She's the host of the rapidly growing "Friday Prediction", a three-word challenge presented every Friday (including yesterday... no rest for the wicked). In addition, Lily just pulled off a tour-de-force fiction event with her remarkable "February Femmes Fatales", in which she showcased the talents of stunning group of women.
With a style that is absolutely and uniquely her own, it is a pleasure to share "Living in a Box".
Living in a Box
Quivering, vaporous forms. They are indistinct as my eyes open to the familiar pale green of the box. Walking, talking photographs, paintings even - that morph back and forth.
My mouth is dry – it’s always that way. Someone sticks a tube between my teeth and I suck in the salty, pale-orange liquid. It tastes of electricity and saccharine.
The figures are clearer now. I recognise them from yesterday and the day before that. One’s a man – an old man. The other is young; his daughter perhaps. She is so thin I call her the Spindle Queen. Inquisitive, her tight face bears more lines than the father, but she has scarlet lips; lips that pout, lips that squeeze when she is angry. I’d like to eat them but she draws back as I lunge, a fruitless effort.
“God, she’s fast.”
They nod heads and play out a psst, psst, psst tittle-tattle game of whispers before turning back to face me. My head dips to one side and I carefully emulate the woman’s fake smile. Mine reaches my eyes where hers does not. With a little flare of the nostrils she backs away, fading though the door until it is an empty picture frame.
I would love to stand up. When did I last use my feet? There are straps at my wrists, at my ankles; around my calves, my thighs and up, up, up to my chest where, without warning my heart swells hot then cold – freezing cold; pulsing fast, fast, faster. I can’t bear the panic. I need to run away. The chair is bolted to the floor but still I try to rock my way out of it, going nowhere. Quickly, my body gathers momentum until with every spasm the leather cuts into my skin, spraying blood over the thin gown. It spreads.
The old man calls into the wall.
I’ve heard that word before. It makes everything go black.
From somewhere within my belly I feel the squeal. It mounts and grows, taking my soul with it to the ceiling as its pitch rises. From a great height I circle the seated echo of me and join in with the scream pouring from my other throat. We labour as twins to fill the room with unique harmony.
Assistance arrives through another door. It’s the Spindle Queen. She winces at my song. She calls me Banshee.
I can do that. I’ll visit her in her dreams later, steal her children.
My ethereal being flails at Assistance as the needle is rammed into my corporeal arm. Although she cannot see my wraith she swipes at it anyway, but no matter - I am already sliding back inside. I have just enough time to spit in her face. There is red in it. I have bitten off the end my tongue.
“She’s not who she says she is,” the old man tells a gaggle of bespectacled onlookers. He smiles benignly at me so I guess it’s time to show him my claws. Midnight blue. I stretch them out as far as I am able.
“Can you tell our guests your name?” He is bent towards me, not too close but near enough that I can smell pipe tobacco.
“Lompster. Snap, snap.”
The visitors scribble onto notepads and clipboards, muttering and frowning. Old Man Pipe speaks again without averting his gaze from my lovely claws.
“Miss Pearce believes she is a lobster, for today at least.”
One of the group stares at me longer than the others. I wiggle my antenna and hope he will fall into my trap. I’m hungry.
Sniggers and half-concealed smirks ripple through the rabble, and then I spot her; Pipey’s daughter. She’s telling them I claimed I was a doctor last week. That’s ridiculous. I’m only twelve years old. Look at them – they’re the deluded ones in their white coats, writing and gossiping as though they can see inside my head. It’s the reverse. It’s me that knows they’re all after Thermidor for dinner; wondering whether to cook me gently, turning the heat up until I fall asleep – or plunge me into a boiling vat.
I don’t like it. I start to rock. Here it comes...
Get it out! Get it out! It’s stuck in my throat. What are you do...?
Apparently I’ve been so well-behaved I can go home to Daddy tomorrow.
I don’t know what they’re talking about.
I only arrived here yesterday. Didn’t I?
I’d rather eat razor blades.
London. Gerard’s come to collect me. His tone is laden with pity as he rolls out the questions they’ve prompted him with. He must ask them every day.
“What’s your name?” he says as we sidle through traffic in his battered heap.
I clutch my plastic handbag and reply. “Grace Pearce.”
“How old are you Grace?”
“I’m fifteen.” I don’t know if this is true – I’ve just learned to repeat what they told me.
“Where do you live?”
Nothing, silence. I have no idea.
“C’mon Gracey,” he nags. “Hammersmith. You live in Hammersmith, by the weir.”
