As I scan the room I realise I’ve forgotten what I was looking for.
There are a few rumpled clothes in the corner; I’m not sure if they’re clean or dirty because there’s another few in the other corner. The dresser by the door is cluttered with make-up, hair ties and hair clips, and on the window seat there’s a book that will never be fully read.
I pull my knees closer to my chest and tug the blankets back over me. I grab the other pillow – the one from the side of the bed that doesn’t get used any more – and prop it behind my back so that I can lean against the wall without feeling its chill.
I think the fact that I’m sitting up is enough. It means I’m awake, even if I’m not functioning.
Looking over at the empty space where the pillow once was, where a body was only a week ago, I can feel my forehead crinkle and my thoughts get lost again.
I consider lying back down, pulling the covers over my head and blocking out the world. But I know that the moment I do, I’ll feel the absence of heat next to me, of arms no longer there.
The weight feels heavier today than it did yesterday. Today is the first day that friends have moved back to their homes, family are back at work, and I am still here. In a bed only half used.
The first day had been the worst. There was no warning. That had been one of the hardest things; no one saw this coming. I’m not sure if knowing someone was going to die would make their passing any easier, but at least it gives you time to get used to the idea, and to make arrangements.
Instead the world dropped away and my lungs refused to work. The tears had fallen so quickly, the right eye spilling salt so much faster than the left but for what reason, I don’t know.
I felt stupid that my cries were so loud. That the thought of him leaving took away my ability to breathe as my chest desperately tried to work out what to do. So much of what happened after that had been a blur as family stepped in and took over.
And now they’re gone.
And I’m still here.
I hadn’t even noticed my thumb spinning a ring on my left hand. A habit. Do I keep wearing the ring? How long for? I spin it gently with my other hand and test how far up it will move. Not much. If it ever comes off it will either be by a lot of soap, or by a sharp cut.
I turn to my left and slide down, taking away the pillow that was behind my back and holding it tight in front of me as I slip further under the blankets.
The pillow is without its familiar scent which only creates more tears. New sheets… new pillowcases… Mum had insisted. There’s no anger against her, instead the sorrow sends another tidal wave over me, crushing all other feeling.
I know I eventually have to get out of bed, but not now. For now I need this cocoon. I need the darkness. I need to get used to being alone.
Tanya reached up and lifted down the love-worn bear. It had few patches of fur remaining but its eyes were still shiny, reflecting Tanya’s own in them.
She turned him around, the once white label on the bear’s bottom now almost transparent and fraying at the tips.
Tanya hugged the bear into her chest, felt it fold in half the tighter she held it.
Golly. That had been the name of the bear. She struggled to remember how she had come up with it. The name had come at the end of a long line of words and ideas, each leading to the next until Golly had finally come into her head, but she couldn’t remember the path she had walked to get there.
As she pulled Golly away, she noticed the blackened back of its head which seemed to smoke with memories.
She laughed and shook her head at her naive teenage self; the version of her that tried smoking in her cousin’s playhouse almost twenty years ago and had stubbed her cigarette out on Golly’s head.
It had been an accident. Golly wasn’t meant to be there and in her haste to not be caught she thought she was stubbing it out on her cousin Jessica’s toys. What she hadn’t realised was that Jessica had stolen Golly the week before, assuming it to be unwanted now Tanya was “so grown up”.
Tanya had realised the mistake the moment the burnt end had hit the bear’s head. Not only did she instantly recognise the feel of her oldest friend, but the bear’s fur had shimmered with ash and spread a black circle larger than expected before tiring itself out.
That had been the moment she realised she wasn’t ready to be grown up and try smoking like the other kids in her year. She never did end up picking that habit up. Never seriously anyway.
In her shock at harming Golly, Tanya had quickly sprayed her Impulse deodorant around her body, spraying directly into her mouth from arms length away to try and cover the smell, immediately choking and being forced to rush out of the playhouse, one hand swinging her school bag to knock open the door, the other wrapped tight around Golly.
As she looked over this worn and tired teddy bear more flashes of memories came to her. They overlapped each other, one melting into two, three, four… She smiled again at this wonderful friend of hers, long since forgotten.
“Found what you were looking for?” her mum called from the next room.
“Yeah, I’ve got him,” Tanya replied, her mum appearing around the corner before she could take another breath. “Probably needs a wash. What d’ya reckon?”
Her mum nodded and reached out to take the bear. Tanya’s fingers were reluctant to let Golly go so soon, but felt the bear change hands and knew that he was going to be looked after.
“Once we get it cleaned up, stitched and maybe put a patch over this burn…” she paused, eyes connecting with Tanya for just a second, a mother’s knowledge twinkling in her eyes. “He or she is going to love it. Once old enough, they’ll probably be inseparable – just like their mum.”
Tanya felt the burning of tears as she imagined her own son or daughter going on adventures with her old friend. Her hand was resting on her expanding stomach before she realised. She beamed back at her mum, tears flowing freely as she hugged the woman who had introduced her to Golly in the first place and kept her childish secrets.
His skin pale, his smile painted, he waits by the door. Feet planted firmly on the ground, Gnigel’s eyes look up to the darkened sky but see nothing.
A firm hand slowly but purposely wraps around the gnome’s face. Fingers stretch across the back of his head and hat, thumb on the other side of his face.
Gnigel is silently taken from his home.
His captor’s breathless laughter starts four houses down and grows louder once Gnigel has been placed on the soft backseat inside a car. Lying on his back, feet to the door, he continues to smile while his frozen eyes watch the back of the driver’s chair.
The drive feels long to Gnigel and when the car finally stops he has no idea if he’s even in the same town.
This time he’s carried in both hands, careful not to bump into the car door or knock his head against one of the other captors.
