Katy’s morning (short story)

rose portrait

‘Rose portrait’ painting by osian grifford

Nutter (Katy’s Morning)

  The door slams shut behind me. I adjust my skirt and knock an empty plant pot over with my knee. Dirty water and bugs creep across the concrete. I’ll clean it up when i’m not busy at some point; I need to get to dad’s ward during visiting hours. I wipe splashes from my tights and my thoughts swell with insects as the smell of the brown water and soil trigger some memory that isn’t yet clear.

On the train I can’t tell which is the least boring activity to occupy the journey with; either I carry on with the tedious text conversation I’ve been having with a short guy I ended up sleeping with on the weekend, or I just stare out the window like a lobotomised mouth-breather. I slide my phone into my jacket pocket to keep the sweet wrappers and receipts company and ponder the zoo that is Cardiff from this mobile cage; a stale box of grubby air crunching through the city. Burrows speed past on a conveyor belt. The inhabitants of each postcode scurry through subtle choices.

The hypnotic rumble of the tracks slips me into a day dream. A memory; all soft colours and blurred light; Sally and me are little, playing around the house on a sunny day. We knock over the bucket round the back of the house. Swampy water and dead leaves seep into cracks in the stone floor.

The family house is as usual; Clutter everywhere; clothes, books, videos and felt-tip pens; comforting and familiar and chaotic. Also as usual I’m winding Sally up. I’m being a bitch but I‘m only little.

‘Sally, that’s mine. Yours is upstairs.’ I snatch something from her.

‘But my horse is broken, Katy. Can’t we play a game without horses?‘ Sally twists her hands back and forth, occasionally looking up at me. Snoopy wanders in sniffing the carpet and then sits down near us after walking in circles on the spot..

‘You can if you want. I‘m still busy.’

The sunlight is so bright that near the window you can see the dust in the air.

‘We can play with my trolls maybe?’

The house is always dusty.

‘You can brush my horse. We can both pretend to work in the stables.’

Sally doesn’t answer, just sticks her bottom lip out. She looks tired and plays with her hands, then wanders to where the dog is sat and fusses him with the brush.

I Face the window holding my arm in front of my face, stretching my hand out. I look at my hand silhouetting the light and I let my eyes lose focus so that the glare thins my fingers into skeletal blurs. In the corner of my vision I see Sally smack snoopy on the head with the brush handle. She holds his collar with her other hand so that he cant run away. Without changing her expression she carries on stroking brushing him again but his legs are trembling. I pretend not to see. I wander over to play with her.

It’s this summer – this day maybe – when dad’s first episode happens. Sally and me are playing and dad worriedly walks in from the kitchen.

‘Are you girls ok?’

I look up but I don’t answer. His eyes are darting around the room. All day he’s been manically searching around the house for something. Now he walks outside. I see him from the windows, the leafy branches in the heat outside throbbing behind him, all greens and yellows. He’s doing something to the outside wall of the house. I only catch glimpses of him until he steps back, pulling telephone cables from the wall. Dry paint and plaster drifts down in bits, like he’s in a snow-globe. He walks away from the house tugging violently at the cables. They peel off the building from floor to roof and dad gives a violent wrestle to snap the higher end from the guttering. Then I can’t see him for a bit and I hear him shuffling back into the house. He walks into the room but stays by the door, taking up less space than usual.

‘Girls, I think I better take you to stay at your auntie’s for a bit.’ he speaks slow and his eyes are sad. His hair and face is covered in white flakes of plaster, but he doesn’t wipe it away.

That’s the last thing I remember from that day; dad standing there,  awkwardly in the doorway, covered in dry white specs.

After getting off the train, I pop in to some public toilets before the hospital, to wash the journey off. Grubby train toilet air sticks to my brain. I have my own soaps and i do my hand-washing routine. This is calming. Reassuring. When I’m happy enough with how I look I do a crap cheesy smile in the mirror. I’m clean.

Before heading in I have a smoke outside the hospital doors. The day’s got warmer and the sun is kind against my face. A big woman waddles up to the hospital doors, her arms bulging by her sides like a toddler‘s. Before going in she looks up from her phone and stands in the sunlight a while before turning to me.

‘It isn’t no kind of day to be spending in a hospital, is it.’

I smile politely; but enough to encourage her to waffle on, apparently.

‘My son’s put himself here. Some breed of cardiovascular disease. At his age; what a farce!’

She looks around forty… maybe she’s older. A sequin pattern on her jeans sparkles in the light. Maybe she’s worn them to get the doctors to look at her arse in the hope that they’ll give her a free diagnosis in passing; “Don’t worry, love it’s a genetic thing – eat all you want!”… She stands around near the door killing time and although she isn’t quite facing me I can tell she wants me to keep chatting to her and I eventually cave in to her will.

‘How come your son has heart problems so young, does he eat ok?’

‘He eats as well as anyone else,’

Her face solidifies in suspicion of me

‘though his doctors have tried to blame his diet, to cover up their own incompetence. No more takeaway dinners they said! How about they do their bloody job!’

‘Homemade stuff’s always the best though isn’t it.’ I say to wind her up. People tend not to like being reminded that they’re in control in these situations. But the she only hears herself waffling on.

‘Who eats five-a-bloody-day anyway?’ she adds ‘All these articles and TV shows just make everyone feel guilty. No-one really lives like that.’

‘Yeah…’ I look away and concentrate on smoking. She carries on.

‘Who’s business is it what we do with our own bodies?’

