I was alright in mid-June apart from the weather which was typically Scottish. Charcoal clouds were scribbled over the only green hill that formed part of our view. The air was thick. A warm breeze swayed the vertical blinds and they clattered together.
“I can’t concentrate.” I said, saving the document I was working on. I put my lap-top on the couch and got up to close the window, but Helen began coughing. She sat forward, red faced and I thumped the top of her back, careful to avoid the line where the nerve pain started. “Are you alright?”
She shook her head. “Not…”
“What can I do?” I asked.
She pointed to the window and wagged her finger.
“You want it left open?”
I hurried to the kitchen and edged a glass between last night’s dinner dishes and the cold tap. I filled the glass with water.
“I need to clean the kitchen,” I said when I returned.
“You said you’d do it later.”
“I know, but it stinks.”
“It’s just last night’s dishes.”
“I’ll do it then.” She sighed. “You try to do too much, and you need to work on your dissertation.”
“It can wait. Besides, I can’t have you struggling to stand at the sink.” I kissed her cheek. “You worry too much.”
“You’d be better going up to the university to write. There’d be less distraction.”
I shrugged my shoulders, sat down and I lifted my lap-top onto my knee. The blinds rattled.
I was in the kitchen a couple of hours later when I heard the letterbox snap shut. The mail flopped on the floor. It was mostly junk, a Farmfoods leaflet, money off coupons for Domino’s, you know the likes, when I heard the Post woman’s footsteps echo down the stairs in the communal hallway. I considered opening the door and pointing at the sign above our letterbox: NO JUNK MAIL. But I didn’t. I realised for the first time, I couldn’t.
“Anything for me?” Helen called from the Living-room.
“Something from the council.” I took it through to her.
“Maybe it’s about the wood-worm.”
“It’s too soon.” I said. “Although it would be my luck to have the council ripping up floors while I’m trying to write a dissertation.”
Helen opened the letter. She raised her eyebrows.
“They’re coming to lift the floor, aren’t they?”
“In a fortnight, and they want the house empty.”
“What about us?”
“They’re putting us up in a hotel. Guess we have some packing to do. Should I ask some friends around to help?”
“No!” I said too quickly. I even surprised myself.
At the beginning of July, the weather was still drab but there had been the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. I couldn’t help wishing it would hurry up, if only to clear the air.
“Could you pop over to Peter’s and ask him if he’ll run us to the hotel on Monday?” Helen asked.
“I’ll just finish packing this box.” I said laying an ornament on a piece of newspaper and triple wrapping it.
“I’ll finish that.” Helen said.
“It’s okay, I’m nearly done.” I snapped.
“Sorry.” She backed away and I felt a pang of guilt.
“I’ll go in a minute.”
“I’d go myself, but I can’t do the steps.”
“I know that.” I threw the wrapped ornament into the box and turned away from her.
“What’s wrong.” Helen sat on the floor beside me. “Are you crying?”
I hid my face from her. “I can’t go.”
“Go where? The hotel?”
I let out a sob.
“I can’t go to Peter’s.”
By the time we got to the hotel the following week we could barely see a foot in front of us. The fog was thick and white, and our world shrank to the size of the cave we were temporary living in.
“What time are you meeting you tutor?” Helen shouted from the other room.
“In ten minutes, at the bar.” I sat on the toilet and my stomach cramped. I emptied my bowel. Again.
“Sorry I’m late.” My tutor said and ordered us a pot of tea. “How are you?”
“I’m well,” I lied but I wanted to run back to Helen and hide.
“How’s the dissertation coming along?”
“Fine.” I said a little too loudly and I felt everyone in the bar look at me. I waited for them to laugh. In my mind they did.
“Are you in touch with your classmates?”
“I’ve been too busy.” I lied because I felt too stupid to say that some of my friends hated me now because I was apparently the teacher’s pet. I felt stupid saying that they were horrible to me – and now I was lost.
It was January 2018 before I realised, I had social anxiety. I was standing in the back garden of our new home, inappropriately dressed for a blizzard but poised, perfectly still with a camera in my hand. Through the lens, I watched a robin on the fence have his breast feathers whipped up by the wind as flurry of snow danced around him.
“What time is everyone arriving?” Helen sticks a tahini dip covered finger to my mouth.
“That’s amazing.” I lick it from my lips. “Two o’clock I think.” I finish breading the cauliflower and pop it into the oven.
“Are you feeling okay?” She asks. “With, you know, people coming around?”
“I will be.” I tell her. I lift my purple headphones from the table. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” I go into the spare room and close the door. Before I press play on the app, I check to see how many people will be joining me.
Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable. Sit on a straight back chair or on a meditation cushion. When you hear the gentle chimes of the singing bowl, close your eyes.
Breathe in to the count of five.
Breathe out to the count of five.