Self-Service Blood Oranges

The end result of my trials was an illness. Had I been in my right mind, I might have taken it as a final kick in the teeth, but, as such, I never really considered it that way, and took the symptoms on the chin. Efforts that had been made began to pay off; the deterioration of my physical health was at odds with the improvement of my mental health.

Blocked. Cavities in the skull that normally rippled with the inhalation of soft air were clogged. Nothing could budge whatever it was that required me to breathe through my mouth, moving through my flat like a basking shark. Scrunched tissues hardened next to my desk. My whole body ached. My brain throbbed. It was a struggle just to stay awake at three in the afternoon, window wide open, a cold wind changing the air around my muskiness. The illness did not shift. For five days, I submitted completely, taking cold & flu medicine every four hours, riding it through. A climax! A month, but no more – and now, illness as the orchestra swells, erupts, silences. Because my thoughts were more level, my anxiety subsided, I would take the illness as though I were tied to the bed.

Do you hear the birds? the springbirds?

Alone for seven days; no interaction; it feels like something essential, part of the process, a letting of blood. Really, I am content. The suffering of my mind recedes, the nightmares evaporate, constant terror falls away. There are glasses of blood orange juice.
Alone for seven days. At the supermarket only self-service. If I strayed into the cornershop, I became angry at the old lady in front of me on her mobility scooter—‘Five packs of Sterling, please, love.’ Is that the destiny? barely able to move but for ninety quid in notes, crisp as the tissues around my keyboard, pink as sex. ‘Scuse me.’ Hoarse as hell and the skin on her hands like battered shatterproof glass. The woman behind the till stares at me vacantly. Her blue eyes have gone creamy with age. She lost interest decades ago. Does she ever scan the headlines of the sheets that turn her fingers black? The skin on her face is flushed and flaking; it falls like blossom onto the counter. The wind blows cool into the heat around my lips. There are people outside the pub, drinking and bored.

At the end of the week, I know that I will be seeing Marianne, and then I will visit my family for my father’s birthday. It keeps me going, because one needs something to anticipate.

Do you hear the birds that sing at awkward hours of the day? Nighttime is easier when the birds sing through it like marbles on a mirror. It is not something I am used to, for I have forgotten it since last year. One may even shut their eyes at the front door and imagine it is dawn; close their eyes, smile like an advert.

On the seventh day, my father sends an image of a positive test. My mother sends an image of a positive test too, fainter. Marianne tells me her friend is positive, and she must source a test before she travels. I can breathe through my nose. I am rested. The nightmares have softened like ice cream. Do you hear the songbirds calling to spring? It is not far now. Soon the buds and warmth. Soon the season.