‘I know…’ I reply exhaling, and try to smile at her before she walks away. The flesh on her back looks like a bullet wouldn’t chew through it. I put my cigarette out and head in.

On finding dad’s ward I walk through two sets of doors. Electric locked and manually controlled by security. Past the local reception desk and towards the lounge area, which has a beige sickliness to it. I breathe detergent and vitamins. A few drug-eyed patients are scattered about like shy parts of furniture, mostly wearing earphones or reading. Most of the light is false; the sun loses it’s fight at the windows of mental health wards.

As I come in a nurse goes to dads room to tell him I’ve arrived. He walks into the lounge area and smiles when he sees me. He’s a young forty-six and is in good shape, physically.

“You look nice dad, you had a haircut?”

“Oh yeah, Tommy came and did me with the clippers yesterday. I was starting to feel a bit scruffy. I’ve been here for nearly three weeks this time.” He sits in an armchair and motions for me to sit in the one opposite. He puts a plastic cup of water on the table between us. I sit down.

“Is it ok?”

“It’s not home. There’s a fucking cage on the window, for a start.”

He looks healthy. Even his face.

“So how’s work, Katy?”

His face is honest. And kind. He’s in here which means he’s ill. I’m visiting, which means I’m healthy.

“Work’s fine.” (he listens whilst smiling and nodding) “It’s actually going really well…There’s a couple of new people in who are nice. They’re unpaid on some scheme to get them off unemployment records so they don’t really appreciate the job…but who does?”

Dad seems happy to have my company. Behind him in the lounge area I can see a tall girl, about my age slouched in an armchair. The thick veins on her spidery arms looks like they’re pushing slush puppy through her body. Like everyone here she’s on heavy medication and struggling to stay alert, to catch a strand of thought which keeps slipping away in the fog.

“We’ve got some bell-ends coming in to check how competent our branch is soon though, so we’re all training to behave in a professional way for a bit.”

Dad is still smiling and nodding but his smile seems forced now. He’s not really listening.

“Anyway, work’s good, I just need to catch up on my sleep; I’m not getting much because my flatmates don’t have jobs so they keep different hours. One of them’s doing a lot of drinking to keep himself busy.”

Dad gets a pen and paper from his pocket and slides it across to my side of the table.

“Katy, I want you to write down your home address and the address of your employer and what hours you work.”

This is going to be a shit visit.

“Listen dad…You know my home address, it‘s the same place I‘ve lived for ages. And you don’t need my work address.”

He’s still smiling, but his eyebrows are raised expectantly. I’ve never told him where i work since at my last job he showed up during one of his episodes and accused my boss of all sorts of shit.

I don’t know what they’re really doing to you there, What really goes on.” He straightens his back.

“I’ve worked there for over a year… Don’t start this crap.”

“So now you’re telling me the truth? After everyone sneaking around, having me sectioned. Come on. Chop-chop: write the addresses down. Otherwise you’re not leaving…Write the addresses down or you’re not leaving.”

“Look. maybe I’ll visit later in the week. I’ll call and ask the nurses if your feeling better…” I pull my jacket sleeves over my hands like I’m tucking myself in, even though it’s actually too warm in here.

“Nobody’s leaving until I find out what everyone’s hiding. I certainly wont find out from your sister! How can I fucking look after you if you don’t tell me what’s actually happening to you? If everyone keeps lying to me?”

He speaks through a polite smile. He’s trying to play down the anxiety which is like woodworm in his thoughts. Sally and him haven’t spoken in over a year.

“I don’t want to leave dad, I’m here to see you. But you have to pack that shit in or I’ll go.”

He sits up, proudly slams a receipt on the table between us and sits back wide-eyed. He looks stupid.

“Explain THAT then, Katy.”

His face is horrible. It’s time to leave.

Out of annoyed curiosity I pick up the receipt; its for a hot-chocolate from Tesco’s for about a month ago. Dad’s watching my reaction through thin eyes, convinced he’s found out some secret. But he’s just lost. He‘s scared and paranoid and wanting to create answers from nothing. I dry my eyes with my arm and get up to leave.

When I get home I go straight to my room and collapse into bed. I’m not tired. I look at the pattern in my ugly paisley wall hanging and I picture smashed meat, rotting bones, thoughts and houses. I lay noticing that it‘s quite dark. The day must have got cloudy. I smell dust in the air, so I get up to clean again. When I clean my mind feels small like a fist. I start to go over the whole house. You’d think being unemployed would give my housemates time to look after the place, but it’s never the case when people are left to get lazy.

The kitchen is always immaculate but I’ve started to notice a damp patch on the ceiling. It’s barely visible but I’ve been noticing it for weeks. I start scrubbing at it. I think about traffic and insects and soil, streets paved with litter and ripped bin bags. The plaster beneath the paint is worse than I thought and I cant clean it. Flakes of ceiling start to fall off. I’m making it worse. The house is quiet but it feels busy with unclean confusion, and tears and spit. I try to even the damp patch out with a scour sponge but eventually I’m scrubbing away at deadwood as well as plaster which is falling in bits in my hair and eyelashes. I wipe my face clean and head to the shop to buy more sponges.

On the way to the shop I check my messages and I have a few from the short guy. Out of boredom I text accusing him of stealing some jewellery that has strong sentimental value to me. I instantly get a barrage of messages from him but decide to block his number rather than look at them.

(2015 edit) This is a short story i wrote a few years ago but which is covering a topic that i’ve come back to in my illustration work and so I thought possibly worth publishing here.

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