Her lips are moving. I think she’s sleep talking. I hold my breath so I can hear better. It’s just a whisper and I can’t make it out. I relax. Her eyelids flicker open. Clearing her throat, she moves her head down so she is not looking at me.
“How long have you been watching me?”
I see a fraction of roots, lighter than the red she uses to disguise her natural self. I smile, pleased that I know something hidden but it’s not really. Anyone can see she dyes her hair that unnatural red. I sigh.
“Not long. I was trying to hear what you were saying.”
“I talked in my sleep?” She sounds surprised, as though she’s not the sort of person to do such a thing. I laugh quietly.
“Yes, but I couldn’t make out what you were saying.”
She snaps her head up and looks at me. I watch the miniature movements her irises make as they dart left and right searching my face for the truth. Silenol. That’s what she said. What is it? Shall I tell her or not?
“Are you going to take me to meet my mother?” Keeping my voice calm is essential but I’m not sure I manage it. An itch on my back is starting to annoy me but I ignore it.
“Do you want to meet your mother?” She sits up, leaning against the headboard. I’m trapped. What else can I do? The only way out is through. Oh. There it is again. Those words. She said that.
“The only way out is through.” I whisper them and she gasps.
“Your mother says that!”
“Rebecca, how did you meet my mother?”
“I was writing a blog. She criticised it.” Shaking her head, she laughs slowly, “I was so angry! She wrote something stupid like ‘don’t you practice your writing before you put it out there?’ She wrote it anonymously which pissed me off even more. So I went on a mission to find her. I thought it was some stupid man who wanted to feel powerful by putting me down. I emailed ‘him’. He didn’t reply. I put a reply on my blog accusing ‘him’ of being a coward hiding behind his anonymity and then I forgot about it.”
“Then what happened?”
“I received an invite to a party. I’d just come out of self-enforced isolation and was in the mood for dancing and chatting and a drink or two. The invite was from someone I barely knew, a friend of a friend, and it intrigued me because it was a mysterious event: a meeting time and place, instructions of what to bring and wear and that was it.”
“Didn’t you feel weird about it?”
“No. I felt excited. I wore black, like the invite said. Stood outside the entrance to Regents Park at eight o clock and waited. I heard a ‘pssst’ sound behind me and turned round but there was nothing there. After a moment the gate clanged and someone took my arm and started walking me away from the park. We made an abrupt about turn and quickly walked through the gate which someone else locked behind us.”
“Were you scared?”
“No. I was intrigued. I wondered where they were taking me.”
“But didn’t you worry about being raped or something?”
“No. It didn’t occur to me.” She pulls her hair through her fingers, making a small brush clamped by her finger and thumb which she brushes against her cheek. “I wasn’t frightened. The invite was from someone I knew-”
“Well I trusted him!” She glares at me.
“It’s a him. Why did you trust him when you barely knew him?”
“There was something trustworthy about him!” She’s rigorously moving her hair up and down her cheek now.
“How can you tell when someone’s trustworthy? Surely you have to get to know them and that takes time!” My neck aches where I’m stretching to look at her. I shift and sit up slightly.
“But you know immediately do you?’ She’s stabbing her thumb with the clump of hair.
“No. Wh- Oh. Okay. Yeah. I see where you’re coming from. But did you really trust them?”
“Yes. Do you really trust me?” She lets go of the hair and it falls to her chest and slithers down the side. A siren screams its way past outside and I wait for it to finish. The air is heavy with her question. I feel trapped.
“No.” A small word containing the truth. I wait for its impact.
“Okay. Good. Would you like to hear the rest of the story?” She picks at her dress. I nod.
“Right. Where were we? In Regents Park. So we’re walking quickly along the path and there’s a clanging sound ahead of us. Metal scraping. ‘Get ready’ says the dude holding my arm, ‘you’re going to climb down a ladder in a sec. Here you are: quick!’ So down I climb and the manhole cover slides over my head. A torch below me shines light on the ladder so I can see where I’m going. I get to the bottom and your mother says, ‘glad you could make it. I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time. Ever since you trashed my comment on your blog in fact!’ and I said, ‘what? Your vague put me down?’ She laughed and walked away with the torch so I followed and we, eventually, reached a room where there was an actual party going on.”
