Ten Stories About Something – ‘Ether’ by Sally-Anne Wilkinson

ETHER

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

typewriter love

The days and nights, I drift, like flotsam on the tide.

Soon I’ll wash away entirely.

Of course, there are moments when I grasp on, when I hear the stampede of life, and remember what I was; when all this started.

I’ll tell you about it, while I’ve got time.

*

Physically, I felt odd for a while, with lack of sleep getting the blame. I was recently a new partner at Fassett, Masters & Jones, and found it difficult at times, though nothing I couldn’t handle. Yet each day, I became increasingly off-kilter – a strange sensation, like losing myself.

Oscar laughed. ‘What? Don’t be daft. You’re just tired, that’s all.’

‘It’s more than that.’

‘You need a change… A weekend away. Me. You. No kids…’

That’s the trouble with Oscar. Things need to fall down around him before he takes them seriously – but I knew it was time to seek help.

*

Dr Bowles resembled a figure from a black-and-white photograph – from the wisps of his grey hair, to his matching moustache and beard. His charcoal suit, and pale irises completed the look, which he wore with a scent of Extra Strong Mints.

‘Ah Marissa…’

Having known him since childhood, we were on first name terms. Or, at least, he was with me.

I described the lack of sleep; the disturbing sensations.

‘The kids alright? Oscar?’

‘Yep, fine.  Everyone’s, you know, the same.’

‘Job?’

I explained about the changes at work. He nodded, chewed his pen a second, then slid a sheet of paper towards me.  After taking a quick look, I raised my eyebrows.

‘I’m not depressed,’I said, but there seemed no point in arguing.  Quickly, I ticked the boxes. Apart from insomnia, it appeared that, in all other ways, I was normal. I could imagine what Oscar would say about that.

‘So what now?’I asked.

‘I’m thinking: a course of sleeping tablets.’

I opened my mouth.

‘Marissa, if you sort your sleep out, I can promise you, things will look a whole lot different.’

*

That night, after popping a pill, I rested back in bed.  Oscar leaned over, kissing the nape of my neck.

‘How about it, tiger?’

I turned to him, incredulous

What?’he said.

‘You.  Your mind’s only ever on one thing,’ I laughed, leaning back into the solidity of his arms.

*

I woke with a start, stunned to see sunlight spewing into the room, and the covers on Oscar’s side of the bed thrown back. It could swear it was only a minute since I’d gone to bed. From next door, the faint sound of running water and singing. Sitting up, I groaned.

‘Morning!’Oscar bellowed.

I moaned again. The house rule was, two cups of coffee, and maybe a slice of toast, before I could blink, never mind speak.

‘You okay?’

‘Yeah. Bit fuzzy.’

Oscar snorted. ‘You went out like a light.  And snored like a pig.’

‘Yeah?’

‘It was quite arousing, actually…’

I threw the pillow, but he shifted out of the way.

‘You never were a good shot,’he said, throwing the pillow back in my face.

Laughing, I leaped up to grab it again, but stopped mid-step.

‘You alright, Mare?’

I clutched the door for support, caught off-balance by a sensation of lightness; like a balloon about to float away.

‘I’m fine,’I said, the dizziness already receding. ‘Stood up too quickly, that’s all.’

*

Despite improved sleep, things weren’t right. There were a couple of incidents where I didn’t recognise important clients at work, and then I forgot the kids’ names. Not just for a minute; not where you call one child by the other’s name, or by the dog’s – but completely. Frustrated, I could feel the letters strung together, the words dancing on my tongue –yet they remained elusive, out-of-sight.

‘Cameron,’ Fay chanted, ‘if mum doesn’t remember who we are, there’s no hope for mankind.’

‘Why would she remember us? She’s only our mother…’ Cam turned to me, grinning wickedly. ‘Mother. This is Fay, I am Cam. We’re. Your. Children.’

Their laughter ebbed away, as I was engulfed by an unusual sensation. On the surface, everything appeared normal, yet I experienced what can only be described as a strange rippling beneath my skin. Gradually, it subsided, and I became aware of the children staring at me.

‘What’s the matter?’I said, forcing a smile. ‘Come on…!  Stop gawking. Let’s get dinner on the go.’

*

‘Think it’s time to see the Doc again?’Oscar said later.

I looked up, startled.

‘That’s the butter you’ve put in the washing machine.’

Sure enough, it was. I leaned into him as we giggled, but it was the third time something like this had happened in as many days.

*

In his surgery, Dr Bowles cleared his throat, as he stared at his notes.

‘Try not to worry, Marissa.’

I imagined batty old women, shuffling on the high street in see-through nighties and slippers.

‘Work changes are far more unsettling than you think. But, let’s get you checked over anyway.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘A precaution, that’s all.’He rubbed his eyes, put his glasses on, and keyed information into the computer, ‘You’ll get an appointment shortly – to MRI, and for blood tests.

‘For what?’

‘To check for tumours.’He cleared his throat, ‘Maybe dementia. A stroke.’

I stared at him, as he shifted in his seat.

‘Marissa, really, it’s a precaution,’ he said, the flicker in his eyes barely perceptible.

From his drawer, he pulled another sheet of paper.

‘Another test?’I said.

‘Cognitive function. It’ll give us a starting point.’

The result didn’t put my mind at rest.

