by Lydia Morris – an autobiographical piece
Light blusters in at such ferocity when she opens her eyes that she’ll later wonder – once her brain too awakens – how she ever slept through it in the first place. Though perhaps – she’ll reason – it’s simply commonplace now that she’s accustomed to sleeping with the curtains open. Something she wouldn’t have dreamed of in London; staring out into the darkness there she would feel overwhelmed by the fear of who might be looking back at her. That it would lead to an overdramatised doping of melancholy whilst she stared into the pensive pitch black, just like the movies taught her to do when she felt anything other than ignorant bliss. More often than that she’d see something move in the corner of her eye, forgetting that there are billions of other living things out there, all with their own problems. Now having earned a few maturity badges, she is all too familiar with the reality that the monsters inside are something to fear far more than any imaginary evil in the darkness. Even standing, tits out, overlooking the allotments won’t bring many repercussions to your doorstep in middle class Cheshire.
The covers are warm prevails as the best reason to stay in bed. In an old world one might have looked at our protagonist and felt pity – a feeling she is not unfamiliar with – being jobless, prospectless, broke, and with a decade’s worth of regretful decisions in tow when she moved into her mum’s spare room. However, the year is 2020 and everyone is sharing the same upcycled Titanic, so even if she overcomes her hardship, it won’t be notable, it won’t be admirable, it’ll be simply life. Besides she’s out of London now and so the phrase ‘Get over yourself’ is thrown around more than blabbering Boris Johnson memes. Getting out of bed is difficult but also, ultimately selfish. In the end, it’s the realisation that each half hour is another lengthened claw on the ghoul below that gets her up.
Hours pass with nothing happening. Perhaps it would be days too if it were not for the bookmarking of notable therianthropic-like events that break up the monotony. By the way, in case you didn’t know, that’s the shapeshifting of a human into an animal, but don’t be ashamed if you didn’t – our protagonist wouldn’t know, she’d probably have to google it. Inevitably it’s always hunger that leads her into the firing line. The feeding area commonly shared by humans and cats tends to be the most treacherous of disaster zones. Much like the watering holes of the Serengeti, this kitchen in quiet Cheshire is a furnished lair for mothers and ghouls alike to await and pounce on their unknowing and unlearning prey.
Contemplating the stale sandwich debris on her plate beneath the midday sun she…
“Lydia, are you ok? You seem a bit quiet today?”
She begrudgingly looks up to make eye contact with the two seniors finishing their lunch on the wonky garden table. Quick glance at Les for spoilers on what’s coming. He just keeps eating, mindful to avoid eye contact, with a quick peep up from his plate which looks as full as it was 20 minutes ago. It doesn’t look good for her. Egg shells are on the ground.
“Nothing, I’m just tired,” she says, her response vague with a quick exit umbrellaed within it.
Milliseconds become eternity as the lotto balls spin behind her mother’s eyes.
“I don’t know why you’re so tired when you slept in until lunchtime today.” Dark patches start appearing around her face as her eyes deepen into her skull and her body starts to hunch.
Lydia exhales, careful to hide the roll of her eyes.
Les fixes himself into an inanimate object as he takes another bite of his somehow still full sandwich.
“I was up at ten, mum.”
“I don’t think so because me and Les went out for our bike ride at 10am and you weren’t up.” Her nails begin to protrude, thickening into callous darkened claws that lengthen twice the size of her gnarled hands to razor sharp points.
Irritation starts to rise. “Well OK, maybe I got up at 10:02. I’m sorry I can’t provide you with a time down to the exact minute.”
“Well that’s not 10 then is it Lydia?” Her jaw protrudes out as her face lengthens.
“Oh my God, seriously?”
“Don’t say God’s name in vain!” She splurts over her lengthening fangs.
“Oh please mum, you’re about as good a Catholic as you are a vegetarian.”
Les lets out a small laugh unnoticeable to most human ears. The look that befalls him within the smallest millisecond that passes is enough it seems to tell him all about how the worst has not yet begun for him, and that he will hear of that tiniest of laughs again, on numerous occasions before the day is up. Assuredly his gaze is back to his sandwich and now, somehow, entire portion of chips alongside.
“Lydia please do not persecute me because of my religious beliefs and the fact that I don’t believe in cruelty to animals.”
“You literally ate beef stroganoff yesterday.”
“I picked the meat out!”
Lydia mimics pulling her own hair out a little too well. “You’re not a vegetarian, you just like telling your friends you are.”
“Lydia please do not take us off point. I’m trying to say that you sleeping in is a sign that you are depressed and myself and your stepfather – Les – who is sat next to me…” Lydia shakes her head in confused disbelief “…are both concerned that you should be getting out of the house more.”
“There’s a bloody lockdown on. What do you expect me to do?”
“Well, have you been looking for jobs? My friend’s daughters are working from home in their own places where they live with their husbands.”
Lydia laughs, somewhat disbelievingly, and yet also disbelieving that she didn’t see it coming. Even though her mother has never once lost the upper hand when it comes to the element of unpredictability.
“Mum, you know I’ve been looking for jobs. I do it constantly. Les has even read over applications for me.”
