Scotoma By Carla Morgan

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Mesmerised, her eyes locked onto the images on the screen. An earthquake in the ocean, its magnitude measuring in at ‘twenty-three thousand Hiroshima sized bombs’ causing a tidal wave forty foot high, its watery fingers grasping at the shore, breaking with the puissance of a racehorse, moving swiftly round the corner, taking the final hedge and into the home stretch. She blinked as the channel cut abruptly to a high-speed car chase through a winding Italian peninsula.

“I was watching that John,” she said.

John was stretched out on the sofa, a beer can and the remote control balanced on his belly. He had always been fat, but good fat, stocky and strong.  Recently he had become over-ripe. His skin was soggy, like a carrier bag full of water, a plastic sheen of clammy perspiration on his brow. His hands, which were rough and calloused, teased small strips of tobacco onto a Rizzler.

She went into the kitchen to put the kettle on, her mind reeling with the images of the tsunami in Thailand. As she pulled the baby formula out of the cupboard and the bottles from the drawer, she thought about the people who had no idea what was about to happen. For the people whose first warning was, what was it they had said? Rushing water, creeping up their calves, like a fast-filling bath, pouring into their hotel Lobbies.

She called through the open kitchen door, “John, we need to give Eden a bath when she wakes up. Do you want to do it?”

“Can you do it love,” he called “I’m feeling a bit rough.”

She pursed her lips as she poured the hot water into the bottles, sterilising them. The sofa creaked as John heaved himself off. He lumbered into the kitchen and, without seeing her, pulled open the back door to their tiny garden.

“Just nipping out for a fag.”

He had been smoking when they had met. Perched on a stool at the bar, his rugby mates around him laughing at some story, captivated by his energy and desperate for approval. He was magnetic. A planet on a leaning axis and she was drawn sharply in, short skirt, high boots and a legal I.D barely dry. He swivelled on his chair towards her, taking her in slowly.

‘Cigarette?’ he said, holding out a Lucky Strike. You could feel the frisson of sex in the air between them.

She emptied the bottles and put them into the drying wrack. After a moment’s hesitation, she pushed open the back door and walked out into the garden, the crisp December air creeping in through the gaps of her cardigan.

John was sat on the picnic bench in the middle of the lawn lighting up.

“Alright babe?”

“Do you want to twosies?” she said. They sat in silence for a few minutes taking long drags of the rollie.

“Terrible really,” her voice broke the silence.

“Yeah.” he replied.

“All that life, just lost.”

“Yeah.”

They sat, hip to hip, knee to knee on the bench like that for a while. He pulled out his tobacco pouch and rolled another cigarette, lit it, took a drag and then offered it to her. In the gloom of the light from the kitchen their eyes met momentarily. He looked tired. Deep purple bags under his eyes, the whites yellowish, the rims red. He needed a shave. She wondered what he thought of her appearance, but only fleetingly. She knew he probably didn’t see her at all. She leaned in towards him lifting her mouth up to his, breathing him in. she could feel his breath on her face. She closed her eyes and for a moment it was…

“Eden is awake,” he said pulling away from her and taking a drag on the cigarette.

“Yes,’ she said.

“I’ll go. Do we have any paracetamol?”

“Under the sink, where it always is.”

“We need binbags,” he said.

“Add it to the list on the fridge.”He stepped down from the bench and trudged heavily back into the house. She inhaled the smoke deeply, a tear meandering down her un-made cheek.

The news at four. Five. Six. The Evening News with suitably neutral newsreader number Seven.

“More on the tsunami in Thailand, we speak to eye-witnesses and first responders to the scene. Here, a priest at the temple in Phuket turns his sanctuary into a morgue, now no longer a religious leader, but a body collector, piling bodies up in white plastic sheeting. Big bodies, small bodies.”She reached over and switched off the TV. She loosened her grip on her baby daughter, dozing in her arms. It had been such a challenge for Eden to get here, she was so big and her doorway into the world so small that she had had to fight her way out.

Looking down at her now, it was almost easy to forget the pain. Almost. The recovery had been hard. She could barely move for weeks without crying, and John had been suffering with another bout of tonsilitis, so she had been left to work it out on her own for the first few days. A muted haze of crying and crying and hurting and crying.

