The next morning, after I’ve spent the night on the couch, I find Livvy shivering in bed with a fever. The blinds are closed and the curtains are drawn, rendering the room as dark as the air is stale. She’s completely out of breath. The sheets are soaked with sweat. She tells me it’s a flu picked up from one of her clients.
‘Laurence,’ she says, still calling me by Pa’s name, ‘spend the day in the other room, will you? Can’t have my handsome stagehand getting ill.’
I’m still putting her state of confusion down to the fever and do as she says. I leave some water on the nightstand next to her overflowing make-up bag and offer to change the sheets, but she waves me away. She’s put socks on, so her mangled foot can’t have gotten any worse. How was I to know what was happening? I’m not a doctor.
‘If you need anything I’ll be writing in the living room, Mom.’ I’m closing the door.
‘Oui,’ she says, her eyes getting heavy. ‘Leave your papers by the door and I’ll take them out with the trash tomorrow.’
Stepping back into the room I move through the darkness towards her, ducking around the hanging pine cones. I kneel by the bedside and run my hand over her inch-long hair. ‘Mom,’ I begin, knowing she’s not in her right mind but that she might spill the truth as a result, ‘why did you throw away my manuscript?’
‘Oh, mon chéri,’ she croaks, ‘I do love your plays. If I had my way they’d…they’d all be picked up. Every stage in the country would be running them every single night. But that just can’t be.’
I study her face. ‘Why not? Are you trying to save me the disappointment of not making it since, well, you didn’t? Is that it, Mom?’
‘No, son. I’m trying to save you from being—’ Her voice trails off as she searches for the words. She finds them. Her eyes widen. ‘—being taken from me.’ Her shivering body tenses. Her lips tremble. Suddenly her quivering voice becomes an explosion. ‘IT’S NOT SAFE OUT THERE, CRIGHTON.’ Tears and snot and saliva begin their journeys down her face. ‘You KNOW what happened to my Laurence, what happened all because of me. He was out there working so I could spend my time getting back on stage, so I could do what I loved, and look what HAPPENED TO HIM.’ She’s tugging her sleeves so hard they might tear. ‘If you go out there, you’ll go the same way as him. If your plays do well, you’ll be…you’ll be…’ Her eyes dart around the room in confusion, then lock onto my own. ‘TAKEN FROM ME.’ I try to place my hand on hers, but she yanks it away then wriggles backwards on the bed, cowering against the headboard.
I don’t know what to do. I find myself wishing my ma was here to tell me how to deal with this situation, then I realize this is my ma. I back away slowly, the hanging pine cones moving with me on their threads before being released to swing in the darkness. I reach the door. Her sobbing bubbles away desperately from the bed.
‘Can’t…can’t have you…taken from me. No, not now. Not EVER. You…you stay in the apartment, YOU HEAR? Can’t…can’t have you…’
I close the door and sit at my writing desk, staring at the wall. That’s when I should have called an ambulance, I see that now. You don’t know how much I regret doing nothing. You can’t. No one can. I realize now I was a coward, the same way someone who finds a lump on their breast or balls might be too scared to see a doctor. Besides, my knack had shown me how my sweet Livvy was going to pass. How was I to know she was going to be the goddamn exception to the rule?! So I did nothing. Out of my own usual cowardice, I did nothing.
It’s just the flu, I told myself over and over. She’ll be better soon.
So I wrote. At least I tried to. I think I started planning a new play that day, something about a family finding their way through the usual hard times. Maybe scribbled down what I could remember of the one thrown in the garbage, too. I remember giving up eventually and sitting on the couch, staring at my reflection in the television screen.
I did check up on Livvy throughout the day, finding her asleep every time I went through. I even examined her nightdress for movement to make sure she was still breathing. If you’re breathing, you’re okay. That’s what I thought. She didn’t go to the toilet once the whole day. Guess that should have triggered alarm bells. It got to evening and I made dinner. Raided the refrigerator and ended up having a whole stew to myself with frozen fries and potatoes on the side, soaked in gravy. Didn’t exactly forget about Livvy, but after all the stress of the day it was good to binge.
So I pass out on the couch and wake up some time after midnight. When I go through to the bedroom, which now smells pretty gross, I find Livvy in a deep sleep. Temperature’s still up and she’s white as a sheet. I can see she hasn’t buttoned her nightgown all the way; pretty unusual for her since she’s usually obsessed with being covered up and having everything fastened. I button it up for her and stand watching the fabric of her gown bounce up and down with her thumping heart. That’s when I decide she’s seeing a doctor the following day, whether she likes it or not. Anyways, I get into bed next to her, which she won’t like on account of not wanting me to catch her flu, but I want to make sure I’ll wake up if she needs anything.