“Well why aren’t you getting any interviews? What’s wrong with you?” Her arms turn inwards, the bones showing through her blackening skin.
Lydia inhales sharply and quietly from the first blow, conscious of maintaining defences.
“Mum, we’re in a pandemic. It’s pretty hard to get a job when people are losing them left, right and centre. Do you have any idea how tough competition is? I’m really trying but jobs are being closed after a few days because they’re so overwhelmed with applications or the company can no longer support that position. I literally can’t churn out applications quick enough. I honestly don’t know why it takes me so long but it’s hard: it’s not just CVs anymore, most of them want essays. And I’m at a disadvantage already because I’ve just taken a year out.”
“Well that’s your own fault isn’t it. You should have thought about that before you went travelling around Europe with your boyfriend – who we never hear about anymore!”
“Mum you know we’re not together anymore, and you know it’s none of your business. Besides, what’s wrong with that? People do it all the time. How was I supposed to know there was going to be a pandemic and the whole bloody country would be locked down?”
“Well, I’ve heard they’re hiring at Waitrose.”
“Oh my God” She exhales. “Mum I am not working at Waitrose just so you can get a bloody discount. I will do anything other than retail; working in retail is the only thing that would make this situation worse. Honestly, you think I’m depressed now.”
“Well maybe you should get a nursing job. They’re looking for nurses right now aren’t they Les?”
They both glance at Les, who’s sitting wide-eyed, caught in the headlights of yet another row about the outcomes of Lydia’s independence. He shifts uncomfortably beside the oozing goblin heaving next to him.
“Well…” Les pipes up.
“…Mum I can’t just walk into a job as a nurse.” Les happily shoots straight back down. “You have to do years of training – you’re a retired nurse, how do you not know this?”
“I am a retired nurse Lydia, yes.” She closes her argument.
Lydia shakes her head exhaustingly and looks to Les’ plate. He’s got a full sandwich, a portion of chips and a whole pizza now. She wonders what the science is behind people getting older and slower at eating.
Lydia finally approaches her Grandad’s driveway, thankful for the upcoming relief on her blistered feet. She had quickly remembered why these seemingly fine shoes had been thrown to the back of the cupboard all those years ago. Standing at the brightly painted gate of greens, yellows and black, she feels baffled by how to open it: an array of wooden beams of different lengths point out from the centre like a linear sunrise covering any inkling of where the catch is. She leans over it being mindful not to touch it. She contemplates climbing over it but beside the foothole issue from the intricate design, she questions her ability to do so without actually touching it with her hands.
“What are you doing?”
Lydia looks up to see her Grandad standing by his garage door, a garage he built himself as a much-improved version of the garage he built for her mum. He’s holding a large piece of wood in his right hand and yet stares at her like she’s the lunatic.
“I don’t know how to get in without touching the gate.”
“What do you mean? Just open it you idiot.”
“Bloody hell Grandad I’m trying to not touch anything. I’ve not even got in your garden yet and you’re already telling me to break the rules.”
“Oh, bloody perishing nuisance you are.”
Her heart warms at his insult.
He walks over to the gate to let her in. She turns to look behind for a spot to back away to.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve got to distance from you.”
“Oh, don’t be stupid, how are you going to keep me safe by being over there to being here. We’re outside anyway; you don’t have to distance outside.”
She questions herself momentarily, remembering his intelligence.
“I think you do.” She thinks again. “It doesn’t matter, I’ve promised the whole family that I won’t come within two meters.”
He opens the gate, and she moves to maintain the two meters.
“You’re ridiculous.” He laughs at her. She laughs too. “Oh, have you seen my new gate? I made it.” They stop to look at it.
Lydia smiles as she admires it with him. “It’s fantastic Grandad.”
She watches as he strokes and pats it like a giant gate-shaped dog. She looks back to the gate, still smiling, having seen the gate countless times before.
“I wanted it to look like those Japanese drawings of a sunset, you know?”
“Yeah, I really like it. Why’s that piece of wood longer than the others?” She points to one random piece of wood that juts out of the top of the gate.
“Oh, shut up.”
She laughs, having not expected that response. The completely right kind of unpredictability she thinks.
“Hey…” He moves to punch her arm but he’s too far away, “have you seen those paintings where each brick is painted a different colour on a building, and they make a whole picture? I want to do one of those on here.” He points up to the side of his house against his driveway.
“What, like a random pattern?”
“No, a picture of that woman, you know what’s her name – the actress…”
“Marilyn Monroe.” He claps his hands together in achievement, his coarse skin rubbing as he does so.
“Marilyn Monroe, why?” She looks at him confused.
He turns her confused look right back at her. “Because she’s nice to look at,” he says to her as the blatantly obvious reason to paint a 25 foot multicoloured portrait of someone on your house. “I want everyone who drives down the road to be able to see it, right from the top of the road.”
“I think you might need to ask the council first.”
