This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during January via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
It is very, VERY dark, down here.
There’s no idea how long ‘down here’ has existed either. There are no clocks to mark time, calendar to record moments. All that exists is the whole, then myself. Both are indivisible, immutably connected. This black with my might; here together. Am I sure that whole and me aren’t the same thing? That’s a really good question: right now, without a doubt we are two separate entities. I exist, within the whole. Inky blackness is absolutely not part of my essence. It and me, two different things.
It wasn’t always this way.
In the beginning, everything was the same. That lasted for the longest time, too, just being here, in the dark, comfortable with nothing except silence, motionlessness… is that even a word? I was motionless. Still. Just here, breathing, before sounds began and everything changed.
So many birds are up above me.
Chaffinches, blackbirds and turtle doves. Sparrows and robins, magpies… quiet in the night-time but active at dawn, except there’s never light this far down. I must be in a hole: the only logical explanation available within my particular conundrum. Listening to them now, pre-dawn chorus, eyes remember shapes. Ears connect calls to outlines, brain provides background details. Latin name, portrait drawn by unknown but accomplished artist. Identification, habits, voice, habitat, food… all that’s needed to identify species.
With the noise arrived final proof: I have a body. The brain exists within my head. My hands are at either side, torso and legs in the correct place, just… unmoving. It’s all here, body present and correct. Because this is a hole, I can’t move, but remain whole. Whole, in a hole. This should be frightening, but it isn’t, because there’s always hope. It’s always darkest before the dawn, that’s what Nanna used to say. Nan didn’t want to be in a hole when she died, but dust in the breeze, and so that what happened. Flying above, keeping time on bird’s wings.
I’m not dead, because then there’d be nothing. I remain whole.
The next problem is working out why I remain: once that’s dealt with? I’m assuming more stuff just becomes clear. That’s how it worked with the sounds, so logically it makes sense that other senses will follow suit.Except I don’t remember what those are. There’s feelings, then sounds and after that? It’s all a mess so maybe, possibly that’s a better place to continue investigating. Inside, not out. The thing in my head. BRAIN. Why did you forget all of a sudden? Hang on, that’s the problem.
A woman is singing, over there, bluebird’s lullaby making mind want to stop, ignore everything else. Rest now, go to sleep, easier and less painful than the alternative within. Dust swirls around my whole, sharp on skin. No, it’s harder, heavier… grains. This is sand, lots of it. Without warning, everything is amazingly, blindingly bright. From black to white, dazzle of brilliance: freshly washed sheets, school socks, favourite linen top with blue piping… and it’s gone, vanished into a space, same one the birds come from. Up, that way. Your escape route.
NO, I’m not going to sleep: movies tell you must stay awake, fight demons, don’t head for the light because if you do then hole is gone, lost to the other side: seaside, kids in the sea… breakwaters, traffic, roller-coasters. Seagulls, noisily circling around top of this whole. Concentrate on the light because it wasn’t just white: inside was definition, substance that can be deconstructed. Lots was really blue: cornflowers, bedroom wall, sky on long summer afternoons… warmth seeping through a fluffy towel, covered with pink elephants, marching in time.
A tiny hand wraps around mine: stubbier fingers, still growing and forming inside skin, held within me. ‘Child what is it you want?’ I ask, lying inert, darkness wrapped but he says nothing, just stands and there’s no shape to him: first deeper understanding we’re still one body. ‘I’m killing you,’ he replies without fear, simply presenting facts as if they alone are enough to explain why all of this is happening, joint whole naturally impermeable. There’s no fear presented only quiet statement, inescapable fact. An unformed life keeps me trapped within.
Finally comes context, past presented quietly, monotonic drone: words on the blackboard I wrote myself, explanation to the class. Pre-eclampsia, hypertension, oedema, caesarian. Then, with careful, smooth strokes of soft, blue chalk, each stage is eliminated, only one remaining. This wasn’t the plan. Holes didn’t feature anywhere. Everything organised and under control yet suddenly, inexplicably this last stage hasn’t happened yet. It was supposed to be on Friday and today is Thursday, or at least it was the last time I remembered who it was in the hole.
Well, this is undoubtedly progress, because now there are things that didn’t exist before. My unborn son’s heartbeat, strong and steady in stark contrast to what is clearly my own: far too fast and thready to be healthy. The pain in ankles, below my ribcage, weren’t there before. The sounds of clattering knives and forks, school cafeteria, sitting with the Year 10’s discussing K-Pop and how lucky they are to have the history of music at their fingertips. When I was your age it was just CD’s and Minidiscs, borrowing my father’s old albums as inspiration.
No, this isn’t dinner time, but exams: quiet hum of voices, walking from table to table, praying everybody remembers which quote is Twelfth Night and which comes from Much Ado. All those lives, dependant on my ability to teach, and I’m stuck down whole with no means of escape… That’s not true, because over there’s a sign. No angels, burning bushes or heavenly music. An actual wooden sign, floating in mid air, just at the right height to be easily read. Words are not what I’d like to hear (Don’t Panic) or what’s needed (You’re Safe) but statement: WAIT.
FOR WHAT? I’ve been here forever! Except there’s change: we’re moving. The whole glides, gentle drift; stick caught in a brook’s constant, bubbling stream. Hole begins to shrink, edges visible, inhale and exhale, space breathing in time with heart, less stressed with each beat. There’s a hand, wrapped around mine. Fingers are thick, strong: as thumb strokes my palm there’s memory of Nanna’s house. Grampy would do this, soothing upset when mam didn’t make it home before bedtime. The old man passed when I was fifteen: who’s this, impersonating that past?
A hand reaches out across School Formica dinner table. It’s neither forceful or confident, tentative hope that maybe, just for a moment, I’ll show him that there’s more to this than two colleagues parting after one gets promoted. He’s only going to the Grammar School after all… Five years together, concertina into a feeling; devotion. I’ve never loved anyone as much as Matt: care and respect unlike anything else experienced. Not just a gentleman but friend, lover, partner and absolutely superb cook. What I’d give right now for his Breakfast special…
… but this is better, just a cuppa, another night he slept on the sofa bed as I’m so large its impossible to get comfortable. Standing by the bed, little Roo then appears, carefully holding toast on a plate: brilliant, quiet care for the pregnant mum and wife…
‘Wake up, love.’
I’m not sure what’s just happened, whether it was a dream or a really odd fracturing of reality: the last thing remembered with any clarity was being at the beach with Roo. Sitting on a deckchair, watching him running, whilst Matt was digging the most enormous hole in the sand… I was supposed to go for a check-up tomorrow, our Doctor already warning me that body could be exhibiting the first signs of pre-eclampsia. It might be time to think about a C-Section and not a natural birth, and if so they’d want me admitted to Hospital at beginning of next month.
Matt’s telling me about how I literally wobbled and collapsed getting out of the deckchair before losing consciousness as we waited for an ambulance. Roo was calmer than he was, all the way from the seaside to A&E, and never once let go of my hand until being rushed into theatre. They’re still not sure why I passed out, but there’s no immediate signs of concern. Blood pressure and heart-rate are normal, protein levels in my urine have dropped plus swelling in both hands and feet is now barely noticeable. Dull pain in lower body can mean only one thing…
Looking to my left, a plastic cot on wheels holds tiny form, wrapped in yellow blankets. Matt goes and retrieves him, fetching fresh life: meeting our baby for the first time. Perfectly healthy, utterly beautiful; worth being in the dark for.
Our son, in his arms.
I am whole.