*

As the weeks passed, I barely kept it together. Cam and Fay stayed out a lot, and their friends didn’t come over anymore. At work, I lost a client after a huge mistake on an account, and my boss asked me to take some leave. I knew I didn’t have a choice. As for Oscar, he took to sleeping at the far side of the bed. Yet he refused to discuss anything.

‘The doc’ll sort it out,’is all he said.

The MRI came back clear, yet each day, I became increasingly vaporous. My body seemed lighter, my thoughts distracted. I became disconnected, haunted by a new feeling that my skin was nothing more than a thin film keeping everything together.

Inside, I was dispersing, little-by-little.

*

Out for a walk with Oscar one day, it started to rain. I reached out to catch the falling drops. In my current state, the liquid crystals were hypnotising; seemingly more solid than I. By my side, Oscar held my elbow; a connection to the world.

As we walked by the wheat-strewn fields, Oscar stopped in the quiet lane. He turned to me, clutching my outstretched hand.

‘Marissa.’His voice cracked; his eyes, glassy. ‘What’s happening to you?’

I stared at him.

After a minute, he sighed deeply, and we continued on.

A week later, Dr Bowles referred me to psychiatry.

*

The sessions with Dr Evans were held in a modern office, brightly lit by enormous windows. My skin tingled as I gazed at the blue expanse outside.

‘So when did this out-of-body feeling begin, Marissa?’

Interlacing her fingers, Dr Evans placed her hands on the desk. Although she was only a few feet away, it seemed I was staring at her from the wrong end of a telescope. Her well-cut suit, and her blonde hair, scraped into a tight chignon, made me aware of how ill-defined I’d become; the loose tendrils escaping around my own face, imperceptibly lifting and lowering with each intake of breath.

‘I’m not… It’s more….’Lately, my language was affected – many words not lost, but lurking, hidden. Others, gone forever.

I drifted off.

‘You’ve described yourself to Dr Bowles as losing yourself piece-by-piece.’

‘I suppose… Physically, there’s nothing inside me now,’

‘The scans show everything as normal, Marissa.’

‘I know.’I thought for a moment. ‘It’s like… Imagine I’m a chocolate egg…’

‘Okay.’The psychiatrist nodded.

‘I’m all shell. Empty inside…’

Quickly, she scribbled in her notebook.

‘I feel… I don’t know… too much pressure and… I’ll burst into a million pieces.’ I took a breath; giggled.

Dr Evans put her pen down.

‘An interesting metaphor… You know, sometimes women lose their sense of identity. Especially after marriage or children.’

‘No… it’s not…’

‘Marissa, sometimes we shut down. Our brains, our bodies, can’t cope. It’s hard to admit to ourselves…’ She paused, looking at her notes, ‘It says here you took a partnership at your firm…That’s when this began.’

It was so difficult to concentrate.

‘I know it’s not that…’

Again, the strange rolling beneath my skin. The sensations were stronger lately, more frequent.

‘Okay. I’m going to prescribe antidepressants. We’ll see how they go…’

I didn’t have the energy to argue.

*

In the weeks that followed, Dr Evans and I discussed many things: my childhood, my hopes and dreams, the kids, my job. It was futile, exhausting. Each time I spoke, another part of me disappeared with the words. My lucid moments were fading.

Soon there’d be nothing left.

On my last visit, Dr Evan said, ‘Marissa, I’ve increased your dosage, but to me, you seem…’

I couldn’t absorb her words. Instead, I focused on the softness of her voice, caressing like Oscar’s fingers on the underbelly of my arm.

After our session, I stood by the door, listening to her explain to Oscar.

‘I don’t know what to do,’he said. ‘She’s closed off. The kids… they don’t go near her.’

‘Mr Parker, if this is dementia, you’re going to need help. You have to prepare yourself and the children for the worst.’

The doctor spoke again, ‘I’ll make some calls.’

*

That night in bed, in a rare moment of clarity, I considered their conversation. I was a burden to Oscar, and the children.

I wanted help –I wanted to recover – but I was sliding down a steep path away from them. Strangely, I wasn’t frightened, no longer suffering strong emotions like fear, anger, or grief. But there was no laughter either; no pride or joy. Oscar and I hadn’t made love in months. He slept in the spare room now.

And as I lay there, it happened.

My skin, tingling wildly, began to ripple, visibly this time, like raindrops on a puddle.  Each wave grew stronger, larger, until a surge overwhelmed me, and my entire body became an effusion of light.

As I watched, luminescent particles flickered upwards, disseminating around the room. I saw my own body dissipate like vapour. Everything I once was, now dispersed, until I was nothing more than specks of semi-consciousness – diffusing into the air, sinking into the walls; deep into the furniture, the carpet, curtains.

*

The next morning, Oscar came early to wake me.

‘Marissa…? Mare?’

He left the room. I could sense him searching the house, the shower, calling outside; asking Cam and Fay if they’d seen me.

Later, the police arrived – to search, to question.

Suspicion and fear swelled through the house, polluted the rooms. Over time, the toxicity cleared, but now, something different blights the air. Something that can never diminish.

Cam and Fay will never have their questions answered, and Oscar – there’s an emptiness in his eyes.

But their life goes on.

*

It’s soothing, as I drift, absorbing the rhythm of daily routines, the pulse of hearts. But each day, there’s less of me. Floating away on the air through open windows and doors, I’m free as dandelion seeds –I slip out into the sky; the atmosphere – atom-by-atom, back to the stars.

ink blotch