The Impracticality of Home

This story was highly commended in the short story category for the Carers UK Creative Writing competition 2017. To purchase the anthology in which this story appears, click here. Carers UK provides carers like myself helpful information and support.

The Impracticality of Home

I sit on the sill of the bay window watching the midday sun wink in the rooftop puddles. A small red helium balloon bobs over the roof of the neighbouring hostel and the sound of a child crying echoes in the alleyway below. I turn around and look up the narrow cobbled road, dotted with bikes and benches, brown haired tourists in matching ponchos, and a road sweeper. The shh shhhhh shhhhhhh of the brushes of his machine hiccough as they suck the remains of somebody’s late night shenanigans. I hug my knees letting the warm breeze that sneaks through the crack in the window touch my face; while the smell of charred meat, chip shop grease and warm bins curls up my nose. The blue curtains billow.

We’d both picked those curtains, trailed for hours around all the charity shops just to find a pair that was long enough for the main window in our new home. Our first home together. Our, we-don’t-care-if -we’ve-only-been-going-out-for-six-months overpriced flat in the centre of a busy student town. I remember sitting on the threadbare sofa, watching her stand on the sill stretching right up to the curtain pole to clip the curtain on to each tiny little hook. ‘Be careful,’ I said and she screwed up her face and told me, ‘I’m the D.I.Y person, remember?’ and I shrugged my shoulders because, in fairness, I could barely hang a picture straight.

I hear a horn tooting and I push the window open wide. It isn’t the patient ambulance service, it’s just a taxi. I hear a thundering of footsteps descending the stairs in the hall. The front door vibrates as they pass the landing and head to the ground floor. I see four of the neighbours burst out the main door in a flurry of neon feather boas, grass skirts and permed wigs and I know tonight is going to be a noisy one.

It was the third flat we’d visited and the best value for money by a mile. I was intrigued by the hand carved double bed on stilts in the small room, while she fell in love with the old Persian rug that covered most of the solid wood floor. ‘It’s a good size,’ I told the estate agent as I sat on the sill and looked around. One of the walls, papered with a grey brick effect looked dated but quirky; the mismatched cushions scattered randomly on the sofa and chairs could easily have been ours and the gap in the wall where a T.V was meant to sit, would be perfect for the plant I’d bought you for our one month anniversary. ‘We’ll take it,’ she said, standing in the centre of the room with her arms stretched wide open. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked, ‘It’ll be noisy.’ And she laughed and ran to the window where some dude in a straw hat sat directly below us playing Wonderwall on his guitar. ‘What’s not to love about that.’ She said and I loved her a little bit more.

The letterbox snaps and a pile of junk mail flops onto the floor along with two white envelopes and a pink one. I can tell from here it’s get-well-soon cards. I wish they sold, ‘I know you’ll never be the same but if you ever need anything just ask’ cards, or, ‘Congratulations on learning to walk for the second time,’ cards. Get well soon is a little presumptuous but I suppose if that’s all there is then…. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I’M HERE! In square letters across the screen. I look out the window to see the top of the ambulance pull up outside the tall heavy iron gates outside the flats.

I remember when we moved in. ‘This place has better security than Buckingham Palace,’ she’d said, as she held the gate open for me to pass through with another box before humphing it up twenty-four steps. ‘It’s your turn next,’ I shouted and kicked over a half empty can of Special Brew that was sitting on the stair.

I run down the stairs as fast as my legs will carry me, past the wheelie bins, over-spilling with junk from the Chinese Takeaway next door, through the black iron gates and to the back of the ambulance where the driver has just opened the two back doors. There’s a smile on her face as big as mine and I reach out my hand as she steps onto the platform and the driver lowers her slowly to the ground. She takes a step forward and wobbles. I grip her hand a little tighter as her feet test the un-even road. It’s shaky at first but we clear the cobbles and edge down the strip of the gutter to the gates. I type in the code twice before I can turn the handle and push it open. She kisses me softly as she passes, and I can’t believe I haven’t kissed her here for over two months. ‘Are you ready?’ We stand at the foot of the stairs. ‘How many is it again? She frowns and I notice her face looks a little paler outside of the hospital bed. ‘Twenty-four.’ I say and take the first step. I hold out my hand.
“One…….

