This is the first chapter of the currently unfinished sequel to my currently unpublished next novel, Black Spot. My next post will be what was originally the first chapter of White Wash until I realised it wasn’t working. When you compare them, I hope you’ll agree that I’ve made the right choice.
white wash n a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts
It is the briefest of moments and the longest of moments at the same time. She goes from nothing to everything, from one end of the scale to the other, like fingers up and down the keys of a piano. Black and white. And every colour in between. Hot and cold. And numb. And pain. And then nothing but pain.
Her throat hurts. She tries to raise a hand but then her hand hurts too and it doesn’t seem worth the effort. Her legs hurt. Just the slightest movement in her toes echoes throughout both limbs. But her head hurts the most. Right at the point where her hair meets her forehead. Down along the line to her cheek. And then deep down, deep inside, behind her eyes, at the centre of what makes her who she is.
She didn’t think she could hurt more but the voice – she doesn’t think it’s her own – is unwelcome. More than unwelcome. It is resented. It seeps into both her ear canals where it damages her from within.
“Can you hear me?”
She can but she wishes she couldn’t. She wishes the voice would fade away. She wishes the noise would fade away. Because it’s not just the voice. There are other sounds. There are machines hissing, there are people breathing, there is paper rustling, there is the hum of electricity, there are raindrops on the windows – definitely more than just one window – beating down relentlessly. She wants someone to puncture her eardrums for the sweet relief of never having to hear another sound ever again.
Her closed eyes tighten in reaction to the agony of the clamour. A warm hand slips into her cold one and then a softer voice, as if it can sense her thoughts, says, “Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.”
Instinctively, she knows the instruction is for her. She tells her brain to send the impulse to squeeze as hard as she can but instead her fingers merely curl and slip on skin that is soft in the middle and hard around the edges.
“Good, that’s good.”
It doesn’t feel good right now. Given the choice between this harsh existence and the sweet bliss of death, she might very well choose death. But it’s too soon for that option. The pain is intense but it has only been intense for a short period. Time isn’t passing slowly or quickly but at the same pace it normally does and she can tell the pain is new. Not so recent that it’s only the shock that is truly registering but not so longstanding that her body has forgotten the relief of its absence.
“Can you try to open your eyes?” The piercing voice again that sounds like it is coming from someone who doesn’t really care if she can do what she is being asked to. She doesn’t even bother. Instead she tries to form words. She relaxes her jaw. She attempts to wet her lips but there’s no moisture in her mouth. Eventually only the weakest of sounds makes itself known.
“Water.” Even that is a struggle.
“Pass me that cup.”
It’s the softer voice again. She feels whatever she is lying on sink beside her, then the plastic waxiness of a straw against her teeth and a hand brushing her chin as it holds the drink near her. She tries to suck the liquid up but no matter how hard she tries, it never reaches her mouth. She’s about to start crying when she feels the straw being taken away. But then the straw is put back in her mouth and it’s already full. She doesn’t have to do anything but let the droplets fall onto her tongue, let the clean and pure absence of flavour splash down, and make sure she swallows instead of breathes.
It’s harder than it should be. But she does it. And she opens her mouth again and again until all the droplets have added up to a decent mouthful. She doesn’t feel like she can ever get enough water. But she doesn’t have the energy to keep swallowing. The hands by her face pause then move away but the weight of the body sitting next to her on the bed doesn’t.
“Your throat is going to be sore for a little while. You’ve been intubated. That means you had a tube down your throat to help you breathe. We’ve just taken it out.”
Tubes and pain and too clean odours and voices that think they know everything. She knows this place. Maybe not this place specifically but places like it. Hospitals. With nurses and doctors. With linoleum floors and squeaky shoes. With harsh lights and persistent beeps that are supposed to be a good thing but make her mind wail. It is wailing now.
Salty droplets appear at the outer corner of each eye, the moisture tracing a path of little resistance down both sides of her face. She has passed the point of quiet endurance. Now she cannot help the little signs that escape her ability for self-control. Later, if there is a later, she will scream, if she can scream. At the moment all she can do is enunciate a single syllable at a time.
“Where? Where does it hurt?” Another voice. A different voice. A woman’s voice.
“All.” Every side, every surface, every nerve ending, every cell, every atom is calling out to her with the pain, all competing for her attention, to be declared the winner, to be declared the most painful. But it’s a draw. Each battle is a draw. No one wins. She loses over and over again.
“You can self-medicate.” The warm hand takes hers and folds her fingers around a small cylinder. “Just press the button here if you need pain relief.”
She doesn’t even wait for him to drop her hand. She presses the button over and over, manically. It takes seconds but even those seconds are too long. But finally she is released from the grip of her body torturing itself. She returns to nothing. Less than nothing. She ceases to exist. She is free.