by S A Leavesley

It takes Carla months to see clearly that she cannot see clearly. Even when she realises, it’s through the blur of other people’s perspectives.

‘What is the cause of your current distress? Are you eating regular meals? Getting to work? Seeing friends?’

Every psychologist/psychiatrist/white coat asks her the same questions.

The alarm goes off. The alarm goes off again. Carla’s hand dreams its own repetitive arc from duvet to button, button to duvet. Her eyelids refuse to open. She stays in bed until one of the kids drags her out for lunch money, blazer, ‘You’ve forgotten the milk!’

In the kitchen, still-cellophaned daisies shape-shift in their vase to dead heads of seeds and fluff. In an envelope window on the doormat, the black of her name, Mrs Carla Kennedy, like a stranger’s at the address that others call home.

After money/blazer/milk, the slowness of water; she sinks into the bath. Disjointed thoughts almost link but don’t quite make sense, and feel more wrong, the more she thinks.

When Tim and Luke slide Match Attack cards into their football collector packs, Carla is struck by the likeness to her depression: flat card faces beneath plastic. Empty slots open for her sons’ heroes, no space for redundant spares. She wonders where the boys would file her, she wonders if she’d fit.

*

At the hospital, another round of Ketamine karaoke; Carla’s arms chained to the trolley by infusion-line, pulse-check and blood-pressure sleeve. This week, the anaesthetist is singing. Treatment starts; questions slide down the drip. He is still singing. She can’t – la – won’t –la – ccccan’t hold onto his words.

Ketamine shunts towards the pain, towards her brain’s emptied kernels. Suddenly, she feels it helter-skelter, sliding through her veins, spiralling that sucked-out husk which is meant to be her heart but feels like nothing more than a shrink-wrapped, vacuum-packed tight squeezing. Time compresses drip by drip. And the point is. And the point. And the…drip by drip, her body expands from squashed thing, her mind tumbles into free-flow.

‘Rate 0 to 4, rate 0, 2…’ The nurse is asking something, but who is she asking what?

‘What’s time? What’s memory? No, I don’t have two identities.’ On this, Carla is clearer than through glass darkly.

‘R8 0, 2, 4, rate 0 to…’

Carla can hear her lips babble. ‘Like a goldfish parrot!’

The nurse can hear, the room can hear, the world…drip by drip.

‘They should record what we say.’

‘No, that would be illegal.’

The nurse is firm, but giggles when Carla giggles. The computer giggles, the windows giggle. The giggles mean that their form is done.

‘What is the cause of your current distress?’ The words rise silently inside Carla’s head like speech balloons in a cartoon. She’s not separated from her body, not flying, not spinning; it’s the world that’s changed, grown distant and strange beyond this tiny room with its crazy-glazed sky-light, side-barred trolleys and curtained bays where unvoiced hopes rise from dim to bright, then slowly dip back to the usual state. Questions float around inside her, like bubbles waiting to be popped.

‘What is the cause..?’

Outside, a bird in vibrant song. If Carla could only reach forward and catch one note, then hold it…

Just before the drug starts to fade, the faces of all the people that Carla’s ever known flash across her mind, distant, flat and jumbled as a bunch of football cards prised from their slots. Alone in her mind’s emptied collector pack, her face in full focus, bright-eyed and shiny. When she gets home, she thinks, this face is the one that she wants to show her boys.

S.A. Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer and journalist, shortlisted in Gatehouse Press New Fictions Prize 15/16. plenty-fish, poetry collection from Nine Arches Press shortlisted in International Rubery Book Award 2016, Lampshades & Glass Rivers, 2015 Overton Poetry Prize pamphlet, and The Magnetic Diaries, narrative in poems, Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2015, Highly Commended in Forward Prize. Publications include flashes in Oxford Today, The Ofi Press Literary Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Rockland, Elbow Room (forthcoming) and The Nottingham Review. Find out more at www.sarah-james.co.uk and vpresspoetry.blogspot.co.uk.