Between First Light and Reality
“Wake up,” she says, squatting at the head of my bed.
And I don't care that she's not real.
I don't care because she's as beautiful as anything I've ever seen. There's part cat in her, in the way she moves, in the way she's crouching, so totally alert, in the goldness about her, the way she shines. Eyes are reddish, and muddy, encircled in dark lashes. Lips are toffee sweet, also red, much brighter and wetter. Her ears point up like a cat's; or an elf's; curling in on themselves at their impressive, pointed tip. Hair like a rainbow. Slashing, twitching, colour-changing tail.
What is she?
I have no idea. I turn my head to look at her – to breathe her; her scent tastes like brandy and like honey. She sparkles. The air around her sparkles. I breathe glitter.
“Come out with me,” she whispers.
“I can't. You know I can't.”
“But you could. We could run away together.”
“I don't run.”
“But you could.”
“No.” I have no way of being angry with her. I might have torn shreds off any mundanely human person who'd tried to say such things to me. Cruel. Ridiculous. I'd have driven them away with crashing words, with hurricanes of incrimination, roaring accusations. The works. Like I did with Lindy. But it's never that way with her.
She jumps lightly onto my bed. Crouches on my pointless legs -so light I don't think I could have felt her, even if.... Even if. But the world is not fairytales. What happened did happen. She can't sing and dance it all away. She can't spread fairy dust and light over the world and turn it into something else.
“Oh, can't I?”
“No, you can't.”
“No. This is real.” And I'm gesturing at the bed, at the plastic tubes, and the little blinking lights, the rumpled pale blue blanket, the bare walls, the cheap lino floors. That's what the real world is like.
“How about this then?” She's poised always ready to move, with that uber-ready cat-likeness; with the sparkle of fairy dust rising off her shoulders. She has scales on those shoulders, over her body – sheer and silk scales, a second skin of fine stockings, transparent and light-catching. Little stripes run down her neck and onto her lightly furred collarbone.
“How about what?”
She tilts her head towards the window.
Yes – she has her little tricks. I can see movement through the window. I can see the way the vines outside are suddenly infused with a vigorous growth spurt. They smother the window, straining at the glass, then budding all over, erupting into giant, soft-petalled flowers. The colour seeps into the glass, staining it, filling it up with a complex pattern that eventually becomes a stained glass image of her.
“It's not really there.”
“Who says it's not? Come with me. Come on! Come and play.” She takes my hand, tugging me. As if we were children. As if I wasn't imprisoned in this bed and body. She teases me with freedom, oblivious to the impossibility...
“Not impossible. Why do you always have to say that? See with your heart. Why can't you do that? Then you'd be free.”
“You won't even try it.”
“Somebody's coming. Be quiet.”
Why? When she's not real, and nobody else can see her, and no matter how much she laughed
and shouted and gallivanted around nobody would pay attention? I tell myself its because I'd find her distracting, the doctors would look at me like I was losing my mind as well as my body. I tell myself that, but I don't know what it is – that I fear they might see her, and thereby share her – fear that they won't and then the illusion will all come crashing down, she'll dissolve and I'll be as completely alone...?
So I tell her to stay quiet. And she obliges today. She curls up under the bed, giggling every now and then, but otherwise not causing me too much difficulty.
And the door opens.
Doctor Rabbit comes in.
It's such an unfortunate name. And its even more unfortunate that he looks so much like a rabbit. Even in the depths of my misery I couldn't help but laugh at him when he introduced himself by that name. And there he is with his short, plump nose, and his chunky front teeth, with ears that stick out a bit, a chin that doesn't. He even has that slightly twitchy quality. It's ridiculous.
“How are you today, Johnno?”
“Much the way I was yesterday. I don't get out much.” The window's still bright above me, but he pays it no attention. There's green and purple light shining across his face, and he doesn't even glance that way.
Yup, just losing my mind. Huh. Well, I don't really miss it.
“Well, let's see.” And he's reading my chart. I think it was my chart he was really addressing the question to all along.
I lie back, wishing he'd leave.
“Nice day out,” he's saying.
“Rain's expected.” I respond. I haven't read the forecast, I don't really know, I just want to bring a little downer on him, like the one that's got me squeezed so hard in its claws. Just misery loving a bit of company, I guess.
“Is it?” He's half listening. But then all at once he has his full attention on me. He swings a chair round and plonks himself down in it, leg crossed over his knee. He gets me in his sights.
Oh, crap. What now then?”
“It'll be time soon for us to think about the long term, Johnno.”
The doctors. They just love using your name.
“Future,” I say, “that a pretty funny word to be using around someone like me.”
“It doesn't have to be.”
“I don't think I really...”
“You're still a young man, Johnno.”
Forty-three. It's relative.
“You could have a long life ahead of you.”
A long existence.
“We should probably be thinking about your long term plans.”
“I was thinking of lying here. A decade or so maybe.”
“Johnno. Look at me. Your life is going to go on. It won't be as it was -”
My wife left me. My body left me.
“-but it is going to go on. There are some long term care options out there that are not as bad as you think. I'm not talking rest homes. There's facility based care that caters for younger people. I have a few brochures...”
I have a few brochures – she's mimicking him, in a high-pitched voice that sounds nothing like him. Except that underneath the sound, it does.
“There's no hurry to make any decisions.”
There's no hurry to make any decisions.
“You can take your time.”
You can take your mime – chime – climb. You want to climb?
“I'm just going to leave them with you.”
I'm never going to leave you ever.
He's so blind. Doctor Bunny-Rabbit. She's right next to him, curled up under the bed, and she's flicking his toe with her stick-thin fingers. When she breathes she breathes a rainbow mist across the floor; it flickers like she breathed fire, and then the whole floor lights up. It's like a disco in here. Waves of light race across the reflective hospital floor, over reflective hospital walls; light's shadow makes a rainbow over the roof. And he doesn't bat an eyelid.
He pats my arm. He gets up to leave.
She makes rabbit faces under the bed.
Innocent shrug. What? Then she does it again.
“I'm sorry, did you...?” He's half turned towards me.
“No. Nothing. Nothing.”
He walks out. The pamphlets sit on the little wheeled table next to my bed. I don't want to look at them. I don't want to admit that there's no going back to being whole. I don't want to admit that I've driven away my friends, my family, my lover, and now there's nobody but professional strangers to look after me. I don't want to admit that this is for life.
But she clambers up onto the bed and makes herself at home on my knees. She perches like a bird. She snuggles in like a cat. She winks at me as if we share the world's silliest joke. She dismisses the pamphlets with a grin. “Don't worry,” she tells me gaily, “you know I'll come with you.”