Bang, bang, bang!
Someone’s knocking at the door.
“George! George! Aren’t you awake yet?”
I open my eyes, feeling confused about where I am. The alarm clock on my bedside table reads seven forty five. I sit bolt upright and swing my legs clumsily out of bed.
“I’m up mum! I’m up!”
“You’re going to have to hurry,” she calls. “Else you’ll miss the bus.”
“I know,” I mumble. I cringe inwardly because my voice is almost as clumsy as my legs. It’s been like that ever since my accident.
I gather some fresh clothes and step into the shower annoyed with myself that once again I forgot to set the alarm. My memory is not exactly what it once was either.
Standing naked under the cleansing downpour I rub some anti-dandruff shampoo through my greying hair. When I get to the six inch curving scar where my head was once cleaved open by unforgiving twisted metal I shudder and close my eyes.
The water falls across my shoulders and I wish for what seems like the millionth time that it could wash away the memory of my car spinning through the air as I hurtled through the windscreen.
I know I’m lucky to be alive. But it doesn’t feel like it most of the time. These are things that I never tell. Not to my doctors. Not to my therapist. Not even to my mother.
On the outside I’m a brain damaged wreck of a man –a simpleton who’s hard pushed to keep down a job and too much of a liability to take care of his own family. Well, that last bit is true.
My wife Leila can’t cope with my seizures and memory loss. Not to mention the sudden mood changes. She also says I scare the children and that they’re afraid of me.
I step out of the shower and towel myself off. Turning my face this way and that in front of the mirror I stare at my scarred face and wonder what it is that they’re so afraid of.
My grey hooded eyes stare back at me, cloaked with an insatiable hunger. I know what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid that the man I once was is lost forever.
I dress as quickly as I can, frustrated at my fumbling uncoordinated fingers as they wrestle with my shirt buttons. After checking my appearance in the mirror once more I go downstairs and see what’s for breakfast.
A familiar, comforting smell drifts into my nostrils as I enter the kitchen. But try as I might I can’t recognise it.
“Hi mum,” I say pecking her on the cheek.
She smiles as I sit at the breakfast bar. Something’s cooking on the stove, sizzling as she chases it around the pan with a blue handled spatula.
“What are we having this morning?” I ask polishing my fork on my sleeve.
For some reason her shoulders sag.
“Same thing we have every morning George,” she says over her shoulder. “Eggs and ham.”
This is news to me. Another memory lapse I guess. The ham and eggs are delicious. I wash them down with a cold glass of orange juice. Feels like my first. But mum assures me I’ve been drinking orange juice for most of my forty two years. Will my broken mind ever stop playing games with me?
Glancing at my watch I jump up in horror.
“Gotta go,” I say stumbling over the legs of the bar stool.
“Ok. Go, before you miss the bus. I don’t want you walking it again,” she says fussing over my collar.
It makes me feel like a little boy and suddenly I’m over whelmed by anger.
“Leave me alone!” I snap. “I can do it myself.”
Her hands freeze in mid-air. For a second she looks wounded and then she relaxes.
“I know George, I know,” she says patting my shoulder patiently. “Have a good day and I’ll see you after six.”
I look at her gentle face and I feel like scum. I want the ground to open up and swallow me. But I know it won’t. She’s almost eighty. She should be pottering around in the garden and making patchwork quilts not running around after me.
“See you later,” I mumble planting a kiss on her cheek. The word sorry stays stuck in my throat.
It’s only a few hundred yards to the bus stop but even so I know she’s fighting the urge to accompany me.
Instead I have a cell phone in my pocket and I’m to ring her the moment I get there and once again when I get to work.
I hate this. But I know it’s the way it has to be.
Ignoring my resentment, I do as I’ve been asked and phone her once I reach the bus stop, but I keep it brief then sit back to watch the world go by.
The ground at my feet is dry and the warm heady breeze picks up the dust and whirls it around in dusky orange spirals. Two children hurry past, no doubt on their way to school. With their back packs full of books they giggle as they walk along. The little girl has pigtails and is eating an apple.
Two uncomfortable thoughts pop into my head unbidden.
- They’re probably about the same age as Josh and Ally, my two kids – both of whom live in Denver with their mother.
