This is a segment from my literary novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities which I’m revising for submission. This is a stand alone episode where Freya comes out of the hospital after a coma.
The way she placed her feet seemed to have many possibilities, the way this oriented her body in the surrounding space. It was the wrong body, in the wrong space, the wrong skin. The children ran about, random molecules in a heating liquid. Daniel was taller, Ben more talkative, Grace thinner, Aidan greyer in the skin. There was birdsong, a constant, chirrup, but no identifiable source, heard through the sirens arriving at the A&E.
Into the car in the multi-storey car park, the dimness made the children dozy. There were things that she may or may not have noticed before; the resistance of the seat fabric against the body, the precarious nature of small negotiated spaces, the arcing trajectory on the exit descent, so sudden she might be flung into orbit. She gripped the seat with her fingers, discovered the regular pattern of embossed squares like Braille. Then out into the irregular world, the cars in the opposite lane approaching violently. She mentally steered to her own kerb like a learner driver, leaned back against the headrest.
In the hospital leaned against the pillows, trying to remember.“It’s common,” said the consultant, “that the memory can be lost in spots.” She’d thought, suddenly, starkly of a colander, had a vision of herself in the kitchen, water pouring through the holes.
Of the accident, freeze frames, a sudden backwards rush, the sound of glass smashing.
She began to recognise her family but with a stranger’s detachment. Now she sidles up to points in the past, recovering particular events. But when she tries to zoom in they slip.
Back in the hospital bed: her chin on her chest, the suck of the blood pressure monitors, other patients’ hidden snufflings, the sound of a far off infant.
Freya turned her head. In the car, Ben – fastened into his baby seat – had fallen asleep, his head lolling against the insert, his cheeks made round, the corner of his mouth moist. Grace examined the sky. Daniel stared at nothing. Aidan looked straight forward, driving back.
Everything is strange.
They came to a stretch of dual carriageway where they picked up speed and skimmed along the sleek tarmac. Wheels always look like they are going backwards when they spin. In the sky, she saw clouds that defied possibility, improbable birds aloft. On the ground she saw long concrete barriers fencing in the relentless route, lone figures at the side of the dual carriageway, ahead, then suddenly left behind. All along the road the signs were blanked out. They were going nowhere.
But going home. On the last descent before their exit, an alien spaceship cloud hovering above the Devil’s Glen, the rest of the sky vacant. Freya stared. Altocumulus lenticularis. Minutes to go before they were home.
Walking into the house she felt the airlock close, eyes on the back of her head. The lead player in this story of her homecoming, the audience holding its breath.
“Where is everything?”
“What do you mean?” Aidan asked, close, proprietorial.
“I don’t know. It’s all just different.”
“Granny came and cleaned up,” Daniel announced triumphantly. He tapped against the floorboards with his study shoes.
“Yeah,” said Aidan.
“We wanted it to be a nice surprise,” Grace was eager to intervene.
This was the cue for her lines, her play at pleasure.
She said nothing. She sat down among her things, things chosen once, things she’d gathered to tell herself and others of her tastes; not that vase, but this one, not that book, but this one.
But everything was not the same. The bookshelves were lighter, the ornaments rearranged, foreign bedclothes had infiltrated the bedrooms, her children had lost something – naivety was it? They were leaner, more wary. They followed her round the house. Ben held onto her leg until she lifted him up. Then he put his hand down the neck of her loose clothes and fell asleep on her shoulder.
“Good to be home?” Aidan asked. She nodded, swallowing. On any day you might wake up to the feeling, of a dream gone wrong; that you were living the wrong life or perhaps you were just the wrong person for this.
Aidan’s face in the hospital. The quick turn of his head, the restlessness of his gaze. Ben held firmly on his knee, the children chided for noise. The staccato beat of his flight at the end of visiting hours. Now it was Ben who held her face, looked directly into her eyes. It was Ben, not Aidan who made her realise that she was really there.
She got into the wrong bed. Now texture was a language. And through the scent of the bed she recollected Aidan. Although he was right there, she experienced it as an old impression travelling back to her along an interminable pathway to when she had loved him.
Later, in the months to come he will say; “You are not the same. I don’t know you anymore.” I cannot help it if in reality he speaks clichéd lines. I could have told you it differently and perhaps I will.
Later, he will say, “you are not yourself, you are not making sense, you are…”
”Unhinged?” Freya will say, looking at the door, wondering if one day he will go out of it and not come back.
That night, the night she returned to her life, Aidan reaching for her, in this changed body. She saw herself in the mirror, this other woman in this other life, this strange intimacy.