“What just happened?” she asked, looking at the lamp. There was no answer.
“What just happened to the light?” she said, louder.
“Nothing. What are you talking about?” She looked at her husband: his head barely visible behind his laptop.
“The light did something. It went out. Or something went in front of it. The room went black for a moment; didn’t you see?” He looked up at the lamp and then at her.
“It didn’t do anything. I would have noticed if the room had gone black. You probably blinked or something.”
“For God’s sake, Ben, I blink all the time. Do you think I don’t know what blinking is like? You don’t even notice a blink!” Frustrated, she threw the newspaper onto the couch beside her and got up. She went over to the light and poked the bulb. “Ow!” she breathed. She shook the base.
“It’s gone a bit black now your fat arse is in the way!” laughed Ben. She spun around and frowned at him.
“I’m going to bed!” She strode to the bathroom, slammed the door and sat on the closed lid of the toilet. She realised her hands were shaking a little. Fury? Fear? Something else? If the light didn’t do anything, perhaps she had a brain tumour. Perhaps there was something pressing on the back of her eye, creating vision problems and making her temper short. No. Not the temper thing. That was all Ben!! No …something had got in the way of the light; he didn’t notice because he was looking at a brightly lit laptop screen. He wouldn’t have noticed if she’d done a fan dance in front of the lamp. He never noticed anything she did.
As the water ran into the sink, she watched her reflection blur and fade in the bathroom mirror. She looked better in the steam. The water was a little too hot as she stood with her hands pressed flat and her wrists smarting. They didn’t look like her hands in the water; they looked like a stranger’s hands.
By the time Ben came up to bed, she’d been asleep for an hour, but he turned on the light, walked over to his side of the bed, turned on his lamp and yawned, “Turn that light off for me!”. She did. Then she lay on her side with her back to him as he opened a book and began to read. The flowers on the wallpaper looked like giant moths in the gloom, and the shadow cast by her own body made it seem as though they were struggling to crawl from the earth, to free themselves from a two dimensional chrysalis: but failing!
When she woke, it was as though she had been shaken and for a moment she thought one of the children had come into the room. Her head was fuzzy and her tongue so dry it clicked as she tried to swallow. “What’s up?” she heard herself mumble before realising there was nobody there. Her head felt so much heavier than it should, but even so, the last of their children had left 2 years before and had already been long past the age when you come looking for your mum after a bad dream. According to the clock, it was 04:11, but it wasn’t reliable. She felt for her phone and checked the time on that. 04:11. Holding her breath, she listened for anything that might have woken her, knowing that it wouldn’t take much: the sounds of the fridge, the central-heating turning on or off or just being old, a rattling door, nothing at all. There was nothing to be heard, but she couldn’t get over the feeling that she had been shaken. She shuddered and her breath came in a burst and shocked her with its loudness. It took more than an hour for her to get back to sleep and when the alarm rang at 7, she felt as though she hadn’t slept at all.
In work, the hum of the library was a comfort for her twanging nerves. Her back hurt as she pushed the trolley to the far end, where she would begin the ritual of replacement: checking the other books on the shelves as she went, using a sixth-sense to find out-of-place books, carelessly used by people who didn’t have respect for the knowledge stored here.
It was while she was moving a copy of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ from ‘J’ to ‘P’ that the lights went out at the end of the stack …for a moment. She felt so vulnerable. She turned to one end and then to the other, then pushed her back against the shelf, her hands shaking wildly and her chest feeling so tight it could have been encircled by invisible arms. She forced herself to walk to the end of the stack. To where she could see other people. It calmed her a little and she walked to the desk.
“Did you have a problem with the lights over here?” She tried to keep her voice casual but wasn’t sure if she had managed. Laura looked at her with a frown.
“Are you alright? You don’t look well. Sit down before you fall down!” She did. “You’re a funny colour! Do you want a drink of water?”
“I’m alright. I didn’t sleep well. I just wondered if you saw the lights flicker. They did up by the children’s stacks. Just for a second.”
“No. They were alright down here.”
She realised she still had ‘Peter Rabbit’ in her hand but she gave it to Laura. She didn’t want to go back into the stacks.
As she ate her dinner that night she watched a programme about why the bees are vanishing. She had the main light on and the lamp as well as the hall light. She felt uneasy alone here now, and Ben had texted to say he would be going straight to the club after work. She wished they had a dog. Or a cat. Or a budgie. Something with a heartbeat, however small. The bee programme was over and somebody was explaining how Stonehenge had been built. And why, apparently! She pushed a piece of cold fish across her plate with the point of her knife and realised she’d sat for an hour and had barely eaten a mouthful. She had tasted none of it.
Scraping the food into the bin, she felt as though she had somehow lost a chunk of time and wondered if she should see a doctor. Maybe, in the morning, she could make an appointment to put her mind at rest …or not. That’s what she’d do. Making the decision helped her to relax a little and she decided a warm bath and an early night might start making up for lack of sleep and stress.
In the bathroom cupboard she found some bubble bath that had been a Christmas present and poured it onto the torrent of hot water, filling the bath. The smell of strawberries filled the room and for a moment she was 7 again and sitting, surrounded by bubbles and playing with her dolls. Washing their hair. Making them swim. She shook her head and straightened up, withdrawing her hand from the swirling water. Something was pushing for attention.
“What?” The stark, sudden question made her jump, even though it was her own voice.
She stepped into the bath; the hot water turning her leg lobster coloured in seconds. She sat down and leant back into the crackling bubbles, relishing the borderline pain. She closed her eyes and the dolls came back into her mind; they had been called Jenny and Lulu and she couldn’t remember what had happened to them. They had been there all the time for years and then …where? She was 7 again. In the bath. Playing. With the dolls. And then …then …the light had gone out. No, not gone out …was blocked. Mum’s friend, Joe was there.
Back in the present, she pulled her knees into her chest and began to sob.