“But what was all the secrecy about?”
“Yes, that’s what I was wondering. She leads an underground movement!” She laughs, “it’s so funny that it’s literally underground!”
“No, it isn’t! It’s pathetic. Stupid. Obvious. I bet she doesn’t even have an effect on things. No-one in the Party has heard of her. Or even mentions her.”
“Well they wouldn’t if they hadn’t heard of her would they?”
“So, what’s she actually doing, living in the – what? Sewers? What the fuck’s she doing that for? It’s ridiculous!” I sit very still as I say this.
“Steve, your mother doesn’t live in the sewers. They use them to move about in the city.”
“It’s a movement.”
“What is? What is the fucking movement?”
“Peace. And Love.”
“You’re shitting me.” I stand and pace around the bedroom, noticing the tiny shadows between threads in the carpet. My feet making shushing sounds. The sun, dying for today, casts a long yellow glow in the hall. I want to hold it in my hands and tie it round my waist so it can’t go. No more night. As I breathe more slowly my paces become shorter and I stop and sit on the corner of the bed.
“Peace and Love. That’s why she left me.”
“She invited you to go with her.”
Breath. The one constant. All the way in. All the way out. I am struggling. Return to the breath. Relish the struggle. I think, if she walked into this room right now, I’d want to punch her. Calmly.
“When you joined the Party she felt hurt.”
The tiniest smile breaks itself on my lips. She felt hurt. A click in my back. Tiny sounds of my body adjusting itself. She felt hurt. Yes, she would do. The Party isn’t about Peace and Love. She felt hurt. There’s a tension in my back, in the middle radiating out to the left. She felt hurt. Yes. The silence in the room moulds itself around me and I breathe into it, changing its shape. I let go. I tense. The muscle in my left thigh is tight.
“You haven’t said anything.”
“What were you expecting?” Breathing into the tight spot.
“I don’t know.”
“Really? Didn’t you want me to bite?” I laugh; a tinny sound, “a comment like that deserves a bite, wouldn’t you say?”
“No. You could have said why you joined the Party.”
“You know why. To spite her.”
“That’s the only reason?”
“No. I wanted power. They promised it to me.” More laughter, “I’m the anti-Christ in my mother’s eyes.”
“No, you’re not, Steve. She loves you!”
Back to the breath. So much going on. So many thoughts and so fast they can’t be in my awareness.
“I wasn’t calling myself the anti-Christ, for fuck’s sake.” A flat tone to disguise the bubbling venom underneath. She sounds like a fucking… “And how the fuck would you know whether my mother loves me? Because she’s told you? Is that it? Fucking hell. You know nothing. You see a new side of life and suck it up, believing everything you’re told. You know nothing. Don’t tell me my mother loves me.”
“It’s you who knows nothing, Steve. You don’t know what she’s done. What she’s put in place for our future! She works tirelessly for the world and you know nothing about it and you can’t even be bothered to find out!”
Scrunch. Relax. Scrunch. Relax. My toes feel slightly wet as they scrape the carpet. Why is that? Weird. What has my mother done for the world? It’s funny.
“Why are you laughing?” Her stupid hurt little voice is getting on my nerves now.
“Why not? You’re telling me funny things. About my mother.”
“Fuck you, Steve!” Up she gets and trots out of the room and I’m glad. She can take her idealism with her. I’ve had enough of it.
When I was six my mother told me Father Christmas wasn’t real. Yeah, I know. Poor me. But I thanked her for it. I valued the truth. I think she told me the truth for her own reasons though; I didn’t get any presents that year. Dad lost his job and we were skint. He was more gutted than I was about Father Christmas. He hung himself in the garage two days before Christmas. Uncle Ron came and stayed with us to ‘help us through the rough patch’; it lasted two years.