She didn’t care where I had been; she was just happy I was back. I had never been woken up by a naked woman cuddling me, and it was far from unpleasant. I would have turned around to say hello but I was scared of stabbing her in the bump. That may have been awkward; I really have no idea.
Contented, I fell back in to my allocation of sleep. I was plagued through the rest of the night with a series of dreams, escalating in their power, in their confusion, in their grip on my sleeping mind, which I was certain were only there to prevent me from thinking about where I had been. Either that or they were my unconscious mind’s way of processing the events of a very strange day indeed.
And then, as if by magic – which it no doubt wasn’t – the dreams vanished from my mind. A small blonde child was laughing very hard at the fact that she was sitting on my head and farting in my ear. Proof, if ever any were needed, that she was my daughter: I remember doing precisely the same thing to my own father in my now distant youth. Mother was not as impressed as daughter; father was drowning in the scent of fetid wet air: a great start to another monumentally odd morning.
When I ran out in to the street I had expected more than I would actually receive. I wasn’t sure what that would be, on any kind of material level, but I wanted something to happen. I had it in my mind that there was some physical barrier out there: a bubble locking us in to this house. I thought that I could burst it with my body, that I could undo this mistake and set the situation back to normality.
In effect all I got was a warning. It wasn’t an explicit telling off; it wasn’t an explicit anything. I knew that I would wake up in my own body, back in that bed with her, but that I would have to wait for the time to come. I would have to get there the long way around: there was no chance of being snapped there the way we clearly had been in the past. I had to watch the machinery in motion.
Beyond the edge, if there even was a distinct edge, there was grey. The world was a mushy grey, almost indistinct. It was as if I were in a cloud, albeit one with no sensation. It could have been a grey room for all I knew, however my perspective was infinite: my eyes could open all the way up in all directions. Except that I knew there was someone beside me, moving me through the world.
We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about much. I wanted to, I so desperately wanted to. But I just couldn’t pluck up the courage to clear my throat. I have always been this way around people I do not know. I need to cross the Rubicon of speech and social interaction, yet I don’t know how. I beat about the bush so wildly sometimes it’s a wonder the bush has any leaves left on it. Invisible bush.
I could feel that she wanted to ask me about it, about where I had been. She had clearly been happy to have me back, and the same could be said of the child; they must both be curious about where I had been. I think that the child was on the cusp of asking – something about London – but her mother shushed her when she was about to say something. The two of them got on so well now.
I knew I was welcome here, but I felt like my own personality, my own fear, my own reticence to engage with that which was directly in front of me, was holding me back. I just wanted to grab them both and say hello, but I felt that I didn’t know how to phrase it. When I reassured myself that I did know how to phrase it I would stop myself in my tracks and the moment would just disappear.
But children always find a way, and pregnant women always need the toilet. She pushed me on to the floor, climbed on to my shoulders, and farted. Once her giggling had stopped she spoke: “Dad, where were you last night? Did you have to go to London again?” The ice is always less of a threat when someone breaks it for you: “No, sausage, I went outside and then I disappeared.” That was the only way I had discovered to describe the oddness of the situation. She nodded and poked my eyes.
I could sense her mother at the door, listening. I looked across, tentatively at first. I had crossed the terrifying Rubicon at last. “What are we doing here? I’ve tried to work it out, but I just can’t get to the beginning of it, never mind the end of it.” She hushed me with a hand. “Let’s talk about it later.”
Giving me a schedule is never the way to get me to relax. When later? In a minute or in a day? When the child was concentrating on something else, or when she was in bed? I would have to wait to be instructed, I suppose, but that didn’t stop me from concentrating on it every single second hence. I could not shake the conversation, or its myriad permutations, from my treadmill of consciousness.
It came when the child had gone to bed. She handed me a beer and told me to drink. Apparently there were quite a few in the cupboard, and pregnant women weren’t allowed to drink, so they may well be something to do with me. It tasted ghastly, but it was fizzy and I was thirsty, so I gulped it down. My head felt lighter, and my tongue felt looser. We slumped in to a hairy, dog-strewn sofa.
We had a lot to talk about it would seem, and the beer had opened the floodgates. Quite why we hadn’t done this on the day we arrived I will never know. We confessed our hopes, our fears, our sense of confusion and the thought that the other person knew more than we had done. It was easy.
We both felt that we were never going to get to the bottom of what was going on here, at least not without some major transgressions. My running in to the grey had given her an idea, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it yet. My world was starting to get fuzzy, and I was beginning to become less and less coherent. Before I knew it I would be asleep on the sofa, wrapped up in a dog blanket. We both knew that I’d find myself back in bed soon enough, regardless of where I started.