- Even though they’re a fraction of my age I bet they don’t have to call their mum to confirm that they made it to school.
As though they sense my gaze both children turn round and poke their tongues out cheekily. My mood changes again as if by magic and a scowl falls like a shadow across my face.
The boy gives me the middle finger and the two of them run away making me feel like some monstrous pariah.
There’s still no sign of the bus. A warm rain slowly begins to fall in fat heavy drops dampening the parched ground. Somewhere overhead clouds rumble as they roll through the sky like a slate grey pyroclastic cloud.
I look up and smile enjoying the feel of rain trickling down my face. Peace descends and my dark thoughts start to recede. Suddenly a massive bolt of incandescent brilliance lances out and blasts me effortlessly through the air.
Searing heat and a blinding light engulf me. It feels as though I’ve been hurled into the heart of the sun. I want to scream but I’m in a place where sound no longer exists. My eyes slam shut as my consciousness hurtles towards forever.
When I wake I find that it’s now pitch black dark. My head feels like it’s full of rocks when I try to move. I remember the lightning bolt and wonder if I am dead. Part of me hopes so.
My legs hurt. Feels like cramp. I stretch them out and groan. My feet hit something metallic – I think they’re empty beer cans rattling. It evokes a painful memory. I’m confused.
Suddenly the silver light of the moon illuminates my surroundings. I’m in a car parked in a layby. All around me trees stand rustling, like an audience waiting for something to happen.
Reaching up I turn on the interior light. My heart leaps into my throat when I catch sight of myself in the rear view mirror. I twist it towards me for a better look.
“No scars!” I whisper. My mouth hangs open. No speech impediment either!
I run my hand through my hair and find the biggest scar of all absent. Tears spring to my eyes. It must be a dream. A cruel dream.
I feel the urge to prove it to be so – burst this wicked bubble of unreality.
I look around the car taking everything in. The empty beer cans in the passenger seat and in the foot well. The wallet lying open with my wife Leila and the kids smiling up at me from that dog eared old photo I keep in there. My mobile is here too lying on the seat flashing away impatiently.
I know what this is. This is the night we rowed and I drove off, never to return. The old me died that night. Crazed with drink I crashed the car and after that moment nothing was ever the same again.
I pick up the phone to check my voice mail. I cringe, knowing what I will hear.
“That’s it George!” Leila shouts in my ear. “I’m not letting you do this to us anymore. We’re finished! It’s over!”
The line goes dead as the message ends. I hang my head and weep quietly. This all feels so real. Another crate of beers sits on the back seat and I seriously think about opening a can. It’s not like it even matters.
But no. I need to know what’s in the other two messages. The ones I never bothered to listen to the last time round.
I press the button with a shaky finger to play the message.
It’s her again. She’s crying.
“George! Where are you?” she sobs. “It’s getting late. I want you to come back.”
Then in the back ground I hear Ally. I think my heart is going to break.
“Mummy, where’s daddy?”
“It’s ok baby,” Leila says hoarsely. “Daddy will be back soon. Go back to bed and I’ll come tuck you in.”
I think I can hear her breathing softly down the phone. I suspect she’s still there either trying to compose herself or waiting for Ally to leave the room.
“Come home George,” she says finally and then the line goes dead.
If only I had heard that message before. Maybe things would have been different. Maybe they still could be…
Steeling myself I listen to the last message.
“George,” she says simply. “I love you. Please call me.”
I look at the clock. She only sent it twenty minutes ago. This was starting to seem a lot more convincing to me. Maybe the lightning has thrown me back in time and given me another chance? Or maybe the other scenario where I was brain damaged was a drunken hallucination? I have no way of knowing. But I’m going to do as she asks anyhow. I’m going to call her.
Ring, ring.Ring, ring.
“George?” she says in a small voice. “Is that you?”
“For god sake! Where are you? Tell me where you are. I’ll come get you,” she says doing her utmost to hold back the tears.
“You would do that for me?” I stammer in disbelief.
“Yes George. I want my man back,” she says in a low voice.
I hold the phone to my ear and smile at the softly waving trees outside.
“Don’t you worry baby,” I tell her. “I’m coming home. My car’s parked in the layby at the top of Birch Tree Hill.”