I need a shower. I jump up, turn on the faucet and rip my clothes off. Standing under the hot stream of water I stare at the tiles in front of me; drips merge to run suddenly down. The heat is comforting. I wish it covered all of me. I shift quickly, repetitively, transferring the heat just in time; it’s important that none of me stays out of the wet for long.
I step out of the shower and pat myself with the hand towel slowly, gently all over. When I finish doing this I fold the hand towel in two, length-ways, and place it on the towel rail making sure it is perpendicular. My clothes are crumpled in small heaps on the bathroom floor. This is a problem. I can’t possibly put them on again. And I can’t leave the bathroom naked. Can I? The holdall that Rebecca brought with new clothes for me is in the lounge. I can’t ask her to bring it. I can’t speak just yet. To anyone. I stand on the bathmat and stare at the door. It is white and I can see the wood grain: indents creating tiny shadows. I sigh. Picking up the hand towel again I hold it in front of my penis and leave the bathroom.
“Yes, but the Silenol?” Rebecca is imploring my mother with her eyes when they notice me sans clothes entering the lounge. I pick up the holdall, managing to keep my hand towel in place. Turning around I look at them. My mother and Rebecca. My mother has grey hair. Nearly white. Her eyes are blue, and they pierce whoever she looks at. She is looking at me but something is different. I can’t quite place it. Her hair is long. When she left it was short. But that’s not what’s different. She’s wearing black. It contrasts with her pale skin and nearly white hair. She is resting her chin on her hand. She is looking at me like you might look at a painting. Out of the corner of my eye I notice Rebecca is very still. We are all very still. Like statues. Maybe we are statues. The holdall feels heavier the more I hold it. I feel an urge to move but a stronger urge is making me stay here; stare at my mother and, indirectly, Rebecca. I am a man. She has never seen me like this. I was a boy when she left. I have grown up. I bet she is thinking these things.
“That’s what you said in your sleep.” I stare at my mother as I say this. She blinks slowly and takes a deep breath in. Rebecca looks at my mother, then at me, “you’re talking to me.”
I nod, without taking my eyes off my mother. The bag is now dictating a decision: move or put it down. I move to the bedroom and close the door behind me. I empty the contents of the bag onto the carpet. Two pairs of jogging pants, one black, one grey, a pair of trainers, two t-shirts, one black, one grey, a pair of jeans, a pair of boots, a grey sweatshirt, four pairs of boxer shorts and four pairs of socks. I select socks, boxer shorts, jeans and the grey t-shirt. I retrieve my wallet and money, and photograph, and stuff it in my back pocket. I open the wardrobe door and rake my fingers through my hair in the mirror. I haven’t brushed my teeth for days. They feel furry. I haven’t shaved. Stubble. Scratchy.
When I re-enter the lounge they are talking quietly. They stop and look at me. I join them at the table, drawing out a chair for myself in what I imagine to be a casual way. Rebecca jumps up, “who’d like a hot drink?”
My mother is studying me again. She slowly nods. “Yes, I’d like something. A coffee or something.” She watches me as she gives her order.
“Do you take milk and sugar?”
“Milk. No sugar.”
As the sounds of the kitchen fill our ears my mother smiles at me. It’s a slow smile that stretches her lips and makes them thin in the middle. She used to have dark hair. Like me. Now it’s nearly white. But her eyes are still that piercing blue. But it is different. They can’t see in me. That’s it. She can’t see in me any more. She left her power when she left me. I look away over the river.
“Why are you smiling like that, Steve?”
“Because you don’t know.”
“What don’t I know?”
“I know you.”
“But not like you used to. And that’s why I’m smiling.” I glance at her. She looks hurt.
Rebecca comes and puts a mug of tea in front of me and a steaming cup in front of my mother. She sits back in her seat and looks from one to the other and back again.
“So, what’s it like to be with one another again?” She smiles.
“It’s not like anything.” I shrug.
