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Chapter 2 : Two
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I do not complain. I go home, and I sit in my room, and I read another book. Sometimes I just go home and sit in my room. Sometimes I lie on my floor and stare at the ceiling, waiting for something to come and find me. I’ve distributed every copy of my CV I made and I take this as a sign that I should give in.
I should work in a bookshop, or a library, because books have been the most loyal to me, and I like quiet places. But employing a corpse apparently has a detrimental effect on customer service, and I am told that the library only offers voluntary positions. My life isn’t comfortable enough for a voluntary position.
Then I think I should work in a kitchen, because being left home alone from a young age has given me a better knowledge of cookery than most, and it’s something I don’t mind doing. But apparently there isn’t work going in kitchens, although when I read between the lines I think they see my greying skin and state of permanent bruising as a matter for the hygiene inspector.
The Ministry offer to hire me as a permanent guinea pig, and the pay isn’t bad. But I decline on the grounds that my death isn’t something to be poked and prodded at. And, to be frank, I’m frightened of being there again.
September rolls around and it should be a new term, but school has been over for some time. I still don’t have a job. Flora secures a flat near her mother in the Midlands and I jump at her request for a flatmate; I want to get away from my father as soon as possible. I move in midway through November and Flora feels the need to continually apologise for the accents of the natives in her adoptive home. I don’t venture out of the flat enough to notice it. I’m blissfully cut off from the outside world and now know little of it. The failed economy, the protests, the rise and rise of the group that we confronted in the Ministry – it all starts to pass me by. I let it slide. I don’t feel that I’m part of that world anymore.
I think about writing a book, but give up when I realise I don’t have the willpower to get beyond two chapters. I pay my rent out of the compensation I received after I died. Flora suggests I sell my story to newspapers for money, but I don’t consider myself that desperate.
She suggests I wear some of her make-up to interviews. Get contact lenses. Investigate experimental treatments for the cuts on my face. She is training to be a Healer, but can’t help much when her line of work is mental health. I lie in bed until noon most days, but she stops at my door on the way out to pass on all sorts of positive maxims I hope the job weeds out of her.
And then, quite out of the blue, I get a letter from Lucy, an old schoolfriend – although it seems a bit drippily nostalgic to refer to her in that way – who is trying to establish herself as a supplier to apothecaries, and needs a hand tending the garden. I don’t consider myself much of a labourer, but money’s money and I need something to fill my day.
Sometimes I wake up in the night. I don’t have the vivid nightmares I’m supposed to, given what I went through, but I never sleep well. My sleep is shallow, ironically unlike that of the dead.
I am woken this time for no real reason, because the flat is quiet and my bedroom door is still shut. We live in a quiet street and it’s still too early for the birds to be singing. I lie for a moment and stare at the ceiling. I think I know why I might have been woken. I get out of bed and go to the room across the corridor.
I knock on the door, which Flora’s left ajar. I give her a second before going in and she says ‘Ah, good, you’re awake.’
‘I am now,’ I say. ‘Bad dream?’
Flora is sitting at the foot of her bed, pulling on a pair of slipper socks. ‘God. Yes. I didn’t mean to wake you.’
‘No worries. I was up anyway,’ I lie. ‘What was it this time?’
She gives me a dirty look and I take it as an invitation to sit next to her. ‘Same thing. I mean, the context changes. It’s pick-your-own-adventure fare, you know? Same things every time. But in a different order.’
‘Go on,’ I say. The clock on her bedside table says it’s half past four in the morning, and I hardly think it’s worth going back to sleep.
‘So me and Fauna were deliverymen, okay? I don’t mean that we were men, I mean, like, we were delivery…persons. And we were given this massive lump of rose quartz and told to paddle it across the Black Lake in a canoe, so we did. And then when we got to the other side, the Forbidden Forest side, I mean, there was this guy in a green cloak waiting for us, and I took the big stone out of the canoe and Fauna paddled away. And then the guy told me to sit in the quartz, so I did, and then he…he…’
Her arms flail about uncertainly. ‘He cut me up again. You know, same guy. But I was above, right? It was like an out-of-body experience. I got to watch it happening, like, I could see the blood dripping between the crystals.’
‘Sounds nice,’ I tell her.
She shudders. ‘Maybe I should go and see someone at St Mungo’s again. Find out if I can get dreamless sleep potion on prescription without, you know…’ her hands flail again. ‘An appointment.’
‘Go for it,’ I say.
‘I’m going to make some tea,’ she says. ‘Do you want some?’ And then she shuffles off to the kitchen without waiting for an answer.
