you’re crazy.”
“Oh no, not again.”
“What do yae mean, not again? Don’t come near me. I don’t know what’s going on wae you and that painting.”
“Please, please. I’ll get your pills, okay.”
“So you admit you drugged me?”
She looks wounded by the accusation, but why? She smashed me over the head with a rolling pin. She has a picture of Hitler on her wall. Everything is a lie. It has to be.
“I’m gonna call Dr Deivan; you’re delusional again.”
“I’m no the one who’s crazy. I’m not the one who’s been drugging people and smashing them over the head wae a rolling pin. I’m no the one with fucking Hitler on my wall.”
“It’s not a picture of Hitler. It’s a delusion. I’m calling him.”
“Fuck do you mean it’s a delusion?”
“It’s a mirror. Please, just calm down, the doctor will come and make it go away. I promise.”
“Look! It’s right there, above the mantelpiece.”
“That’s a mirror! Please stop – you’re really scaring me.”
“You can’t see it? You’re lying. You’re doing this on purpose.”
“Right. I’m calling Dr. Deivan, you’ve obviously had a relapse.”
But how does that explain before? In the other reality, the proper one, or is it this one, or is it neither? Perhaps if I destroy the painting it will end? Now that is crazy. Stop it. She wants me to think like that.
She quickly presses a series of buttons on her mobile, like she’s dialed it before. I watch her watch me with trepidation, as I move toward the painting. I’ve only just noticed that she’s pregnant. I look into his eyes. I don’t know why. There must be some clue. Everything started to go haywire when I first saw him. That had to be the trigger.
“Andy, Andy! Please…sit down. Dr. Deivan will be here soon.”
“Your doctor. You’ve been doing so well recently…”
So is this doctor another one of her cohorts? A co-conspirator? Is he the one who’s been feeding me stuff that makes me see Hitler? Or am I lucid now and for some reason they don’t want me to be aware? So the picture’s real? He’s coming round to get me back under their Orwellian control again. I have to escape, but the front door is locked. I hear her screaming at me to stop. I smash the pane of glass nearest the lock – it slices and grates into my forearm. The door still won’t open from the outside and my arm is snared by the shards of glass still in the frame. I can hear hurried footsteps behind me. I feel a prick in my shoulder, before I pass out I see her retract the syringe.
I have a massive dressing on my arm. I don’t remember how or why it’s there. Has it happened again? Have I hurt her or the baby? I get up and rush downstairs. I see her. She seems to be unharmed. She sees me. She draws away slightly, taking a half step back. Her body language tells me it’s happened again. I can tell she’s worried about her safety. What have I done this time?
“Right, what happened?”
She gives a barely audible sigh and walks towards me, giving me hug.
“You just had another episode.”
“No, not this time.”
“Thank fuck for that.”
“Is your arm okay?”
“Aye, it’s fine. Look, never mind that, are you sure you’re alright? After last time…I was worried I’d done something terrible again.”
“Don’t worry, you weren’t violent this time.”
This time, but what if I am next time? This feeling of helplessness is far worse than the knowledge of the existence that I cannot control. The control has to come from outside – from the pills. And to stay normal, to be allowed to stay with her, I have to take them, and remember to take them. I see the agony in her face every time I look at her, as I am now. That guarded look that at any moment I could harm her, even when she laughs or smiles at me it’s there. I see it. As if she’s looking past this version of me and sees the other that I can’t, and each time it appears it feels like the damage gets more irrevocable. The truth is we fear for each other, but never for ourselves. It would probably be for the best if I left. At least it would give me the peace of mind that she and the baby would be safe. But I know I can’t bring myself to do it and she would never ask me, no matter what happened.
She changes the subject; her usual way of coping with it.
“Are you hungry? Because I’m fucking starving!”
“Why don’t you make me leave?”
She hesitates to respond, for second, she opens her mouth slightly as if she is about to say something, but instead just shakes her head while focusing on the chopping board. I hug her, in the faint hope this gives her some reassurance. But she flinches slightly as I unexpectedly put my arms around her.
As I walk into the living room I see one of the windows in the front door is boarded up. I look at my forearm. So that was me not being violent? I sit down, then I realise something has changed from last time. The mirror is gone.
“Where’s the mirror?”
She comes through from the kitchen hurriedly, looking flustered by the question.
That was probably me too. I never did like it anyway. It always made me look strange for some reason.
© Niall Cullen (2013)