The sound of the letter box rattling dragged me from sleep. I braced myself, expecting the usual barrage of abuse that poured through the opening. I’d explained about the rusted refrigerator in the front garden. Mrs Kennedy knew I didn’t have the money to call the cleansing to pick it up. I couldn’t do anything about it, not until Wednesday, when I collected my benefits.
My head felt heavy, my thoughts sluggish, like feet dragged through ankle deep mud courtesy of the medication. I could smell the remains of yesterday’s Chinese takeaway congealing in the tin foil containers on the floor beside the sofa. An ashtray had been overturned scattering spent stubs on the floor, and there was a light dusting of cigarette ash over a TV magazine.
“What’s she doing here?”
“Where was she when you needed her?”
“You have enough on your plate without her useless platitudes.”
I slapped my trembling hands over my ears to shut out the voices.
I opened the front door as far as the chain would allow, “What a surprise to see you.” I scanned her face. A flurry of wind tossed my dressing gown about legs.
“So what if it is early afternoon? Gotta problem with that?”
I worried for a moment that I had spoken the words out loud. It was getting difficult to tell the real from the unreal.
“Come on in.” I dragged the chain back and moved away from the door.
“Don’t put the kettle on – you’ll never get rid of her.”
The sitting room was a bit of a tip. A few weeks ago, on one of my better days, I had decided to redecorate the room. The walls looked naked without their paper, the plaster pocked in places where the scraper had dug too deep. The carpet was still slightly damp in places. A stained duvet was crumpled on the sofa still warm, breathing out the faint aroma of spilled wine and old cigarette smoke.
“Sorry about the mess,” I mumbled.
”Apologise? What’s to apologise for? You never invited her to visit! This is your house. No one is asking her to stay, are they?”
We had been friends once, Laura and I. She had remarked that she could tell the state of my mind by the condition of my house. The days then when my depression seemed to have been blown away like gossamer clouds on a breezy day, the house was clean and the air was filled with the scent of vanilla. Other days, darker days, it was all I could do to climb out of bed.
A Christian for just a few years, it seemed as if my faith in God was locked into my mood swings. Some days were filled with heavenly visions, and the house rang with worship songs. Then there were days when the voices in my head would not be silenced. Church slipped, becoming less vibrant and no longer relevant. Testimonies of victory that should have encouraged me only served to condemn me. No one seemed to have anything in common with me. Few could understand my mental illness. The Pastor even laid hands on my shoulders seeking to expel demons he swore were there. I pulled away, slowly. I made excuses and hid behind closed blinds when anyone came to visit. Eventually they left me alone.
Laura was the last to leave. A year ago, I pushed her away from the doorstep, swearing that I would get the police on her if she came back.
If the mess in my house was an indication of the mess in my mind…I was truly lost.
“Do you want to go out for a drink…coffee somewhere?” It was me speaking…not Laura. “Give me a minute or two to go and get dressed.”
I headed up the stairs, my mind flicking through the wardrobe for something to wear. I’d reached the top of the staircase when, diistinct from the smell of decay around me, I inhaled a new aroma – something familiar.
And then I knew it.
It was the fragrance of life.
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