What happened next is hard to write about. My ma, Olivia Smythe, was the most dignified, virtuous woman you ever could have met. I don’t want to taint her memory, but you’ve given me this pen and paper for a reason. Everything must go down.
So I wake up in the middle of the night and…jeez, Livvy’s on top of me, all right? Except…it’s not Livvy. Well, it is, but not my Livvy. It’s dark, but I can see this look on her face I’ve never seen before. Those eyes, they’re fixed on me, but not seeing me. It’s like she’s, what do you call it? Possessed, or something.
Anyways, she’s…straddling me, if that’s how you describe it. Gyrating. I’ve told you how skinny she is, but her weight is somehow like a piano on my crotch. She must have been doing it for a while because my groin is getting sore. Don’t start asking yourself Was he? Wasn’t he? He WASN’T. Not in a zillion years did anything, you know, happen down there. What I mean is that I wasn’t ‘stimulated’, if that’s the word. Anyways, the worst part by far was that the buttons of her nightgown had come undone again and, well, her darned boob was hanging out. The lady that spends every waking moment fussing around making sure every bit of her is covered up, and her boob is out. I hate myself for thinking it, but it looked like a tatty old balloon, deflated, flapping around as she hauled herself back and forth. Goddamn it.
‘Laurence,’ she’s moaning. ‘Love me, bébé.’
I can feel her shivering as she’s rocking to and fro.
‘Take me, Laurence.’
She reaches down and places her blotchy hands in my own.
‘You know I want it.’
They’re cold, clammy. So cold.
I yank my hands away and push her off, leaping from the bed. She throws up on the duvet. At this point I don’t know if it’s all just some nightmare I’m going to wake up from. All I can do is stand there in the shadows, jaw hanging dumbly, watching her heave her guts onto the mattress. More buttons have come undone or ripped off and the back of her nightgown is slipping, exposing flesh that shouldn’t be exposed. I peer through the darkness at the sliver of moonlight illuminating her sleeves and see the fabric is blotched with fresh blood. She, too, notices this and fixes her eyes on them – terror-filled eyes, eyes stretched wider than should be possible. She reaches for one of her sleeves in a motion I’ve seen countless times, except instead of pulling it down she begins to slowly slide the fabric back, lips trembling, face devoid of any and all color.
Upon her wrists: a criss-cross of scars and cuts, old and new, drawn right up her bony forearms in crazy overlapping intersections, a goddamn spaghetti junction of right angles etched into her flesh. I have the sudden, bizarre recollection of those meticulous red lines in her client notebook. In my mind’s eye, their perfect regularity seems almost beautiful compared to the erratic madness of these carvings.
I step towards her.
She holds her defaced wrists out to me like an offering, her hands trembling violently, eyes begging for something, anything, an end to her confusion maybe, or—
She resumes her retching.
I move closer as she heaves out her insides, intending to comfort her through her hell but instead just watching as she lets everything out onto the bed. I’m hypnotized by the criss-crossing scars drawn over each scrawny wrist like two psycho games of knots and crosses. Her forearms, they’re just…covered. She’s gagging and spluttering and spitting out whatever’s left as the opened cuts and gouges bleed down her wrists over her hands, flowing stigmata that won’t stop, not stopping, still flowing, the blood from the criss-crosses weeping off her fingertips onto the vomit-soaked mattress. God, if there is a God, make it stop. Bring my sweet Livvy back. End this nightmare, her nightmare, our nightmare.
Make it stop make it stop MAKE IT—
She looks over her jagged shoulder at me. For a moment her face is nothing more than that of a blank waxwork, deadened and lifeless, until gradually the delirium returns to her eyes.
‘Crighton?’ she wheezes. ‘What’s wrong, Crighton? Why are you looking at me like that, mon amour?’
The smell of vomit is lodged in my nostrils. My groin is still sore. Whoever that figure writhing in the darkness is supposed to be, I don’t recognize her. I stumble backwards out of the room, then turn and bolt for the front door, bashing my shin off the coffee table and knocking over an open pot of pine cone paint. White and silver splash the carpet.
‘Don’t you go out there, son,’ she calls after me. ‘I’m telling you it’s not safe out there, Crighton.’
I grab my parka, tear open the door, and lurch out onto the landing.
‘Crighton? Can you hear me, Crighton? It’s not SAFE.’
I slam the front door and run.
This was an excerpt from THE LAST TESTAMENT OF CRIGHTON SMYTHE.