It’s Always Night Here

Everything is dark. I wonder if the orange heat has burned my eyes out. Some of my whiskers have fallen off because I keep banging against the dark. The night has grown walls all around me. I am normally free when the sun goes to sleep. It is the time when we own the world, when we can stretch our legs and run and play with hardly any fear.  You see, before the orange heat, we could see quite fine when the day turned black. I need a diddle but I keep banging into darkness and there is no room.  I want my Mummy.

          I had thought we were together, all seven of us, and Mummy. I guess I was wrong. Everything had felt confusing, with all the orange heat mixed up with the night blackness, which turned into poisoned air, and made  seeing and breathing ever so hard.

My tail is all cramped and curled up and it stings from top to bottom. I cannot sweep it out for relief and I have to sit on it which makes it feel burny and sore . The dark is like shut-eye and I feel confused. My fur is all itchy and sticky. I want to ask Mummy what to do. I am afraid. Wait. There is a little stripe of light in a part where the dark isn’t mixed up. I press my nose really close to it but the tip of my nose nips so I shuffle onto my side and stretch my paw out and scrape. Everything smells wrong. There is a scratchy smell and it bites my throat. I push one claw into the light stripe and it gets stuck. I think maybe the world has shrunk.

I think my foot is broken. It won’t move and it feels like it is facing the wrong way. There is a sharp stretchy feeling wrapped all around it. When I try to press it on the floor I feel my head go all wishy-washy and I nearly get sick. You see, I think it broke because I was looking at the light stripe and I nearly pushed my paw right into it but then everything started to move. My body flew  upwards but the night has grown a roof and I was crashed back down hard onto the floor and it kept happening over and over. I tried to get my paw out of the light stripe but it stayed stuck and I tried to shout out but I choked. I think my head is still moving up and down. I’m really too hot and I need something to drink. I think I diddled on the floor, it smells really horrible and it’s in my fur.

Everything is noisy. I can hear my heart beating really loud like it’s outside of me. As well, there is a loud squealing sound that I think is in my brain but its outside of my brain too, squeezing me tighter and tighter, and I have to breathe proper fast to stop it crushing me. I don’t understand where I am. Is this the world? I’m scared and I can’t run because there is no forward or backward, just a solid end in the darkness. I think my breath is the only air around me and I have to keep sucking it back in just in case it goes away and I can’t breathe anymore.

I wish Mummy was here, or my brothers. Callum is the oldest, he is three and even though he bites my tail sometimes he is still big and strong and could easily push hard into the light stripe. I think the light stripe is where the world used to be and I am stuck outside of it. I know I’m trapped or stuck or something. Billy is the same age as me; he can chew his way through everything. He once chewed a whole white shiny bag that flew into our nest and got stuck. Only instead of spitting out the shiny stuff he ate it and was proper sick then pooped out white curly snakes; it was rotten. I bet he could chew a hole through this outside world and let me back in to the proper one. Philip, Lawrence, Salvador and Russell are all my age and we cuddle lots. We had only just got our brown fur when the high sun came last week. It’s nice to nuzzle your nose into your brothers soft warm belly. Mummy has the best fur though. It’s long and white and smells like grass and corn and sunshine, even in the night. It’s always night here but it’s not freedom. This night blinds me, it is a prison with walls and a roof and no day, except the light stripe. Perhaps the sun has been folded up and the dark has squeezed it so tight it can only peep through the edges of night.

I don’t know how I got here. We were playing just outside the nest. Mummy was having a snooze, and the daytime was nearly packed-up. The field was all soft and swaying. The corn was making lovely long grey shadows on the ground that were shaking and shivering, and we were trying to catch them. The field was swishing and whistling and Mummy was snoring in the nest. Then all at once we stopped. There was a new sound. It was like a hissing and crackling and we could hear screaming and laughing from the people folk that pass by outside of our field.

