By Simon Pinkerton
“You’d better do it.”
“Would you leave me alone? I don’t want to. I’ve told you.”
“You fucking shit. You loser. You piece of shit.”
“Leave me alone!”
“I’ll never leave you alone. You’ve got me forever. Now do it.”
People are constantly nagging me. Everyone is on me for something. It’s those with the badges, and it’s them with the nasty comments. I wish I could get some peace.
I didn’t answer the door to Cassie because I don’t like her. She smells funny, and it’s her who comes round to bath me! I can bath myself, I just don’t want to do it, and I certainly don’t want her to do it. I don’t even want her to touch me. I can only imagine what Dad would have said if he were still alive, a black woman in the flat. I’m glad he’s not around to nag me anymore. I don’t want her touching me again. I don’t want any of them touching me, or talking to me when I don’t want them to. I just want to enjoy some time to myself. I want to read my magazine, but now there’s this. I got rid of Cassie, and now she’s started up again. This one’s the worst of all of them.
I have to deal with her nagging, and plus I’ve got a message on the machine from them at the hospital. I’ll have to phone back. If you don’t phone them back, more of them come round, all with their badges, and they all want to get into your flat and pester you and ask you all sorts of questions and give you advice you never asked for. I’ve got to phone them back, but it’s my phone bill at the end of the day. Then I can’t even hear what they’re saying for half the bleedin’ time because the other ones are screaming and shouting at me, demanding my attention like they can’t wait for me to get off the phone. It’s only good manners if you ask me. I’ll have to phone them back later. I just want to read my bleedin’ magazine.
“Excuse me, Heather. I’m asking you to do something.”
“I told you I don’t want to.”
“I don’t care if you don’t want to. I want you to do it.”
“I want to read my magazine.”
“That magazine is for normal people. Do you think the writers of that magazine really want you reading it? They don’t want you reading it. They wouldn’t write it if they knew that you were reading it.”
“Look, just leave me alone.”
“Are you going to cry, Heather? I’m going to keep asking you until you do it. Why don’t you just do it?”
“I don’t want to! I’m going to ignore you.”
“I am. I’m going to sing and then I can’t hear you.”
“You can’t sing! You’re a horrible singer. Remember what Dad told you?”
“Lee at the hospital says I’ve got a lovely voice.”
“Lee at the hospital is just saying that. I don’t like Lee at the hospital. You know he’s a homosexual?”
“He is not.”
“He is. He’s a dirty homosexual and he wants to give you AIDS. I don’t want you talking to Lee again.”
“I like Lee. He’s nice to me.”
“He’s not going to be interested in you. He’s not going to want to have sex with you.”
“Do you have to be so disgusting?”
“Are you going to cry?”
“No, I’m not, I’m going to sing. Now leave me alone.”
I’m singing out loud to drown out the voices and I’m doing my best to concentrate on my Psychics magazine. I’ve read the same paragraph on the first page three or four times. I can just about hear her in the background but if I sing at the same pitch as she speaks then I can block it out more. She’s talking about going to the toilet quite graphically, I can tell that, but I’m not going to pay any attention. No, I don’t want to hear the details of her menstruation. I want to turn to page 26 and read the article about guardian angels. Eileen says that she’s got a guardian angel that tells her when she shouldn’t do something, to protect her from harm, and that tells her where to go and when. All I’ve got is this horrid woman telling me about going to the toilet.
Even though it’s tough to read and sing at the same time, I manage to read almost the whole article. It’s nothing I haven’t read before, but it’s nice to remind yourself that there’s something else out there that we just don’t really know about. It’s hopeful. I like to think that one day I’ll be able to go about my business without being insulted and told what to do. She never likes anyone, that’s the problem. A few of them do, they like a few people, but she never does. If I could meet someone, a man that she actually liked, then maybe she would stop yelling at me and asking me to do all those things. I might even be able to get a job?
“But who would want you?”
“No really, who could possibly want to hire you for anything? You can’t do anything!”
“Well you’re not helping! Why won’t you leave me alone?”
“You wouldn’t know what to do without me. You wouldn’t have the first clue what to do.”
“I know I’d be happy.”
“You don’t deserve to be happy. Did you hear me? I said you don’t deserve to be happy. Are you going to cry?”
I feel like I’m going to cry for a moment but then I remember that Kieran hasn’t been fed, and going over to the cupboard and opening up a tin is enough to distract me. Kieran comes in immediately as I open the cupboard. I thought it was a cat’s vision that was meant to be amazing, but his hearing isn’t bad either. Kieran loves me. He hops up onto the counter top and is putting his head underneath my hands as I use the can opener, trying to get me to stroke him, and then before the lid is even fully off he’s poking his nose under it, trying to get at the food. I push him aside which he doesn’t like, and quickly empty it in one big jellied flop into his dish. He starts into it like he’s never been fed before in his life.
“Alright, so you’ve done that, now do what I want you to do.”
“Why do you want me to?”
“You just need to.”
“But why? I don’t want to. What would happen?”
“What will happen is that if you don’t do it, then I’ll start screaming. Just do it!”
“Don’t scream. What should I do?”
“Turn the gas on the hob on but don’t light it.”
“Just fucking do it, Heather!”