John recovered enough to take Eden out on little walks in the pushchair so that she could shower, ascertain the damage. But then he was back to work so quickly and she was alone again. Maybe it was because she had locked her legs together whilst her body repaired some of the savagery. Maybe it was because when she unlocked them, it would never be quite the same.

John had gone upstairs to lie-down. It hadn’t been the Christmas she had been hoping for. There was a filter over her expectations of matching pyjamas and Christmas Eve boxes, but Eden was far too small to understand and John had been so miserable the whole time. He kept saying he was tired, complaining of headaches. She had wanted to scream at him, what do you do? What do you bring to this to make you so tired? But she never said anything. John was a smooth talker, with an answer for everything. He always won. She had thought they would fight when she asked to leave his Dads early after Christmas lunch, but he hadn’t said a word. He hadn’t even wanted to stay for their annual ‘drink-too-much-and-retell-stories-we’ve-all-heard- a-million-times-but-have-to-laugh-anyway’ game. Small mercies.

She took Eden upstairs and lay her down in her frilly pink crib, breathing in the smell of her newly washed clothes, her milky breath. Her own hair felt greasy and lank. She knew she had a crust of posset on her neck and ear.

She ran herself a shower and sat naked on the toilet seat waiting for the water to heat up. The light flickered slightly as the steam began to rise. Her gaze was drawn to the toothpaste scum devouring the sink, the smears on the mirror above distorting her face, her body unrecognisable, like something from a circus hall of mirrors.

She wiped away the condensation and took herself in. head to toe, her eyes stopping occasionally like a train on the underground, tracing the map of lines newly laid. Progress. Commerce. Sacrifice. Love.

Her hair and body wrapped in greying white towels she went into the bedroom. John was sprawled out across the bed, he hadn’t even taken his shoes off. She stomped noisily to her drawer, wrenching and slamming wherever she could, but he didn’t stir. Resignedly she went downstairs and made herself a cup of tea, curling her chilled feet under her on the sofa. She reached for the remote, searching through the channels for a 24-hour news station. Images flooded the screen, it took her a moment to make sense of what she was seeing, the footage was shaky.

The camera was positioned on a balcony above the beach in Phuket. The sky was blue, clear, incredibly beautiful, the waves gentle, lapping at the seashore. Idyllic. People laying all over the beach, enjoying the bliss of their paradise holiday. The camera closed in on a larger woman in a bikini, sunbathing facedown at the water’s edge. She tilted her head to one side, wondering why the woman didn’t have a towel, remembered being told that the sand can be hot in these places. The news reporter was interviewing a man over the phone.

“They had no tidal gauges,” he said, “they had no warning. The equipment is expensive, there was no money to buy it.”

“But of course, there were signs?” the reporter said.

“Yes, an earthquake.”

“And the people on the beaches would have felt that?”

“Yes, they would have felt it. But they wouldn’t have known what it meant.”

Slowly she switched off all the lights on boxing day. Drawing her dressing gown more tightly around her she walked up the stairs her eyes heavy, her mind awake. There was an acrid smell on the landing. Perhaps Eden had shit herself again. No, something else, something more metallic.

She leaned against the door frame to her bedroom. The curtains were open, the streetlight casting a yellow glow across Johns body. She wrinkled her nose in disgust, what was that smell? So familiar, a hospital room, the sting of reconstruction. There had been so much blood.

The particles in the atmosphere charged with electricity, the hairs on her arms and neck tingling, a weight, like the tumbling of rocks, fell into her stomach. A wave of nausea washed over her as she stepped into the room edging towards the bed, unable to process the images in front of her. She got to John’s bedside, the streetlight turning the whites of his eyes yellow, his cheek pressed into the dark bedspread. She put her hands on the bed to steady herself as she kneeled beside him, but the bedspread was wet, the fetid smell at its strongest.

A towel. I need a towel, she thought, trying to grab at something, anything. She flew to the airing cupboard and pulled out an old beach towel. She stopped, her breathing ragged, staring at the towel, a picture of a pineapple peering back up at her. Her mouth filled with saliva. She ran to the bathroom and vomited heavily into the sink.

Not sunbathing. The woman with no towel. Not sunbathing. Not anymore.

*

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Carla Morgan

Carla is an MA student studying Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, this is her first publication.

Instagram handle:

carla_morgan_11

Image by Smim Bipi from Pixabay

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