There is a new garden at this location, busier and brighter than his own. But he does not stop here.
They continue into the house that shares this land and it’s as if Gnigel has returned to daylight in an instant. Light pours from the ceiling and floods the room.
When he is finally released it is onto a wooden table, not his usual grassy floor. The driver of the car studies him carefully, turning him on the spot and leaning him forward on his toes.
He doesn’t see the first attack coming.
Water showers from above, but this is no ordinary rain. Something scrapes across his back.
Gnigel is still in shock when he is hit once again; this time with something cold tracing along his shoulders and across his chest.
After a short time it comes back, this time his legs are coated in what feels like ice.
Eventually his whole body is covered and he is even stabbed in his eyes, although he feels no pain.
The lights turn off and once again Gnigel is in darkness. But still away from home.
Hours pass before the light returns and Gnigel starts to notice a change in himself. He is still working it out when he is lightly prodded. The men nod and smile and he is picked up and carried back outside to the car.
The journey this time feels shorter but the air is familiar when the door is opened.
In the quiet before dawn he is returned home.
When the sun eventually rises and greets him by the door, it’s on a brighter, happier gnome.
Although his smile hasn’t changed, Gnigel’s youth has been restored thanks to the strangers of the night and his new coat of paint.
Thoughts swirl but nothing sticks.
“How do I get myself out of this one?” Gemma asks no one. She surveys the damage to the car and sighs heavily.
She’d reversed straight back, too quickly, and now has created a large dent and taken out the brake lights. The crunching and cracking noises and the jolt as she hit the post came too soon to stop it from happening.
This isn’t her car! Which makes it all the more worse, while she also knows that’s why it happened in the first place.
“Awesome. Great. Wonderful. Just what I need,” again she talks to no one but the freckled concrete surrounding her.
The carpark building is completely empty apart from Gemma and the newly dented company car with flakes of red paint sharing itself with the post and a glitter of plastic at her feet.
She looks around to double check that there were no witnesses, and decides she’s either going to have to pay to have this fixed on the sly or make up a story about how the dent appeared without it being her fault.
Her brain is still running through scenarios for excuses but none seem plausible yet.
Hands cover her face as she massages her forehead and closes her eyes, concentrating on an idea. But as she lifts her head up, opens her eyes and moves her fingers to the side of her face, Gemma spots a small blinking camera focussed on the scene.
She pulls her cellphone out of her pocket and chooses Speed Dial 3.
It rings twice before there’s a familiar cough and a hello.
“Dad. I’m going to need your help…” she begins.
One week later and no one has mentioned the cover up.
Her dad arranged for the car to be fixed at his mate’s panel beaters and now it looks as good as new. Almost too good, so she arranged for it to have a professional clean to cover any cause for suspicion.
Gemma has been lucky that she has been the only one to use the car apart from a candy-floss receptionist who would be too busy thinking about her own important social life to notice anything out of the ordinary. But the boss is back today. And it’s the boss who will use the car from today.
It’s fixed, so it shouldn’t be a problem. But it is. If they discover Gemma’s first time in a manual car was with their company car, she’ll never live it down. And if they get hold of the security footage…
Gemma prints off her resignation letter, deciding it’s the only way to escape the shame.
The chime of the door bell seems to echo through all the rooms of the house. It is followed shortly by the shuffling of feet and shadows behind the glass panes.
The woman that opens the door appears to be in her late 60s, hair greying and maps of a life fully-lived etched on her face. Her eyes squint behind large round glasses as she struggles to recognise the visitor, to try and place this some-what familiar face.
“Mrs Taylor, hi – it’s Jessica. From the shops?”
The girl is aware that the woman was not expecting her, but she holds up a couple of forgotten plastic bags, filled with fruit, vegetables and paper towels and a change in the woman’s appearance is almost immediate.
“Jessica! Oh did I leave these behind?” the woman’s eyes twinkle as she realises she hadn’t even noticed the missing items and starts to laugh in embarrassment while trying to thank the girl.
“Come in, come in-“ Mrs Taylor says as Jessica asks over the top “Would you like me to bring them into the kitchen?”
Mrs Taylor points a couple of metres away where the lounge blends into the dining room, and where Jessica can carry the bags. As she steps forward into the house she is hit with the smell of flatulence and medicine hanging in the room, stinging the eyes and nostrils.
Jessica silently holds her breath and swallows back any sign of revolt from her stomach. She places the bags on the dining room table and drags in a breath solely from her mouth.
Mrs Taylor is oblivious to the stale smell and instead continues to thank Jessica and offers her a cup of tea.
“No thanks, Mrs Taylor,” Jessica says with a wide smile, turning back to face the woman. “I just wanted to make sure you got these.”
The smells are easing, or else Jessica is getting used to them. Perhaps the front door, still open, is leaking the rest of the fumes outside, and hopefully letting in some fresh air to replace it.
Mrs Taylor has relaxed so much since Jessica identified her purpose to ring the bell, she acts more like a woman in her forties than someone pushing 70, and it’s only now that Jessica looks around the lounge and notices how modern it is – large TV, comfy leather armchairs and digital photos lining the shelves.
Jessica realises that while she hadn’t fully pictured what Mrs Taylor’s home might look like, it certainly wasn’t this. Although she now turns her attention across the carpet and window sills looking for a cat, because while she can’t remember Mrs Taylor ever buying cat food, she has always imagined her as having a few to chat to during the evening.
No sign of any cats. They could be outside, she supposes.
“Are you sure you can’t stay a little?” Mrs Taylor asks, possibly for the second time.
Jessica confirms that she has to be going, but smiles and nods when agreeing that she’ll see her at the shops soon enough.
As the door closes on their short exchange Jessica heads back to her own home, where two cats and pasta for one await her arrival.