Monday, November 22, 2004

I Don't Want To Be Crazy Anymore

I don’t want to be crazy anymore than you would. Those were her last words to me, her back to the sun so that I had to blink at the haze surrounding her body. She looked ethereal, as if she were an angel sent to warn me. I didn’t cry, not a sob. Her scowling face, eyes screwed tight in bitterness and her arms crossed in defence; those are the images that will stay with me for the rest of my days, how ever many I might have left.

She used to sit against the radiator for hours, complaining of the cold even in the height of summer when everyone else would be collapsing on the London Underground, sweat pouring from them – a personal monsoon season. Not even a motherfucker of a Simoom would make Carole warm. Again, those are her words.

She was diagnosed back in the late 80s, a time when people were grateful for what they could get. The country was in the grip of economic crisis; people were losing their homes on a daily basis. Carole used to sit in front of the television, laughing at these poor people, those who had stretched themselves with the mortgage, as they were forced onto the streets by the bailiffs, struggling to carry the possessions that they had left or what could be sold to make ends meet. She told the doctor she had thought it was a new comedy sitcom, one that she happened to find hilarious. They did the necessary tests, again and again – to make sure, that’s what the consultant said – and then they began dispensing the drugs.

The mood swings weren’t the worst of it. I used to hate the silence that she could drop as if it were an old toy no longer of any use. Days would pass by without a word issuing from her lips. Even if you tried to make her cry out, she would refuse to utter even a grunt. I hid anything sharp during those episodes. It didn’t stop me loving her: she was still my “little girl”.

Jack used to joke that we should station an ambulance at the end of the drive during the teen years. I’d blink back tears and wonder how he could say such nasty things about something he had helped to create, but I know now that he was just using it as a way of coping. Course, he can’t joke anymore, not now.

Two weeks later I discovered her stash of pills, those she had spat out over the years. The kind man that came to fix the heating poured them out of our tired looking boiler pipe. He told me that she must have popped them into the heating system via the tank in the loft. I daren’t go up there, just in case she left me some surprises. The man from the plumbing company was gung-ho to get up there until I told him about Carole. He drank his tea so quickly he burned his mouth and tongue. Another man had to come back the next day and replace the pipes. His name was Kevin. He didn’t say a word and was in-and-out of the house within the hour. I’d never known a workman refuse a drink before. Carole had that effect on people, even if they had never met her.

As I was lighting the candles, closing all the windows, I remembered all these things. I knew Carole was somewhere in the house, I had heard her creep back in through her bedroom window in the early hours of the morning. I took my time, made little noise. I looked in at her bedroom, but it was empty. I locked the window and closed the door behind me as I retreated to the kitchen on tiptoes.

I drew the match across the box, its loud scratching a warning sign to anything within listening distance. I heard a cry from above my head, somewhere in the upper reaches of the house. All the matches had been removed from the house a long time ago; this was the first box to return to this abode in many years. She must have heard it, the distinctive scrape of the match head along the side of the box, the satisfying hiss as it lights the wooden stick. She may have heard the whoosh as the flames took off around the house, igniting the fuel I had liberally sprayed in every room. She may have caught a whiff of smoke on her throat, a small cough emitting as she went to clamber down the loft stairs. Did she scream when she realised they didn’t exist anymore, that someone had removed the rungs? Did she jump down the twenty feet to the bottom of the stairs, I wonder?

They never found her body in the ashes that remained, they told me that in court. The judge said I gave no hint of remorse, that he believed it had not been because of diminished responsibilities, that I had purposely arranged the house so as to trap an “innocent human being” while I “committed arson”. I protested that she was as guilty as I was, that there were no innocent people in my story. He silenced me with a wave of his hand and a two-year prison sentence. It was suspended on appeal, pending psychiatric reports. My doctor and I both see the irony in my visits, but he cannot help me. I know I have to face this on my own. I just don’t want to be crazy anymore.

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