I rarely do what she tells me to do, but just at that moment the phone rings and Kieran is evidently finished with his food and is hovering around my legs so that I nearly fall over, and I turn on the gas and then stumbling over him go to pick up the phone. I need to answer it because it will be them at the hospital, and if I don’t they’ll just come round again.
“Hello Heather? Hi Heather, it’s Sarah from Colnefield.”
“Oh, hello Sarah.”
“Oh yeah, hello Sarah. Sarah hates you, you know that don’t you?”
“Heather, I’m phoning because the agency called and told me that there was no answer when they came round.”
“Sorry Sarah; I was out.”
“You weren’t out, you liar. Tell her. Tell her the truth. Go on, you liar. She’s going to know that you’re lying.”
“…when we’ve made an appointment, OK, otherwise it just costs us money and we’ll have to have you come in here to get bathed, OK?”
“She’s lying, Sarah! She’s lying!”
“Um, I’m sorry?”
“Sorry Sarah, not you. Sorry, what were you saying?”
“Look, Heather, we’ve been through this before. Just make sure you’re in when we’ve arranged for someone to come to you, OK? Is there any reason that you were out when they came round? Were you out? Or did you just not answer?”
“See, I told you she knew. They all know about you. They know you’re deceitful.”
“I don’t like Cassie.”
“It wasn’t Cassie, Heather. Cassie hasn’t worked for the agency for weeks now, you know this.”
“Ha – listen to that. She’s laughing at you. She knows you’re an idiot!”
“Oh, really? I thought she came round last week?”
“That was another lady, Heather.”
“Well I didn’t like her either.”
“What was wrong with her, Heather?”
“She was rough with me in the bath. And I didn’t like the way she talked to me.”
“Heather, we’ve spoken about all of this. Do you remember, you said that you were going to try as hard as you can to like the domestic assistants we send to you?”
“Yes. Could you stop using my name please? I don’t like hearing my name.”
“Heather, Heather, Heather.”
“OK. I’m going to arrange for her to come by tomorrow at the same time, alright? Are you going to make sure that you’re in?”
“Heather, why don’t you answer the lady, Heather?”
“I’m doing it! Sorry, Sarah. Yes, yes, I’ll make sure to be in.”
“Anything you say, Sarah! God, you’re pathetic.”
“Alright then. I’m seeing you on Thursday at ten o’clock here, is that right?”
“Thursday, yes, OK Sarah.”
“No, it’s Wednesday. Ask her if you’re meeting her on Wednesday.”
“Have you got that written down, Heather?”
“Yes, Wednesday at ten.”
“Oh, Thursday, yes, sorry, Thursday.”
“Oh my god, you absolute fucking idiot, you thought it was on Wednesday? How can you be so stupid?”
“Leave me alone!”
“Go on, cry. Let them all hear you cry.”
“Are you alright, Heather? Are you crying?”
I sit there trying to calm myself and sobbing just a little for a few seconds. All the while she’s mumbling something in the background but I don’t want to listen to any of it.
“No, no, I’m fine Sarah. It’s just the voices again.”
“OK. Well, I’ll see you on Thursday. You have a good couple of days until then, OK?”
“Alright, Sarah. See you then.”
I noticed that Kieran left while I was on the phone. It’s a shame – I could use his company. One of the others is starting up now, along with her still mumbling things about me, and I can’t stand to be here where it’s so quiet. I need to get out where it’s noisy so I can’t hear them as loud. Kieran’s been fed now so I don’t have to worry about him. I’ll get the bus into town. The bus stop’s right outside and I’m not staying here. I know that everyone’s looking at me when I’m on the high street, but it’s better than listening to them.
Coming back from town, traffic is awful as we approach my street. Waiting at the bus stop outside Woolworths, some man had been telling me to push a teenage girl under the bus. I didn’t do anything about it; I never would. But on and on he went, telling me why she deserved it. I don’t think he has a very high opinion of girls. So I had all that to listen to while I waited, and then having to sit here on the bus, only a few roads away from home, and he’s still going on about her, even though she got off ages ago. She looked a bit rough but I don’t believe half the things he was saying about her.
I smell smoke in the air, a heavy smell, like tar actually, as we round the corner into my street. It’s a wide road but I can see that there’s some trouble up ahead and that only one half of the road is open, and a policeman is waving cars on from our side. I can’t see as far as my flat, but I have a terrible bad feeling, and then I remember the gas, and then she comes back.
“They won’t be coming round any more now, will they?”
I don’t respond to her. I sit there feeling sick, and she doesn’t say anything else, and I can tell that she feels pretty good about things. The tears come to my eyes and I nearly start to cry. As the bus pulls up alongside the block of flats I used to live in, and swerves into the right-hand lane to pass them, I look and can see part of my living room. There are police and firemen and ambulances everywhere. It looks like the explosion has blown part of the roof off, and the outside wall that stood on the street has fallen into the area out in front where everybody always put their bikes.
I think of Kieran and hope that he stayed out. He doesn’t have a home either now. I won’t get off at the next stop as I normally would. I don’t want to go back to hospital. If I get off there, they’ll put me right back in Springfield. I’m just going to stay on the bus as long as I can, and I’m going to try not to cry.
* * *
This story made the shortlist for Open Pen Issue Seventeen.
Simon Pinkerton is a writer from London.