“Stay away from the people folks,” Mummy always warned us with squinted eyes which meant ‘no joking’.

“They can never catch us Mummy, we are too fast,” Callum said with some reassurance.

“Keep away,” she just kept saying, “Them people folks don’t like us mice.”

So we were standing listening to the crackle and hissing and snapping when the air started to get terribly hot. Through the grass and corn, the air looked thicker as if it was not clear and see-through anymore and it made my eyes water. We ran to tell Mummy, her nose was already twitchy because the air smelled thick. She woke up just as we were about to shake her and her eyes were the biggest fear balls I ever saw.

“Fire!” she shouted. “Run.”

None of us knew what to do except trust in those big round fear eyes and follow her. I looked behind me and saw the orange heat. I think that’s what fire is. It was big and fast and chasing us. It swayed and stretched higher than the corn and spat little pieces of orange heat up into the sky, then angrily grabbed them back down again. It whipped and waved and grabbed the corn and grass into its belly which just made it bigger and angrier.

We were fast but the orange heat was faster. I ran and ran. I couldn’t see my family anymore because we were running in black air. It wasn’t just the dark, the dark was our friend, it was the night, the night had come down too quick and it got mixed up with the orange heat. It made my breathing hurt. It’s hard to run with your tail off the floor but the night had attached to my tail and the orange heat was nipping it. I ran faster and faster until I was up on a hill outside of the field. I felt like my eyes were going to pop right out of my face. I stopped to look at where our little nest was but everything was orange. I was about to carry on running when I started to fly. It was like my tail was pulling my up to the sky. I wriggled and shook my body and closed my eyes tight to stop my brains falling out of my ears. Then I felt floor. The orange heat was gone and the world had gotten so small that I couldn’t move.

I think I am outside of the world. I think I flew into a pocket of the mixed up night by accident and I got stuck. If I go to sleep, maybe when the day comes the light stripe will grow and melt the night away and I can find my family. I miss my family. I diddled again and my paws are dipped in it. I feel really hot but I can’t stop shivering. I will try to sleep, if only I could stop shaking.

It’s still dark but I cannot see like I normally can. The light stripe is fading away and I think perhaps the weird darkness has stolen me and I am sinking deeper and deeper into it. The squealing isn’t so loud anymore but my heart has moved from my belly to my ears and I can feel it just as loud as I can hear it beating. If I push my face right up to where the light stripe is fading, I can smell something new. It smells like turnip or cow droppings or both mixed up and made worse by the warmth. It isn’t a good smell but it feels cooler that this dark pocket which smells of diddle and orange night and rotten skin. My paw is still very sore but I can move it so maybe when you’re lost you can’t be broken because you don’t really exist in the world. I wish it would make the pain less though. I want to sleep again but my tongue is stuck to my teeth and I need to hold it inside my mouth to make a little wetness, otherwise it might fall off. Besides, if it hits the floor it might taste diddle and then I might die.

I feel like I am moving but I haven’t even sat up. I might be dreaming. But the light stripe is bright again and I think I can smell the world, the real world.

I’m falling………

I felt  like I was falling forever but I have landed exactly where I was.  It hurt, my bones are shaking and I can hardly stand up. It is still night and I am still almost blind. I bundle myself tight into a ball and cry. I want my Mummy so bad.

Just when I thought I was lost forever, the day came again. I was sucked back out of the mixed up night with my tail, and I seemed to hover in the air upside down for such a long time. I squeezed my eyes shut but when I didn’t move, I opened one of them just a little and saw a giant eye with long wiry eye-lashes blinking at me. It was huge and green with a giant black circle in the middle that grew and grew. I twisted and shook and screamed so hard because I had never seen anything so awful in my life.

I am falling to the ground, like in slow motion. The grass is warm but ever so short and I can’t even hide. My eyes sting and my legs are shaking but I manage to run a little.  I have to keep going forward and never stopping for fear of the orange heat and tangled darkness catching me again. Maybe if I can stay in the light long enough Mummy will find me and take me home. I wonder if I have a home.

©Eilidh G Clark