“It’s wonderful.” A tear creeps down the right side of my mother’s nose. For the first time, I don’t feel guilty that I’m not feeling the same thing she is and I smile.
“What’s Silenol?” I ask them and they look at each other furtively before looking at me again.
“It’s a by-product.” Rebecca says this. “I work at the dye factory. We produce all sorts of chemicals and Silenol is produced during a chemical reaction.”
“What does it do?”
“And it’s being fed into the water system in certain areas of the country. To keep the population down.”
“But how can it be separated from the main supply?”
“Water filter cleaner companies are sold it as a water cleaner. It doesn’t smell of anything. They think they’re cleaning the water.”
“But I don’t get it. Why would the Party want people to nominate their weak loved ones to die if they’re killing people anyway?”
“It’s not just about killing the weak. It’s about building an elite country. They want a country of strong people that will rival other countries.” My mother’s voice is soft. And beautiful. I remember that about her. She used to be good at reading bedtime stories. Her voice animated the characters. I always wanted one more chapter. “It’s about survival of the fittest. Only, instead of allowing the ill to fade away, they want to tidy them out of the way. And the uncouth. They’re delivering Silenol to council estates currently. It’s their test plan.”
I sigh heavily. This is hard to digest. “They’re killing people on council estates?”
“Yes, they’re the lowest form of human apparently.” My mother laughs without humour.
“Even though they might be healthy physically?” I still don’t quite believe it.
“I don’t see why they’d do that.”
“But you see why they’d ask people to nominate their weak relatives to die?” Rebecca stares at me.
“Okay. Yes, I see your point. But… they can’t do that.”
“They are doing that.” Again, Rebecca’s stare drills into me.
“Why are you working for them then?” I feel colour flushing my cheeks as I say this and I realise I feel quite childish, especially with my mother sitting opposite me.
“Rebecca is working undercover. She reports to us so that we can sabotage them.” That tone. It reminds me of the times she let me know that I was being stupid and I hated her for it even though I knew I was being stupid. It has a hint of ‘you should know better than to speak to her like that’ in it. Like she’s some fucking queen of righteousness and I’m the village idiot. Of course Rebecca is working undercover to save the world. Just like my mother. How saintly they both are.
“I don’t do much really. Just give you information. I wish I could do more.” She smiles at my mother.
“You do enough, Rebecca. You’re in enough danger doing what you do. We can’t thank you enough.”
“This is ridiculous!” I am furious suddenly. I lower my head into my hand and push my hair back from my forehead. Both women seem startled and are staring at me. The world has gone mad. How can it be that the government wants people to die to create an elite nation? How can I have been part of it? How can I wipe out that part of my life? How can I get out? The only way out is through. I look at my mother.
“The only way out is through. You said that to me before you left.”
“Yes. It’s true.”
“What does it mean?”
She sighs deeply. Then gazes away over the Thames. “I used to think I knew exactly but it really can’t be pinned down. Ha. Like a butterfly, if you pin it down, it’s dead and of no use to anyone. Except a butterfly collector.” She chuckles under her breath. “It’s about moving with alignment. Allowing life to move through you. Have you ever experienced life like that?” She raises her eyebrows at me. I’m not sure. “It’s a series of moments that follow one another simply and easily, like dance movements. They flow in and out of each other. Effortless. Graceful. You must have experienced it.”
Just listening to her speak like this creates a calmness in me. Yes, I have experienced it. At times when I’ve been at my best. In the zone.
“Yes, you have. Everyone has. Well, you need to remember the essence of that because at hard times the only way out is through. And that’s when you need to trust yourself and something bigger than yourself. Some instinct that wishes to emerge and live fully. That’s what I’m talking about. And it’s not elitist. It’s loving. No. That’s not it. It’s real. It’s life. Life that’s not twisted by morality. It’s real life. Let it move through you and tiny things will occur that will let your heart sing with bliss. That’s what it’s about.”