An Annual Review

by ESME FAGAN

November 2009: You step into the open air for the first time in four months. Your mother insists on driving you to the beach. When you ask if you can put The Best of The Smiths in the CD player, she flares her nostrils at you. Once you reach the beach, you watch the seagulls swoop and climb through the sky, their squawks echoing in the air. The harsh sunlight glitters on the sea, and the sand feels warm between your fingers despite the autumn chill. Your smile is genuine.

October 2009: The man comes to open your eyes. The light burns against them, veins bursting and running across your vision. He tells you that it is nearly time, but you do not know what he means. You read your favourite childhood books because they are all you can find – Alice in Wonderland, Watership Down, Winnie The Pooh. As you read, a warm feeling spreads across your chest that you have not felt for a very long time. You tell the man about this feeling. He quickly writes something in his folder.

September 2009: Nobody visits you, but notes arrive on old envelopes, littered with scribbled stars and tiny doodles of your face in between the words. Love. Want. Hope. Recover. Sorry. One is slid under the heavy door every few days, but you tear them up after scanning through them, your hands shaking.

August 2009: The walls glare at you. You cannot remember how you got here. The man says that you will be better soon, but you do not believe him. The yellow pills leave lumps in your throat. The starched bed sheets are itchy against the fresh scabs on your legs.

July 2009: You take a bath after you take leave of his bed. The light glints off an object on the side and your hands reach for it blindly, the urge to just fucking leave jumping across your synapses. The pattern grows across your legs, red blossoms forming in the water. You fade into something more than sleep.

June 2009: He kisses the palm of your hand, and you encourage him to bruise your neck and collarbone. He tastes of tobacco. He asks you with his eyes full of stars if he can remove your jeans, but you will not let him. He must not see the puckered red lines in the bend of your knee and the back of your thighs, or the cut-up credit card in the wastepaper basket.

May 2009: A pang of sharp pain, followed by warm rivulets coursing down your legs. This is what you want. This is what you deserve.

April 2009: You drag yourself to Becca’s housewarming party, your hoop earrings feeling heavy and awkward. It is the first time you have worn makeup in weeks. She hands you several glasses of red wine accompanied by a tight smile throughout the night until you stagger around the kitchen with wide manic eyes and flirt with the guy with the eyes full of stars that you used to work with while sharing a cigarette even though you can tell he is not really interested you keep going because you need to remind yourself that you are alive you are alive and your life is not a disaster even though you have not replied to any texts in three months and your mother still thinks you have a steady income and you sleep for more than 12 hours a day it is NOT a disaster you are doing just fine he strokes your arm and asks if you want a glass of water but you snap and pull away and get yourself another drink of carrot juice and vodka because there are no other mixers left and anyway you do not need his help you do not need anyone all you need is bed and to be in a permanent state of unconscious–

You wake up the next morning on Becca’s sofa with a shaking hangover and ash on your fingertips. The man with eyes full of stars has written his mobile number on your arm. You sigh and go back to sleep.

March 2009: You have stopped calling in sick. Instead they call you and say that they have to let you go, they cannot afford weak links. They hope this is not too much of an inconvenience. You accept their words blankly, betraying nothing in your voice because there are no emotions left. You burn your skirt suit in the wheelie bin, attracting the concerned attention of your neighbours. You tell them that you are perfectly all right, thank you.

February 2009: You receive a letter from your mother in the post, hearts scrawled in red biro around your name. You read the words with a weight in the pit of your stomach:

Dear Kate,

            I hope this reaches you in a good place. Please reply to the messages I sent to your voicemail – if you can get home for Joe’s birthday next month I’m sure he’d be SO grateful. I’m guessing you still don’t have that special someone to spend today with, so I hope this letter reminds you of the love we’ll always have for you, despite your lack of communication. It’s getting tiring. What’s so hard about picking up the phone? We’re waiting. Just let us know that you’re okay. I hope work is going well – the overtime over Christmas better have been worth it! Nothing else happening on our end except that your father has quit smoking, FINALLY!!!! The house is SO much better without it stinking. Joe got a 2:1 in his last essay, and he brought home his new girlfriend last weekend – her name is Eloise, she’s quite lovely. Not sure if you’d get on though. Anyway, this was just a silly little note, a Valentine from your dear old Mummy. Hope you’re not too embarrassed!

            Lots of love,

            Mum xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

After you finish reading, you buy a packet of cigarettes for the first time and smoke three in a row while sat on your concrete patio, watching the fumes curl up into the air.

January 2009: You never reply to the Facebook invitation that your best friend from university sends for her New Year’s Eve party. The promise of “getting absolutely mortal” does not appeal to your numbed mind at the moment. Morrissey asks you to sing him to sleep, until the sun creeps up again and casts orange light into your open eyes. Your mother calls you every day. You never answer. The pots and pans are in the top cupboard, untouched. There is a layer of dust on the cooker. Your fridge is empty, save for a jar of mayonnaise.

December 2008: You spend your days in bed. Your limbs are ice and you have memorised every crack in the ceiling, creating a map for the spiders you do not have the energy to kill. When your mother asks if you are coming home for Christmas, you tell her you are working overtime. In reality you spend the 25th December eating old advent calendar chocolates and weeping over your spilt mug of mulled wine.

November 2008: You watch Barack Obama make his inaugural presidential speech from the other side of the globe. He is in a crisp pressed suit, naturally; you lie there in three-day-old pyjamas while scratching your unwashed head. Your television set is in fuzzy black and white. Everyone else’s is in vivid colour.