The Day That Sees Your Mind
I used to love my job teaching primary; not being able to have children of my own I thought it was the closest I would get to being a parent. At the year-end I could always see what huge improvements the children had made and I would wonder where those wild creatures I’d been confronted with in September had gone. But this year, when the children stood up on the last day in our musty classroom and chorused “have a nice summer Miss Dorian,” I smiled sweetly and hoped never to see the little bastards again.
I’d been given them at the start of the year as the school’s problem class. No one else wanted them and the leadership team flattered me into thinking I was just what they needed. From the moment 6F trotted into my classroom everything in my life began to disintegrate.
My oldest and closest friend Sarah told me she had found a lump and was dead by Christmas. In January I found my boyfriend of three years had been screwing his PA, claiming I had become distant and besides he wanted children. In April my sister miscarried at nearly seventeen weeks. Her husband was in Afghanistan so I went with her when doctors removed the foetus. It was horrifying.
Throughout all of this I was dealing with the class from hell; they bullied each other, physically and even sexually on one occasion, daily there was excrement, tantrums, fights and mutilations, as well as the standard low level disruption. By July there had been some improvements but I was I was exhausted from putting on my happy face and making believe. I wanted to walk away from teaching and dive into a bottle of gin.
That’s more or less what I did on the first day of the holidays. I had only been in my new home for a month, after leaving my boyfriend. I sat in the garden with the white hot sun against an empty sky. I sank onto the sunbed with a large, cold glass of G&T in my hand and finally allowed myself to let go.
It lasted for about five minutes. The screaming and the shouting came from somewhere beyond my garden. It was hard to tell at first how near or far it was but as it went on, and it went on all afternoon, I began to realise its source was the garden directly opposite mine. I could tell nothing more because of its thickly overgrown conifers that bullied my fence and obscured the view of the mysterious yard and the house which it belonged to. At first it was the screaming of children; a sound I had lived with for the last nine months. I recognised its pitch and tone. It was not the joyful screams of children playing and having fun. It was the screams of children taunting one another. The wild cries that I knew pre-empted violent outbursts.
The howling went on, then stopped when an adult voice began rebuking them. Again I recognised its tone. It was a raised voice of anger, shouting the way I had spent so long shouting in my classroom. It made the ice in my drink rattle and my headache return.
This commotion continued in the same pattern. The children first, then the adult. What it was all about or what was being said I could not tell. I stared toward the dark shadows within the conifers whilst the clouds in my head thickened.
Ignorant parents I surmised – just like the ones I had dealt with for 6F.
“Why have so many kids,” I whispered, “if you hate them and scream at them all the time?”
I went inside to try and escape but the muffled anger came through to my living room as well. By around four that afternoon I had decided to investigate. There was no way I could live with those noises the whole summer.
The bottom of my garden was all shadows from the neglected trees and brambles that pushed against the low fence. I had armed myself with a pair of secateurs and carefully stepping over into the opposite garden, began to cut away at the arms of plants and flowers turned wild. The space was cool and thick full of green darkness but I cut and tugged and pushed myself through, receiving scratches on my arm from thorns hidden like guerrilla fighters.
On the other side in front of me was the exact mirror of my own back yard and home. Exact but neglected. The lawn was the same size and the same length but the grass lolled heavy and twisted from its own weight. Dotted about this meadow, like obscured gravestones, were bits of things discarded; engine parts, a plastic doll’s house cracked from the sun, an old sink on its side like a mountain conquered by snails. From the lawn was a patio just the same as mine, only weeds grew tall between its slabs and even from where I stood I could see cracks that peppered the concrete. What spooked me was the sun lounger; it was the same make as my own, in the same spot as my own with an empty glass, like my own, sat next to it as if I had just put it down myself.
I stood with my secateurs drawn and listened. The screaming had ceased, leaving the breeze to play among the garbage and the grass. The back door, the same red colour as mine but worn and faded, stood ajar. I knew the kitchen would lay beyond it and then through that into the lounge. I glanced behind and already the trail I had cut through seemed to have shrunk back to overgrowth.
I began to tread a path through the grass, disturbing flies from something I was glad I couldn’t see. On the patio the lounger was the exact same type as the one I had left in my back garden. I crouched down to look at the glass next to it. Again the tumbler seemed just like mine and within it were two ice cubes sat in their own melt water as if whoever had been drinking from it had gotten up just moments before. The rim of the glass was smudged with bright pink lipstick the colour of sliced ham. For a moment I felt relieved. I did not own such a ghastly shade, in fact I hardly wore make up at all beyond a little eye shadow.
My relief was broken by the screams starting again. Closer now, rattling my ears. A chorus of cries like animals being tortured and then a woman’s voice.
“You little bastards! Squirm and scream all you want, it’s the only breath of life your crippled souls will taste.”
My instincts kicked in and I charged for the kitchen, set just as my own but with rotted food and plates piled upon every grimy surface. I did not stop and went diving for the door to the lounge, just as the screaming began once more.
The stench hit me first – like rotten fish guts and cabbage boiling together, but what I saw froze my nausea and turned it to revulsion and terror. I stood, staring at myself. Almost myself but haggard and gaunt. The figure had my eyes or I had hers but the rest of her was grotesque. A woman propped in a chair with her legs in stirrups that hung from the ceiling. She was not old but her skin was carved with lines and peppered with veins like a blue gauze had been placed across her face. She was not me but her eyes were mine and they stared at me as I stared at her, shifting in her chair, naked but for a blood stained gown.
“At last,” she screeched. “You have come. Don’t just stand and stare you silly thing,” she pulled herself up. “Empty the tank before they come again. I’m beginning to feel them.”
The woman interpreted my look of disgust for confusion.
“The tank,” she told me again, nodding her head toward the floor beneath her.
The tank was large and its glass was smeared and chalky. It reminded me of the tank we had at the back of the classroom, until one child smashed it in a rage. I could see things floating inside.
“Too late,” the woman moaned. “They’ve come again.”
Her body convulsed and strained, her toes curling like claws. From between her legs spattered a litter of pink skinned creatures covered in mucous. They plopped into the tank below and began to squeal as if boiling. As they screamed I could see their mouths and eyes were more human than animal.
“You little bastards,” the woman growled, still straining. “Squirm and scream all you want, it’s the only breath of life your crippled souls will taste.” She looked at me. “Drown them or this will never stop. Do it.”
“I can’t,” I told her, unable to look away from the panicking creatures as they scratched at the edge of the glass.
“But you knew I was here,” she said as if affronted. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m exhausted.”
I began to stumble back as her eyes, my eyes, looked so pitifully at me. “Who did this?” I demanded. “Who brought you here?”
The cries from the tank fell silent and the woman began to laugh. She raised a bony finger and pointed it at me. “You did,” she screamed.