January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Even as he saw the tram doors yawn wide open before him, promising safety within the carriage, Mikael was convinced he was going to die. Every fiber of muscle in his legs was alive with pain; his lungs were fire. It was the agony of the break-neck run through the backstreets behind City Hall and the dash across the courtyard that was crippling him the most; the deep knife wound in his stomach felt distant somehow, even as his own blood spilled out over the fingers pressed tightly against it to stem the flow. He heard screams all around him as bystanders began to realise what was happening, crowds of panicked people parting like the Red Sea before him. Over and above this commotion, he heard the relentless pounding of heavy boots on stone, chilling his heart like ice. He snatched a quick glance behind him. They were perhaps thirty yards away, but gaining ground, faces twisted with pure hatred, oblivious to the commotion that they were causing.
Then, the unthinkable. His leg gave way beneath him, and Mikael collapsed to the ground. Pain lanced up his arm as his elbow struck the flagstones with a sickening crunch, his fingers coming away from his stomach. Blood, his blood, splashed across the ground, a grisly Pollock painting in the cold light of a Wednesday lunchtime. A wave of nausea came over him, as an indisious black fog seeped slowly into his vision. He blinked quickly. Still his sight was darkening. Is this death? he wondered. The sound of screaming came to him again, right beside him, but this time sounding muffled to his ears, as if its owner was shrieking into a pillow. He propped himself up on his broken elbow to see all five of the gang members bearing down on him. “Cut that fucker apart,” he heard Johan say, the knife with which he had stabbed him still clutched in his white-knuckled fist, slick with blood.
Anya’s mother opened the door to her daughter’s bedroom gingerly, her nostrils immediately assailed by the fetid stink of cigarettes and alcohol. The watery rays of the sun were trying to permeate the gloom within the room, without success. She surveyed the damage – the debris littered on the stained carpet at the foot of the bed. An empty bottle of vodka, several crumpled beer cans, and an overflowing ashtray; the detritus from another mis-spent evening.
“I think it’s about time you got up, Anya. It’s past midday.” She had tried to say it gently, with as much patience as she could muster, but the words still came out angrily, their relationship fractured by so many similar mornings. She saw Anya stir in her bed, the darkness moving slightly as her daughter raised her head to regard her mother’s silhouette in the doorway.
“Get the fuck out of my room.”
Anya’s mother closed the door and walked away down the hall. She tried to tell herself it was just a phase her daughter was going through, an extended period of teenage angst. Inside, her heart was breaking.
It felt as if her head was filled with sharp glass. The sunlight, weak though it was, was burning her bleary eyes. She heard her mother’s soft footsteps on the hallway carpet grow quiet. She was surprised to find that she felt no remorse. She felt only loathing for her mother, and for herself. The previous evening was something of a blur. She remembered the discussion with Mikael, the look of fear that had crept across his face. His skin turning pallid, his eyes glassy. She remembered downing the beers once he had left, and, unsated, the trip to the off license and the bottle of vodka. She remembered passing out, fully clothed, leaning against the end of the bed. She remembered waking in the early hours of the morning, groggy and frightened. Most of all, she remembered the pregnancy test. It was still lying on the floor. She wondered idly if her mother had seen it, but didn’t care either way. The situation couldn’t get any worse anyway.
How could she have been so stupid? She raised herself on her elbows, and a wave of nausea flooded through her. She tore the quilt off her clammy body and jumped out of the bed. She made it as far as the door before she realised the bathroom was too far. She turned to the bin by her desk, and noticed the empty box for the test resting atop the rest of the rubbish before vomitting into it.
She wiped the sweat from her forehead, and collapsed down on the floor. Her hair was lank against flushed cheeks. Her stomach felt hollow. Gooseflesh broke out up her arms. A quiet, creeping sense of helplessness settled around her heart. It was only then that she noticed her mobile flashing on her bedside table. She uneasily got to her feet and snatched it up, flipped it open. A new message. From Mikael. That feeling of helplessness mutated into one of panic as she read the message:
Johan knows that it’s not his baby. He knows about us. He wants to meet me at City Hall. I’ll meet him. I have to be the bigger man about this. I wont let him near you again. We’ll make it work, I promise. I can be a dad. We can make this work. I love you. I’ll call you in a bit. He’s not going to be happy. xx
She snapped the phone shut, and the room fell silent. She was acutely aware of the dull throb of her heartbeat, thunderous in her chest. From downstairs, she heard the kettle boil. The muffled voices of some TV show as her mother tried to go about her daily routine and forget about her daughter destroying her life in front of her face. The silence was shattered by the sudden screeching of sirens as an ambulance careened down the road outside her window.
Photo credit: Amy Massey