The note read:
“One day you’ll wake up in your own bed, with the bedroom door closed, all the outside doors locked, everything seeming to be in its usual place. Or you’ll wake up in your chair. Or on a seat on the bus. It will all be as always, all seem as always. But you’ll have a tiny blue mark, like a tiny tattoo, on the back of your hand. And then you’ll know the time is getting closer. And quickly closer. Then you’ll want to call your daughter and perhaps she’ll have grown up and had children of her own by then.
And you’ll remember when she was young, that day when she had run home from school to find you. She was so happy, her heart was full to churning, full to bursting, full to overflowing, full of happiness and light. Her teacher had said she was one of the bright ones, had said she was bright, had said she was special. And then. And then.
And you’ll remember and you’ll want to tell her to get her children and keep them close by and never take her eyes off them. But you’ll know it won’t help, it won’t make any difference because you’ll know that I’m coming and you’ll know it’s too late. And you’ll think maybe I don’t mean it…. and then you’ll remember the other incidents, the little accidents – because that’s what they were, surely, they must have been – and you’ll wonder.
And your breath will feel cold in your chest and the noise of your heart will drown out your thoughts until the rushing of blood sounds like a scream. Then you’ll look at your hand and you’ll rub at the mark and you’ll fall back in a chair or fall back in your bed and then, and then, you’ll look all around you and look at the doors and wonder where I am. Because the doors are locked. And you don’t know where I am. And is it too soon, is the terror too short and what is that sound from the other room? Now you’ll ask yourself, as you hear nothing but your blood, is there no way out, is there no escape, no release from the quiet? And then, again, it comes again, the noise from the other room.
But were the happy times worth it? They say happiness is the greatest gift. But now you’ll be sure it’s not a gift, nobody gives you happiness for nothing in return. Always something. Always. And you bought it dearly and you’ll pay for it dearly. And not only you.
The brush of air on your face that woke you, was it a breath, was it a whisper? If a whisper, what were the words? But you know what my words will be, don’t you? You’ll have heard them before, they’ll have been running through your head in the middle of the night, blurring round the edges until they become the howl that wakes you. Did you wake up when you heard the words and wonder where they’d come from? And then realise you didn’t want to know? And now you will.
You never got together with anyone else, did you? Well, you wouldn’t, would you? She was your life, remember? Taking her away had been worse than taking away your own life, because you were left with nothing, with less than nothing, worse than nothing, the emptiness of the memory, of the hole that was left. That’s what you said.
Now, thinking about it, you know that feeling, you know, where the rage boils up inside you and your stomach is tightened and your shoulders are tightened and you just want to nail somebody’s head to the wall and there shouldn’t be a law against it because it’s the right thing to do and there shouldn’t be a law? You know it, don’t you? You remember. Well, imagine that feeling always, always in your head and in your stomach, and you can almost feel the hammer in your hand, the weight of it, your hand hanging down by your side, feeling the weight of it. Imagine that feeling always, awake and asleep like the dead. Imagine that and know that some remember.
What will you remember? You’ll remember your dog dying, you know, it might be him, the black one, so intelligent yes but just too trusting, or it might be the one you got later, once you’d got over the blinded one. And you’ll wonder. If it takes that long. And will you remember your brother’s accident? Or hasn’t he had it yet? And whether you remember it or whether you’re now dreading it, you’ll close your eyes, you’ll screw them shut and open them again with so much effort and you’ll see the mark on your hand again, the dream that isn’t a dream and won’t end happily.
What will you find in the room this time? Well, this time. Because you didn’t find it the last time, did you? You imagined it though for so so long. How many things have you imagined, did you imagine? What will it be like? This time, what will it be like? What will your eyes see as you open the door? What will your eyes see, what will your stomach feel?
How do you picture it, how do you remember it? Perhaps you’ll think it can’t be true, it can’t be true, it must be a joke but who would play a joke like this and it can’t be a joke and it can’t be true.
The smell. The smell. The smell of metal and the smell of hospitals and the smell that will stay at the back of your throat and the back of your tongue and will be there always.
So many questions I’m asking and your head can’t take them all in, no possibility of answering. The rushing of blood.
Green fields, blue sky, yellow sun, white clouds. Simple memories but the warmth is the feeling that we remember, when we felt warmth in our hands, our blood and our bones. I remember the warmth, I remember the feeling but I can’t feel it any more. What about you? Do you remember warmth in your heart, in your blood, do you remember what it was like before the coldness came?
Over the years there must have been times when you didn’t feel the ice inside, perhaps that time when you took your girl for that picnic in the park? You’ll put the blanket down in a place you have thought about, planned for weeks, close enough for other people to hear your screams for help, but far enough away so they can’t see your eyes, can’t hear your words, can’t smell your fear, the fear that stays with you always. You’ll smooth the blanket down and get your girl to take the bottles and sandwiches and fruit – will you take fruit? – out of the carrier bags. What age will she be now, do you think? She’ll be a pretty one, I’m sure. You’ll sit on the blanket and she’ll want you to pay attention to her, not to the distances and the sudden movements you see from the corner of your eye. And you’ll shiver a little when you put your hand on the blade of the blunt old knife. But after a while you’ll relax a little and the coldness will go and you’ll almost close your eyes. Almost. Just once. And remember, I probably won’t be there, watching. Watching and waiting. Probably.
And if I am there, watching, waiting and watching, I might not do anything. Not this time. Or that time. Or any time until the day you wake up with the mark on your hand. Like today. This morning or afternoon or later on in the day when you’ve fallen asleep in your bed when your head’s stopped its whirling, or in your chair in front of the TV. Too loud. That’s what you’ll think when you wake up. The TV’s too loud. Who left it like that and how did I fall asleep, and sleep, and wake up with this taste in my mouth, like the taste of old blood in the back of my throat and you’ll spit in your hand to see if there’s blood there. Not this time. Unless you’ve grown older and sicker and older than you thought you would.
The smell of burning, of burnt, of wet ashes. It catches and snags at the back of your throat. Your throat, again. Remember? What’s the smell? Is there smoke?
Every year’s a blessing, every day’s a curse, that’s what they say, isn’t it? Every day’s a curse. When you can’t sleep for the fear of closing your eyes and then feel the dread arrive as soon as you wake up again. Count your blessings. Count the days and the years that you have got though. You can’t count the days you’ve got left because you’ll never know. You never do know. Or sometimes you do. If you’ve been sentenced you know. But even when the morning comes and they come to wake you – if you’ve slept. But who could sleep now? When they come to get you to take you away you won’t believe it can happen, won’t believe that someone won’t stop it. What do you think? How would you feel? How do you feel? Is there nobody?
How long will you wait? How long will I wait? How long will it take? You’ll wonder and you’ll wonder and you won’t have an answer. Until today.”
I’d read the note most days for years, ever since. As I folded it again and put it down on the bedside table again, I saw the blue mark on the back of my hand.