When I woke next, I knew immediately that I was somewhere else. I could tell from the easing of darkness that had suddenly come about as I rubbed my eyes into focus.
I was in an empty room. The same wooden floorboards were underneath me, but the walls were stripped of the bumpy paper. Instead, they were stained with large brown tear marks. The room smelt damp, alive. There was nothing to distinguish it as anything other than a rotting room, with no windows and a shut door.
I went for that shut door immediately, numb to the sudden arrival of heightened odds of danger. I skated over the dry boards. It was a weak looking door, but I felt weaker. The doorknob was loose but did not budge when I—now frenzied turned it. The door banged about in its frame. I kicked it with spindly legs, that now hung from my body with neither thickness nor authority. My face turned wet with sweat and tears and snot as I exerted an effort I was sure I never had for anything.
I collapsed by the door, looking at its screws, attempting to draft up a more thoughtful approach when in the new silence came a shuffling from behind.
“It doesn’t work that way.”
My swung my head towards the female voice with such force that it came too close to breaking free from my shoulders. I could see two figures, a man and a woman sitting in the corner opposite. I rubbed my eyes hard so my palm rubbed against my bare eyeballs. The woman sat with her legs stretched out before her, arms resting on soft looking clothes with many elements—many layers. She sat there as if sitting on the floor of her own bedroom. She was old, her face only gently wrinkled, her curls only at the beginning of phasing in grey. The man sitting with her had his short legs stretched out in suit trousers, with the same delicate wrinkles and the same kind eyes. They were not real. My heart thumped with the appropriate force for the first time. The sight of them in the dingy room, their sudden presence had a dreaminess that made me think I was maybe still sleeping in the corridor somewhere, having a very lucid dream.
“Okay, ” I said, not exactly looking at them, but around me, “thank God you’ve heard me,” I said to the house.
It was the first time I’d spoken in weeks. It came out harsh and dry.
“But I need a sign,” I went on, “I need to know they’re real.”
The elderly couple just sat and stared with non-malicious smirks, saying nothing.
I felt myself adopt an agressiveness, likely the symptom of fear that I’d been waiting to arrive since stepping in.
“I know you’re here to get rid of me,” I said directly to them.
I didn’t know if they were. It was better to prepare for such anyway.
“I’d prefer you just get on with it,” I said.
“Is that what you want, to die?” The old man spoke for the first time, slowly, slightly mockingly. He wasn’t smirking, just looking, waiting on me.
There felt to be a lack of mercy, of understanding. So, I lent further into my defensiveness.
“What kind of question is that? A trick?” I said too harshly, “It’s a trick,” I said, to myself this time, hand coming to forehead in despair.
What if it knew my deepest desires, the house, even if I didn’t? I didn’t know if I wanted to die, after considering it all.
“It’s only a question dear,” said the woman, adding a delicate smile.
Since the moment they’d arrived, just as things were finally beginning to happen, I’d suddenly lost my momentum. The house had taken advantage of me—my young fascination, and then my adult grief. And now, I’d finally lost it—my mind.
“No,” I said, because I realised it to be true, “but I have nothing left, there’s nothing left for me.”
I felt myself untense. Relief flooded the room, and I let go of myself, allowed my weight to be carried by it.
They sat digesting my confession, deciding together without words what they should do with it.
Then the woman spoke.
“So what’s for you in here?” She asked, “If there’s nothing left?”
“I don’t know,” I lied.
“They’re not in here child,” said the man, with a steelier look in his eyes.
I just looked, not at them but straight through.
“Then why will me here? ” I said.
The woman’s eyes became big and deep.
There was a long silence in which my question felt rejected, ignored.
“Because,” said the woman, “you were looking.”
I blinked slowly in response.
“What do you believe?” The man asked.
“About what?” I asked.
“This place,” he said looking from floor to ceiling, “these homes,” he flipped his palms, showing them to me.
“I, ” I went, then stopped, becoming thoughtful. Then I said “I think there are better things in here, that lead to better things that continue to lead on and on, to better things. Things better than I’ve ever known.”
At this, the woman stretched her hands out to me for aid. I went over to her. She grabbed a hold of my forearms, and I was surprised to feel a human grip rather than nothing at all. She beckoned me to lift her.
“Thank you my love,” she said, steadying herself against the wall. She went for the door while the man stayed put and watched.
“Leave that there,” she pointed to Dad’s rucksack, the one I forgot I’d been carrying.
“Wait,” I said, openly afraid.
The woman ignored me. She stood by the locked door, fragile but upright.
“Come,” she said.
I was deafened by the beating of my own heart with each step towards her. I stood behind her, feeling like a skeleton fighting to keep its balance.
She opened the door, and light poured into the boxy room.
“Go on,” the woman nudged me, and everything behind me vacuumed away into nothingness.
The light stung eyes that had only known darkness. It lined everything—the light when I looked around.
I was in a house—a different one—and the light was daylight streaming in, bringing everything into view.
I could see that immediately in front of me was a long island in a kitchen. It was a kitchen I did not know, that at first meant nothing to me. The surface was teeming with pots and casserole dishes covered over with lids and foil. Smells I knew a hundred times over were sickly in their richness, their intensity, in place of the dust and the damp. Cooked down meats, molten cheesiness, salted fish, eggy greens, fried plantain.
It was all mine, in a kitchen that had long been mine. I never thought I’d see it again.
In the kitchen doorway, as if she’d always been, was Mum.
She was holding a handful of serviettes. She smiled delicately.
“Would you get the knives and forks out for everyone, Tabitha?”
She moved past me as if I hadn’t been anywhere, as if I- we both had always been here. And if she had asked me where I’d been, if my absence had been noted, I would’ve told her truth.
“I don’t know.”