He walks me through the doorway to a brightly lit room with a white tiled floor. I am made to sit in what feels like a leather chair – old, must be old leather – I can feel a rip in the seat with foam, probably that ugly yellowy orange colour, spiking through springs and in to my jeggings. The lamp is paining my eyes.
I’ve been hijacked from my normal day. I’m usually ruptured awake from an all night coma by the impolite sun stretching through my bedroom window, then I read all day while my hair sticks to the pillow in soggy, sweaty clumps, until night falls like a soft blanket, cradling me in to a pitch-black void once again.
I used to do more. I used to go out and socialise. I was the party animal, apparently. But something took over me one day. A great ice age, I guess you could call it. I woke up one day and thought, what are you even doing here? I was frozen. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t remember.
Since the great ice age, I only recognise one person, mum.
Until today, that is. Things have started to melt around me.
I had been laying in my bed letting words from creamy white pages float between my ears and out again, as though my brain was some kind of filter looking for something that might trigger a recognisable memory or person, when I heard something and panicked.
Mum appeared and I saw her for a few seconds, feeling some relief until her face morphed in to the face of a man, the teacher, a man who I used to teach with. An avalanche fell, revealing a mountain of knowledge, flooding brightness on to more and more memories. I used to be a teacher. Then, I used to be married, this was barely a fleeting thought, melting away in to my great ice age before I could catch hold of it. There was a teacher – I’m sure he was a teacher – he told me that he used to have four kids. Used to. How can a person ‘used to have four kids’? Doesn’t he still have four kids? Aren’t the four kids one day supposed to say, ‘I used to have a dad’? Not the other way around. As I remembered him telling me his story in our dilapidated staffroom, I started to feel hot, like his house that was on fire. I couldn’t breathe. Why is there so much smoke? He didn’t know what was happening. He was crying. I was crying too. I don’t think he knew I was panicking. I used to be a teacher. The avalanche settled and I felt as though I had been dragged underneath the snow and ice, unable to get perspective on the memories that lay with me underneath the great ice age, unable to be reached by the daylight.
I want to talk to mum again now. The chair is spiking my leg. I need my bed and my books. The lights are too bright, I can’t see and I feel hot again. Mum, how long since you last saw me?
The man who brought me here is now standing behind me, I can feel him. He runs hot, like the house that burned down. Like the children that burned down. All four. I squint my eyes in front of me and I can see a metallic window. The man has a folding leather case in his hand. He is leaning over a girl. What is in the bag? He is pulling out a double blade, one of many slotted in the leather case. He is placing the blades on the girl’s neck. No, on her head! She looks terrified. Ghostly. Noooooooo. I scream, and so does the girl. I need to run. I can’t be that far from home. I can call for help. My phone is in my wallet, if I can find that I can ask for help. But I can’t look in my wallet. There’s the photo, remember? What photo?
He is placing the blade on the girl’s head. She doesn’t move. She is frozen. Why are people so unkind? Why does she need to die? Why did the kids have to die? Mum, where are you? The blade comes down on top of the girl’s head, the man slices her hair in quick chops, combing out the loose strands. It is soon over. The girl has gone somewhere through the reflective window.
There in the mirror, I can see me. I look different. My hair is shorter. Styled, even. I can see the man and he is smiling at me in the mirror. I look back at my reflection and clock every detail, in an attempt of recognition. I have a round face except for the hairline dip in the middle of my forehead. I have cheek bones protruding – the way they do when a girl starts to become a woman. My skin is pale and freckled here and there. My ears and nose are all in proportion. My chin sticks out a bit but mostly hugs close to my chest. My thin lips dip in the top, assimilating with the dip in my forehead and looking much like a double layered love heart. My teeth appear straight but upon closer inspection, there are a couple of crooked ones. My skin bears a few wrinkles. My lashes are pale. My eyes are blue iris’ with dark blue-black rings shadowing them. Bordering my face is a clump of thick blonde-brown hair and behind my right ear lies a matt of grey. A crinkle in my forehead pulls on the grey, tugging it forward like heavy wind on a tent.
He puts the scissors and comb down in his leather folding case and spins me around in the chair. My wallet drops to the floor and out of it falls a picture of me with the teacher and four children.
I feel the heat of the burning house singeing at the seams of my jeggings, melting me from my great ice age but it scorches so I let myself sink back in to the sludgy icy waters of my mental void until mum appears, telling me that everything will be…
“I said, everything will be okay, this will help. Your hair cut looks stylish, you look healthy, like a different person, dear daughter-in-law of mine. You’re the only one I have now; you, we, need to be strong.”