Something’s wrong. I may not know who I am but I know there’s no weir in Hammersmith. I turn to examine Gerard’s profile. It is bloated, his face scarred and pocked. There’s a scent of turned vinegar about him.
“You’re not my brother,” I say.
Gerard’s plump hands grasp the wheel for a moment. I watch the set of his expression change to one he must have been practising.
“Sure I am, Grace.” He pats my leg. “The doctors said you might have trouble remembering some of the family as you’ve been... away for so long.
I turn the tables. “Tell me about the family, Gerard. Who’s waiting for me at home?”
He won’t look at me. Won’t. Look. At. Me. He’s not my brother. He’s...
“Dad. Dad’ll be there. With Uncle Barry. And, erm, Uncle Roger.”
Men. All men. I’ve never heard of them.
Sunlight hits the wing-mirror so hard the flash is blinding. I squeeze my eyes shut - once, twice. And there, unmistakable – is the shift. With absolute clarity I recall the day I entered Marston Hospital – Marston Asylum for the Clinically Insane, as it is no longer called. Mama. Mama killing Daddy for loving someone else in their bed. Blood all over her hands and the quilt and the scissors she’s used to stab Daddy and the girl – and she is just a girl; she’s my best friend from school. She’s twelve like me. And now she’s dead. And Daddy’s dead. And by the time the police arrive – because I am clever and phoned them – Mama is dead too. She has cut her own throat. I scream and don’t stop until they give me the needle and...
Black. But there’s no black now. Gerard’s calmly driving, his hand still on my knee, rubbing it too hard. He isn’t my brother. I never had a brother. I think back to the green box, Dr Pipe and his daughter and... Gerard. Gerard was in that group of visitors – how long ago was that? He was the one that paid me extra attention then went off to talk to the Spindle Queen while they shot me full of dope.
I hang my head. It’s obvious.
Gerard slams the breaks on to avoid hitting the back of a bus. “What? What are you talking about?”
“I know what you did. You bought me. She sold you to me.”
He doesn’t even attempt to deny it; simply shrugs his shoulders.
“You were cheap; getting a bit long in the tooth. If you didn’t look so young I wouldn’t have bothered.”
I grab at the door-handle but of course he has put the child-locks on. There’s nothing for it.
The bus pulls into a stop and we draw alongside it; the lights ahead are red. I turn to the window and hammer, hammer, hammer with my fists. A few passengers turn to see what the fuss is about. Beside me Gerard unbuckles his seatbelt and draws a knife; he pokes it into my side. The pain is nothing. I don’t care if he kills me or not. I bite – hard. Red spittle sprays over the window and I bite again. On the bus, children are crying and pointing. A woman has her phone out. “Help!” I mouth; my teeth coated with shards of tongue. In front of us the lights turn green. Gerard, already in gear rams his foot down but the bus-driver is faster, twisting the vehicle into our lane. The car hits it at speed. I fly forward, then back; whiplash tearing through my neck. The last thing I see is Gerard’s broken face the other side of the windscreen. Between his legs the knife he was holding has punctured his groin. I am glad.
The bus driver was cleared of attempted murder; hailed a hero. Gerard – not his real name – did know me after all. He was a mate of my Dad’s, part of the same filthy gang. He didn’t die; he’s paralysed for life. That’s better than any punishment a court could hand out, though he’s in jail now too. The judge refused to give him a shorter sentence for squealing like a cowardly pig on Uncle Barry, Uncle Roger and the man who was to play the part of my father.
I stand here at the final hurdle. When they sentence the Spindle Queen to life imprisonment I cry my first tears for four years. Now she’ll know how it feels to live in a box. I hope it’s painted a sickly, pale green.
The woman from the bus who called the police is waiting for me in the hallway of the court. We’ve been talking. She stands and smiles, takes a tentative step towards me. I raise my eyes in hope, and she nods.
“It’s all agreed. Come on Grace, let’s go home.”
My bedroom window looks out over the prettiest garden I have ever seen. I can smell the roses from up here. And I have space; space to sleep, space to dance. Space to be me. I turn, slowly at first then twirl, spinning – my arms outspread. I am a ballerina, pink like the walls.
In here, there’s not a spot of green.
In here, there is no black. At least, not today.
Lily Childs likes to dally on the dark side where demons wear corsets and nothing is ever as it seems. Her fiction and poetry has been published in print and online. Find out more on her blog The Feardom at http://lilychildsfeardom.blogspot.com
Editor's note: Join me one more time tomorrow for the wrap-up of Madness in March, announcement of the winner (whose work will "own" the top corner of this blog for the next thirty days) and other mad ramblings by your humble host.