The second of my stories about human frailty and mental health.
Barefoot she climbed grey rock after grey rock. Blood streaks stained her bare legs, she could almost feel the tears, almost. At the peak she peered lucidly over the peak of the mountainous heap to the lions that lay beyond. Long locks of filthy auburn hair clung to her paling cheeks and tears filled her eyes. She was lost. Weakened finger nails scraped, clinging onto the stones and she hauled her slender frame over the apex. Her footing was instantly lost and she tumbled rapidly down, the fall seemed to last forever like a film moving slowly frame by frame. At some points she floated, but inevitably she found herself on hands and knees peering up at a heavily maned giant cat.
Paling hazel eyes met the beasts stare and fear filled her. In the distance she could espy the other enclosures. Furious rhinoceroses steamed by high wired fences as hippos clambered along a murky swamp. The threat was imminent. The lion approached accompanied by his mate, both edged cautiously growling in a deep, low voice. She pulled herself awkwardly to her feet and backed away ever so slowly. The King sensed her terror and warped with a hunger caused by the absence of his keeper he leapt forward paws outstretched.
Marie woke with a start. Her left cheek burned and she clawed at it with sharp talons. Her flat was cold, the council still had not replaced the broken glass and outside under the smoggy black of night she could hear car alarms whirring away, bottles being smashed up the side of walls smothered in gang graffiti and voices shouting drunkenly. Her face itched and she tore at it in between yawning and rubbing her worn eyes.
Damp and cold made her home unbearable. She often laid in bed for long periods hoping that the world outside would vanish of its own accord. Of course that never happened. She had once been married to a successful businessman, had a glorious apartment in the centre of London, but that was a long time ago; a fading memory tarnished by his violence and philandering. The ultimate cruelty came when Marie finally broke down and without remorse he had her committed to a psychiatric unit.
The divorce came during her incarceration exacerbating her unhappy constitution. Eventually she accepted the loss and grudgingly submitted to counselling before being rehoused to what could only be deemed as the worst estate on the brink of the city. Nobody came to see her, except the Psychiatric Nurse her visits had become infrequent.
Lethargically she dragged herself to the bathroom. The mirror revealed the extent of the damage. A huge blister splattered gorily down her left cheek, leaking and now painful. Her clothes lay in a heap on the bathroom floor, the same clothes she wore every day; an old black tracksuit stained and torn. She pulled them on with an old pair of trainers and fumbled around inside the pockets for her car keys.
The communal back stair well stunk, but enabled her to avoid the mobs roaming dangerously around the estate. She slunk by the side wall and snuck to her car hoping that it would start. The door was slightly ajar; it had not shut properly for some time. The red paint peeled due to the pranks of the gangs. The old Metro banged and knocked as the key was turned, it struggled onto the main road and then stuttered up a back street before dying.
Inexorably she found herself drawn to a small side shop. The dimmed light glowed and all else seemed dingy. A bell sounded as the door rattled open. The mark still stung, but she had no way to get to the hospital and hoped someone inside would be able to take her.
A miniature train puffed around an expertly set-up railway. Realistic sounds reminded her of the dreams of returning to her childhood in a country village somewhere. Medication clouded her mind; her memories were disappearing, inaccurate. Something in the sound of the train pleased her, something nostalgic.
Two old men in grey suits stood talking in the corner. Green paint shimmered on the walls and wood. She felt a voice call her, maybe she heard it. She moved carefully, invisible to the shopkeepers, until she reached a glass cabinet at the back of the small outlet. Three hideous porcelain dolls coldly glared at her, seeing her soul. She could hear their voices growing louder and louder. The hole in her face bled profusely as the unintelligible words streamed through her mind, filling the room until nothing existed, but the voices and a gaping wound in her face. All went black.
Barefoot she climbed the grey stones of her garden wall. Blood streaks stained her tiny hands, she could almost feel the fear, almost. At the top she gazed in horror at the pride of lions that filled her parents’ garden. Long locks of filthy sandy manes swayed as they roamed across the ornamental bridges and through the brightly coloured bushes. She was scared. Weakened finger nails scraped at her bleeding cheek. She felt compelled to approach the fiercesome beasts. Hypnotically she marched on, her girlish pigtails swaying in the breeze as dirt clung to her red and grey uniform.
Paling hazel eyes met the beast’s stare, she was in awe of the majestic beauty of the King. In the distance she could espy her parents’ thatched cottage. Furious gusts of wind steamed through the giant willow tree beyond and sent ripples through the stagnant pond. The threat was imminent. The lion approached accompanied by his mate, both edged cautiously growling in a deep, low voice. She pulled herself awkwardly to her feet and backed away ever so slowly. The King sensed her terror and warped with a hunger caused by the absence of her keepers he leapt forward baring sharp fangs.