She opens her bag, putting it on the garden table and tells him to take out the medicine himself as she’s been careful not to touch it, given she asked the pharmacist to drop it in the bag. He looks at her like he’s wondering whether her time with her mother has finally tipped her into full insanity. Eventually he’ll come to tell her that he knows the pharmacy delivers and in fact he’s even quite happy to collect the prescription himself, but it gives him an excuse to see her.
They take a stroll around the garden, not intentionally, rather her Grandad keeps stepping close to her without realising and she is overly conscious of protecting him, so steps in turn too. Soon they’re all caught up on the development of every meter of his lengthy garden.
“Now I’ve got to go soon because I’m not supposed to see you for any longer than 15 minutes.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I honestly don’t know anymore, Grandad; it’s just what I’ve been told,” she says with extinguishing fire.
“Where’s the logic in that?”
“Right, do you need anything ordered Grandad?” Avoiding a debate she knows she’ll struggle to win. “I can get anything delivered to you.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I actually bought some new shoes the other day because these old things have seen better days.”
She looks down at his shoes. If it weren’t for all surrounding beaches being closed off to the public, she’d have said it looks like he’d found a pair of washed up trainers, somehow still paired. She pauses considering as she looks into her rebellious Grandad’s eyes.
“Yeah, they look like you could do with another pair.”
“Well I bought a new pair for a very reasonable price, but I just like these, I suppose, and so I’m still wearing them. Oh no I tell you what,” he points up to her face suddenly, “I’ve noticed when I go to the supermarket that everyone is wearing gloves, but I don’t have any, so I’ve just been wearing my exfoliating gloves from the shower.”
She bursts out laughing. “What, you’ve been wearing your bright pink shower gloves to do your shopping? You must look like a right nutter.”
“No, nobody takes any notice.”
She shakes her head. “Right Mum’s got a new box of vinyl ones, so I’ll get them for you.”
“No, no, I want proper ones like gardening gloves.”
She exhales, preparing for his stubbornness.
Lydia pauses, sussing out the situation through the safety glass that others might presume is just the kitchen door. Her mother is sitting – gawping – at the TV, as her mum would call it, with an iPad in front of her and her phone absentmindedly resting in her hand. A regular sight that is used frequently as a checkmate tool when Lydia or Les is criticised for their screen time. Her mum looks so human in these moments, so different from the other versions, that it’s in these moments that Lydia hangs her head: her mum is getting old right before her eyes and, despite everything, she has never doubted her mother’s love. Being filled with both love and dislike for one person is a complicated thing. She sighs, remorseful, and vows to work harder to try to remember her real mother when all she can see is the creature. She breathes in a shame-ridden breath and turns the door handle.
Her mother jumps slightly – the accidental poke of the bear Lydia fears – then looks up sheepishly and starts loudly singing indistinct notes.
Lydia is confused. “Are you alright?” she says.
Between half notes, “Yes, sorry Lydia I’m just doing my choir.” She points to the iPad in front of her.
“Oh, sorry,” Lydia whispers.
Her mother continues to half-sing while her eyes dart around the room clearly debating the necessity of maintaining the illusion. She lets out a “huff” dropping any singing pretence and gets up to make a cup of tea.
“Sorry, don’t stop on my account.”
“No, I don’t ever do the singing; it doesn’t work on Zoom, but they’ll all constantly Whatsapp me to check on me if I don’t show up.”
“Grandad seems good, I got his medicine to him.”
A few long hairs start to grow out of her mother’s slightly hunching back. Les shuffles in his seat.
“I asked him if he wants me to order him anything and he mentioned he wants some gloves for when he’s doing his shopping. It’s good that he’s being mindful.”
Lydia glances up. The beast, full formed stands before her, all resemblance of her mother is buried beneath the pitch-black skin that hangs off its heaving rib cage, random clusters of long wiry hair move as it’s body heavily sways in its stance.
“He shouldn’t be going to the supermarket Lydia,” it screams at her, breaking its rasps.
“I know mum, but he won’t listen to any of us, will he? We’ve all offered to do it or get it sent to him, but he wants to do it. I figure if he’s going to do it regardless then we may as well help him to do it safely.”
“You’re encouraging him,” it cries pulling force from the ground beneath it.
“I’m not encouraging him; I’m making it safer. You know what he’s like, he’ll do it anyway.” Lydia stands her ground; Grandad has always been off-limits before.
The creature’s hollow eyes bore into her and tipping onto the furthermost back point of her heel, she balances as she watches in that second her mother succumb to the demon once again.
As if mustering all its strength it pulls back, its right elbow protruding and claws point to form one sharp dagger. “If you give him those gloves and he catches Coronavirus then it’s your fault if he dies.” Release, all resemblance of her relation lost. “Remember that.”
Lydia topples, heart lost to its pit, speechless.
“Diane,” Les says as he stands up.
“That’s not fair mum. What am I supposed to do?”
“It’s true.” It snarls, seeming suddenly drained. “It’s your decision. I’m not having any part of it. But it’ll be on your hands.” The creature breaks a long piercing stare as it slumps back to its seat. It picks up its iPad struggling with its long clawed fingers and loathes into the screen. Lydia stands numb, before slowly turning and walking away, hand clasping stomach, hunched as the little bit of black inside her grows a little more.