by Cameron Dunham
and although the day is nice, I feel it ease in as dusk comes. By the time we close the door behind us and, holding hands, prepare to make the long, return journey, there is a gentle pulling in my chest. I lift her into the car seat, strap her in and ignore the routine complaint of ‘Too tight!’ Giving her the ritual kiss on the forehead, I make my way round to the driver’s side. I stare back at the house, realize I’ve forgotten to close the curtains, the ice blue of the Christmas tree lights wink at me: ‘We’ll be seeing you later…’ I shake my head; snort back snot; turn the key; drive away.
Four hours later I step back through the same door and shut out the biting chill. Some of it manages to follow me in, clinging to my skin and bones like a spider. I’m shivering and it isn’t all because of the cold. It has its hold on me now. I go through the mundane tasks and retreat to bed.
I drift in and out of sleep; never sleeping for long, never awake for long. My mind fixates on the smallest aspect of a minor wrangle to do with dustbins but goes around the houses on an elaborate path that recycles plots and characters from films and books before eventually, inevitably, returning to a minor wrangle to do with dustbins. I sleep with two duvets and a hot water bottle. The sweat pours out of me into the sheets, corroding them, burning through the mattress and leaving nothing but the springs. I rest on these, something cooking on the grill, until I slip through and coagulate on the pan beneath. From here I will be scraped off and placed into the kitchen rubbish until the black bag fills and I am transported out to the dustbin. Here I will see the minor wrangle to do with the dustbins from a different, and helpless, perspective. I remain in bed for forty three hours. Amazingly, the pint of pure cranberry juice does last me. I eat nothing but four oranges.
Sunday afternoon, already dark, I make my way downstairs on joints that have been spun with glass. The living room has become cavernous in my absence, darkened and without atmosphere. My breath frosts, airlessly, in front of me. The blue Christmas lights fizz and spit as they dominate the corner: I can just pick out thin strands of ice, winding their way around the wire flex to concentrate in a smooth mess at the plug socket. Inwardly shuddering whilst the sickness sweats down my forehead, I hurry through austere wasteland and into the kitchen.
The trip downstairs has exhausted me. Twice I feel my head swell and once I am looking down at myself, the top of my head swaying, my hair thick with grease. As I replenish my orange supply I see the bananas move like clumsy fingers and the revulsion that I feel overpowers any sense of mystery. Despite my nausea, despite my physical weakness, and despite the ice in the living room that has spread to a soft crunch in the carpet, I flee back upstairs; I flee with the certainty that the awful hand of bananas will cumbersomely come climbing after me. SCUTTLING. Like. a. ………
It is all I can do to text in sick over the next few days: no one knocks, no one calls, no one knows; no one buys tickets to this one man show. The disembodied voices of podcasts discuss old Stanley Kubrick movies and how Youtube footage of beheadings in a gorgeously framed desert offers horror unparalleled but a louder voice shouts inside me: ‘You are truly alone.’ and the noises that come from downstairs are creaking and unpleasant. On a dizzy foray to the toilet I notice I have been coughing so hard that blood vessels have burst in my eye and I stare at my reflection for a long while. A vulture’s eye picked out by a single beam of light, a corpse dismembered and buried in golden sand. The Tag Heuer watch keeps ticking, driving a confession from a young man who looks a lot like Mathew Modine. Has he killed him because of the fighter plane film? The red eye wide now surely shut. Swish; thump; spurt. Tick tock, tick tock. It’s Christmas in New York. But is it New York?
How much later, Hours? Days? A need to replenish the oranges overcomes terror and I make my way downstairs again. There have been some interesting developments. The carpet is smooth, hard and freezing. My feet stick to the cold surface and my ankles feel as though they will snap. The Christmas tree is now the epicentre of a sub-zero icescape, the blue lights still blinking but faster and more frantic. I breathe in and out but there is only vacuum now. Vacuum and a deadening chill. On airless wisps, I drift through the living room and into the kitchen. I aim myself at the oranges. The oranges which are next to the bananas.
My hand shakes as I reach for the fruit. I close it around one orange orb, the coolness reassuring in my sweaty palm, its surface smooth but porous, firm yet yielding. I stare at the bananas, expecting them to move. Which they do. I jump backwards and the bananas continue to move, twitching laboriously. I’m horrified. I keep looking. They ripple, trying to point. Then they rear up, just momentarily, and I see something else. It’s not the bananas. My hand leaps. The orange presses to my mouth. The sour taste of peel, stifling the scream. Tarantulas. There are tarantulas in the bananas.
In the seconds that the bananas move, I can see them. A nest of tarantulas at the bottom of the fruit bowl. Their dark business, hairy with malevolence. Their awful pushings and heavings, liftings of the thick fingers of bananas; the yellow cage bars have been all that keep me safe. But yellow bars will mush to black, are already mushing to black and in between the fingers of bananas, glaring out are the sickening glints of multiple octets, diamonds of malice, dreadful hissing fangs, dripping with venom and madness. The deadly intent of a dance macabre. Coming soon, they promise; coming soon to a space near you: a diabolical dance of madness. It’s more than a mind can bear. Gripping the now crushed orange, I turn and run. Back through the kitchen and into space. Orange drips from my hand and falls upwards, my feet are slipping and sliding on the carpet and it is only the grip of the ice that keeps me from drifting ceiling-wards. I make the stairs and grab the banister, begin pulling myself back upstairs. The tiny eyes of the Christmas tree are legion in their winking, watching of my escape. And all the time I can hear the hissing, feel the eyes burning, hear the scuttling, scuttling, scuttling after me…
Another Friday evening and another heavy clunk as I close the passenger car door. I lean down and tap at the glass window until she turns her little face, soft and smiling, to look. I give a big smile back and an exaggerated wave. I wait for her to turn away before repeating the whole process again. This time her smile is a bit more knowing, a bit more weary and it will be short years before she accompanies it with a roll of the eyes. It’s been a good day and I’m feeling much better: in-between days somehow survived and in-between days ahead of me again. I walk round the car to the driver’s side but something catches my eye. I’ve forgotten to close the curtains and the ice blue lights of the Christmas tree lights wink at me; just once. As I open the car door, I cough.
Cameron Dunham has previously had his work published in Dream Catcher Magazine and is also a performing musician and actor on the London fringe scene. He is a regular contributor of theatre reviews to the ‘Remotegoat’ site and also works as an English teacher in a London comprehensive school.