“I’ll get another mug out,” Lily’s voice makes me jump slightly. I’d forgotten she was there. Suddenly I feel naked. I rise from my chair. “Gonna put some clothes on.”
The bedroom is warm despite the open window. Bed. The duvet is crumpled in a pile on the mattress. If I crawl into its folds all will be well. My mother’s voice, louder than the other two, creeps under the bedroom door. I retrieve my clothes and dress myself. As I pull open the door a surprised face meets mine. She was about to knock.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, mother.” I try to edge past her.
“From what I’ve been told you’re actually not-”
“Oh yeah? Then why’dja ask?”
She huffs and steps side as I push past. Flinging myself down in the charity shop chair I begin picking at the arm of it.
“What’s this about then? It’s the middle of the bloody night!” She scrapes back a dining chair and sits heavily in it.
Rebecca’s voice is soft and smooth, “we found him burning his pyjamas.”
“In the bedroom!” Lily adds as she takes tea to the table. She wanders over to me with a mug. “You didn’t like ’em much eh?”
“The thing is he asked me to buy a pair when we were in the taxi.”
“I did not!” I thump the arm of the chair and spill a little tea on my leg. It oozes into the denim, darkening it.
“He doesn’t remember!” Lily eases herself onto the sofa opposite me, “we sat in the car together playing I Spy while Rebecca bought them.”
“But I wouldn’t ask for them! I just wouldn’t!”
“But you did!” Rebecca turns to my mother, “that’s why we called you. We don’t understand what’s going on. We thought you might know something… some background-”
“No! There’s no background. I just don’t like them. Like Lily said!” I nod at her to confirm it. “Like Lily said.”
“Steve…” my mother’s mouth flaps open uselessly.
I stare at her. “There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing anyone can do. So there’s no point even thinking about the pyjamas.”
“But there must be a point otherwise you wouldn’t have asked for them.” Her tone is pleading now.
“Look, it wasn’t me who asked for them. If it was I would remember.”
“Then who was it?” Rebecca’s question points all eyes at me. Suddenly the spot of tea on my leg feels cold. I rub it. “Someone who remembers something about blue stripy pyjamas. Someone I must not know about.”
Rebecca is squinting at me. Lily and my mother exchange a series of looks. Their reactions are not comforting. I gaze at the dark spot on my trouser leg and notice my breathing.
Lily leans forward, “what might happen if that someone came out?”
“No. No. We don’t think about that,” I sing to the room. I laugh. “Ha! I spilt my tea on my leg but it’s nearly dry already. Can you believe it? Physics in action! What a wonderful world!”
“What do blue stripy pyjamas mean to you?” The question is soft but hits me in the chest with a punch. Breath escapes. I look around the room, noting the size and shape of everything in it. I move my eyes from my right to my left to do this and when I finish I understand I have to do it again. And again.
“What’s going on, Steve? What are you avoiding?” Lily’s words remind me of the stripy blue pyjamas and a flash of visual recall strikes me. It is gone again instantly, taking my breath with it. It was too quick to catch the memory. But something lingers. A feeling. A mixed feeling. Excitement. Warmth. A dragging down. A falling. A wanting to be saved. Rescued. Helped. But no-one knew. No-one noticed. No-one cared. I bow my head and sob.