Marie woke with a start. Her left cheek bled and she tore at it with broken nails. Her chaffed hands struggled to leave the sleeping bag and the doorway provided little shelter. No one bothered vagrants here. There used to be an unpleasant housing estate packed with an array of afflicted souls, desperate souls willing to do anything to survive. The project had been closed due to worsening crime levels, all residents moved on. Silence filled the smoggy, black night only occasionally interrupted by old papers dancing in the wind. Marie once believed in fairies and since her tortured soul was no longer treated with dignity, since she could not acquire an address and as such failed to appoint a Doctor she had started to see fairies dancing in the night sky.
The fairies reminded her of her childhood. She vaguely remembered living on the outside of a small village. Perhaps a train chugged through once in a while and merged with the sound of trickling water bubbling through the garden pond. The illness had clouded her mind. Her parents died leaving her an orphan, alone. She felt guilty, but could not recall why. Her mind torn in two, she was incarcerated. She had married and married well, but the nightmares started, the headaches and the paranoia. He could not cope and simply stopped returning home. She envisaged him running away with a younger woman.
The lethargy was unbearable. She could not even drag herself to the bathroom or dress. Her skin festered with bedsores and her home became a shrine to takeaway wrappers and leftovers. Loss was painful, she could not face losing anything, not even a pizza wrapper. Her benefits just about covered the takeaway. The rent remained unpaid and the electric was switched off. A neighbour must have alerted the authorities.
The hospital stank of disinfectant and urine. It was filled with dangerous souls tormented by their own pathology. She slunk around the corridors avoiding all contact and struggled to engage in group session. She wished that the world would change instead of her, that the world would accept her sadness. The sadness ate away at her insides, hungrily, starved and strangled by fading memories.
Inevitably she gave in, but only to give her a chance of getting out. She attended group and individual therapies. Like an automaton she said the words that the medical professionals needed to hear. She was released from the depths of darkness to a living hell. The blister came. It bubbled and burned.
Her memories were confused, mixed up and illogical. Night winds howled across her chilling ears. Once there were sounds of sirens, voices, bottles smashing, but now there was only the rattle of the paper fairies bouncing on the breeze. Marie imagined that they were alight, sparkling brightly, burning just like the searing, festering hole in her cheek.
Her ageing arthritic bones shuffled slowly into the hospice. Varicose veins stained her legs and her empty eyes sank below withered layers of loose skin. The door slowly opened, she had not touched it. Robotic, miniature zoo animals swarmed the corridors. Tiny toys, remnants of a fragmented past busily lived their lives oblivious to her ear and pain. As she forced her way along the corridors using the walls to give her balance and guide her tiny lions yapped at her swollen ankles. The noise was drowned out by the smog of her brain.
Briefly she lost her footing and stumbled. Her frayed vocal calls emitted a soft gasping moan and she found her balance using the white-washed walls. Sparsely furnished room after sparsely furnished room passed her by, or she passed the room by. Like a struggling steam engine she drifted forwards, sometimes she felt like she was floating and other times falling or sinking. Her own room was cluttered with miniature beasts. Obliviously she stepped over them and climbed listlessly into her bed.
The ticking of a clock beat in her mind. The sound slowed until it was a soft pulse thrumming in her head. Her eyes closed and the beasts dispersed. Feeling ebbed from her gangrenous feet and the blister on her face split into a giant hole. Her shaking fingers touched the gape, poking at the insides. The itching had stopped.
Light blasted the room, but her eyes stayed closed. She didn’t need them anymore. The fairies or angels perhaps burning furiously as her face had once done. Beams thronged through her soul and cleared the smog from her mind, but then she saw new smog.
Skipping lightly over the garden wall Marie dashed across the ornamental pond towards her parents’ thatched cottage. Her parents were upstairs decorating the nursery and she could hear her baby sister gurgling and intermittently crying in her crib upstairs. Marie loved her and had given her three of her favourite dolls. Hastily she rushed into the lounge whipping her jacket off, the one her mum had knitted her after their trip to the zoo. She had fallen in love with the King of the lions and there he was everyday smiling out at her from the knitted wool.
The jacket was slung as Marie wanted to rapidly change and go out to meet her friends. In an instant she had dashed to her room, changed and after a brief exchange with her loving parents belted out of the front door. For an instant she looked back to see the lounge curtains blowing in the soft breeze which had entered through a crack in the window.
Beyond the garden lay a disused railway and Marie and her friends would pretend to be train drivers or posh passengers. Once at the tracks Marie peered briefly back at the house and the fairies caught her eyes. An amazing bright light, glowing and raging filled her eyes. Flames tore ravenously through the building eating the curtains, clawing at the furniture and ripping through the skin of the roof. Marie froze, for a second she could hear tortured screams, the alarm of the fire engine and glass smashing. Then there was nothing but fire, a huge majestic ball of fire. Smoggy smoke filled up the air as the evening drew in.
The assumption was that some garment had carelessly been thrown onto the open fire causing the deaths of three members of the family.
The old woman’s face burned with tears as she drew her last breath and returned to her family.