She won’t ask for dreamless sleep potion. I know she won’t. She won’t like to admit that she has nightmares in front of the people she’s training with, her future colleagues, in her future place of work. It’s not necessarily an issue of pride.
I’m aware she’s died a thousand times in her sleep. It doesn’t matter. Any minute now she’ll come back with tea and we’ll sit at the end of the bed and talk until the sun comes up, and we’re revealed in all our usual glory. Haggard, bags under our eyes, yawning, may as well be dead.
I get used to Lucy Weasley’s house, being employed to work in her garden as I am. It’s small, and the railway is a little too close, and it does have several issues with rising damp and mice, but a house is a house and it’s better than a draughty flat just outside of Coventry.
A house is infinitely better. It’s a house with a garden that rolls in the back door and through the corridors, up the stairs, sprouting to a finish with a single dandelion wedged in the chimneystack that pigeons like to sit and coo by. If there is a clear space indoors, there’s probably something growing on it. Flowers in jam jars on the kitchen windowsill, a leafy houseplant in a metal wastepaper bin, even a Flutterby bush on top of the cistern in the loo. The place shivers with life, every room holding something that can breathe, grow, and occasionally bite.
And then there’s me on the doorstep, with cold hands and a complexion never before seen this side of a mortuary. Even the lichen beneath my feet is livelier than I am.
It’s May and we’re enjoying the two days of British summertime we’ll get this year. I ring the doorbell. The chimes go echoing through the house, and then Lucy comes to the door and unlatches it.
‘Hi,’ she says, but doesn’t let me in. I am mentally comparing the muted peachiness of her skin to the greyish tint of my own.
‘Can I come in?’ I ask.
‘Hmm. Well…’ she darts behind the doorframe, re-emerging with a yellow plastic bucket. ‘Er, I had a pun I rather hoped you’d satisfy.’
This is like Flora and her zombie impersonations. ‘I’m not kicking it,’ I say flatly.
‘Yeah, I thought you’d say that,’ she says, standing aside. ‘Go on, come in. Shall I put the kettle on?’
My life has become series of tea breaks. ‘Okay,’ I say. ‘That’d be nice.’
I follow her inside, passing the cactus shrine by the door. I like Lucy, more for her determination to ignore the blatantly bizarre in her life than anything. Cactus shrines. A Flutterby bush in the loo. A Venemous Tentacula in her bedroom. Employing the undead. It’s nothing short of delightful. I wish I had her outlook on life.
It will stay bright outside until late tonight; the way the year is marching on. Summer is nearly here, and it’s been a year since I died. She asks me to pick daisies from the lawn whilst she moves some potted plants from the house into the garden.
‘Why are you moving them?’ I ask, even though I took Herbology to N.E.W.T level and I’m almost certain I know the answer.
‘Well, how would you like to be cooped up indoors all summer? It’s a bit claustrophobic.’
This is nothing more than a passing remark, but I overthink things, and this makes me overthink. I forget that what she said was a rhetorical question and compose my own answer as I rip daisies from the ground. I wouldn’t mind it; I’m not claustrophobic in the slightest. If anything, I’m the opposite, agoraphobic. I think back to the cold, white room in the Ministry – in prosaic terms, a firing range designed for testing the effect of extreme temperatures on spell casting – and the way it seemed to stretch out into infinity as I lay dying.
I wonder why I should feel claustrophobic when my world is so small, when the country I live in is an island bordered by infinite sea. My father’s family have been southern for centuries, but my mother was a northerner, and one day after she died I was asked to stay with my aunt and uncle – but Dad, in his grief, had forgotten to renew the Floo licence, and I was put on the Knight Bus at the eleventh hour. It is possible to travel between the two halves of the country in a day; my world is that small.
If you go to the north, the road crosses canals and braids with pylons, as if the roads and the cables are playing an antique skipping game. They braid and catch you; they show you the way. The land rises and falls as you travel; you are caught by the land and held there. The world I know is claustrophobic.
Besides, there’s a place where half of me should be, and it’s pushing the daisies up from below, not picking them from above. The land caught me a long time ago, and I’ve outstayed my welcome.
a/n: thank you for reading! Shameless self promotion time: I’ve set up a fanfic tumblr where I post story art, playlists, musings and previews, and I’ve put up a mix or two for this story if any of you fancy checking it out – the link is in the bio on my author’s page. There’s also a bunch of drawings for Welcome to Blunderland on there, along with a heap of stuff from the Starving Artists universe. I hope you’re enjoying this fic, stylistically strange and depressing as it is, and that this chapter wasn’t too fillery. ♥
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