I used to know this old lady. Real nice, grandma material. Had that kind of smile. Her name: I didn’t know her first name, not then when I knew her. Ms. Diamond, that’s what the nurses called her, and the name she used to get on the occasional Get Well Soon card. She shared a room with my mother at St. Nicholas Hospital, who herself was suffering lung cancer. I hated my mother. She brought this upon herself, smoking all her life. Could have been shot in some parts of the country. I hear the police’ll do that now, no hesitation. But what I hate most about my mother was that she couldn’t just die quietly and suffer her own punishment. She had to lie, because she didn’t a fancy room in a hospital to share with only one other person by chance or luck, not in this day and age.
The only reason I visited my mother on her deathbed was so I could meet Ms. Diamond. She was brilliant. She kept a diary which she let me look at, but it was all in shorthand, a art of writing that even some journalists don’t use, what with all the computers and laptops and mobile phones doing the same things but faster. I’ve always wanted to learn shorthand. There’s some childlike fascination inside of me with being able to write incredibly fast with paper and ink, like the good old days without spellcheck, and not having other people being able to decipher what you’ve just written. Such sophistication, but so secretive! Sometimes I was compelled just to watch Ms. Diamond write her diary for hours on end. I loved the way the ink blotted the paper even though the nib of her pen barely etched the surface… it was therapeutic.
There was something else unique that I found interesting about Ms. Diamond. She was mute. It was hardly surprising, so many people are these days, but what was odd was that her condition was psychological, not physical. She had the ability to talk, she just chose not to. Doctors tested her reactions to prove this, seeing if shock or pain would cause her to shout out by instinct, but she didn’t. It was like she was she was trained not to speak, not to utter a single word.
It didn’t matter to her though, nor anyone else who met her. She was peaceful, soothing to be around, and even my mother, my bitter and cold-hearted mother, was perkier in her final months by just sitting next to her. She communicated to other people via a small whiteboard she hung over her neck, or with Post-It notes when the words needed to be more permanent. The way she formed words was beautiful, her handwriting was calligraphic. She was an artist.
It was sad that no one ever seemed to appreciate her for the wonderful person she was, because, bar me, she never got any visitors. Yes she got the occasional card or letter, like I mentioned, but they were always addressed formally rather than personally. My mother got visitors from time to time, but Ms. Diamond was a lonely woman, and she didn’t deserve to be.
She passed away in her sleep. Mother called me and told me the bad news, I didn’t take it very well at all. I had spoken to her the day before, or more appropriately (and rather disturbingly), she had spoken to me. She was writing on her whiteboard that she knew she was going to die very soon, and that she welcomed the idea, because she had lived a long and happy life, although I know for certain that her last few months couldn’t have been happy, being in the same room as my mother all day and night. She pulled me close to her, kissed me on the forehead like she was my aunt or something, then whispered that single syllable that still haunts me in my dreams: “Run.”
When the doctors asked me what she said before she died (I assumed a relative probably wanted to know, or something), I told them the truth, just missing out that monumental detail. It shook me to my core, I didn’t know why but I knew that I had to do as she instructed. I left my mother to die, and I left my flat, I left my friends, my job with the bank; I just packed up and left. I didn’t know where to go, so for a while I travelled around the UK, never staying in the same place for more than a week or two, using up the pitiful family funds that my father had left behind after he died when I was still a kid.
But my journeys came to a hasty end when my ancient Fiesta finally packed up. Car insurance is a luxury that most people can’t afford since the Smog; the Government said it was one of the ways we could pay back after the recession, but I’m guessing that most of the extra money from projects like car insurance went straight into the politician’s pockets for their next trip to Barbados, or along the like. I’ll probably get some form of lung or throat disease when I’m older since my car is so old that the windows aren’t even sealed, and you can still wind them down when you’re feeling adventurous. I did hope that one day I’d be able to take my car abroad to somewhere like Sweden where the Smog’s not so bad, and you don’t get arrested for cruising down motorways with the windows down and feeling the wind in your hair, but I guessed that it was never going to happen. It would have been too expensive anyway.
When I could no longer drive, I took the train back to my hometown, Poole. Dorset was the last county to be affected by the Smog, the extra precautions that the communities took against it to make the county a cleaner and greener place only delayed the inevitable.
To be honest, I felt stupid when I came back. Why the hell did I do all that travelling? What was it for? I spent all my money and lost almost everything just because I followed a supposedly mute woman’s last word. Fortunately, the landlord wasn’t able to rent out the hellhole of my flat to anyone, so he offered it back to me again at a reduced rate. I got a job at the local pub, and got in contact with my friends again, who were all pretty much the same people living the same lives from when I left.
My mother had passed away while I was gone. I knew this. The doctors told me. I didn’t go to her funeral. I spent what was left of my money on a gravestone, not for Mother, but for Ms. Diamond; I regretted for not going to her funeral.
So, after all that, I fell back into my old life again.
Except that I was being followed.
Every night. On the way home from work, or the shops, or my friends. I didn’t know who or what it was, but I could feel eyes latched on to me, and when I would turn around there would be no one there. The Government advises people to not walk when they can get other transport, particularly at night, when the Smog is worse. I don’t mind walking, and usually on the streets of Poole I felt safe, but during those few weeks of returning home I felt paranoid that at any moment someone was going to jump out from the dark and mug me, or stab me, or both.
I carried a knife with me at all times. For protection. It was an heirloom my father left for me when he died of lung cancer, just like my mother years later. It was an essential, like my mobile phone or wallet or gas mask. I always kept it in the inside chest pocket of my jacket, so when I walked I would feel the object rubbing against me to remind me that I was safe, that I had something to defend myself, just in case.
I never thought I would actually use it though. I knew that I was being overly cautious to satisfy my worries, but I never thought that I was actually being followed every night. I wish I knew. I wish I followed Ms. Diamond’s last word. I wish I had listened to her.
If I did, I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in now.
I wouldn’t be lying in the pool of another man’s blood.
I stabbed someone. I’m not guilty, I know I’m not, I was just defending myself, probably, but the authorities would arrest me anyway if they saw this. They don’t care. They’d say that I knew the risks of walking every night. And it doesn’t help that I’m a 24 year-old man who carries a knife with him in his jacket pocket every night, something that I’d end up admitting.
I just have to remain calm… and clean this up…
I just have to remain calm and clean this up…
Oh god, what the fuck have I done? I can’t even remember…
I just have to remain calm and clean this up.
Tomorrow will be a new day, and I won’t remember this, it’ll all be a bad dream, and the heirloom that my father left behind was never a knife, it was just an ornament of some kind, and Ms. Diamond never said anything to me because she was mute so she couldn’t, and the reason why I travelled around the UK was because I wanted to see the UK and I was never being followed, not now, not ever. And I never killed a man, and I never owned a car with windows you could wind down either, because I never did and never will do anything illegal. I’m a good man, you see, I’m a good person, I do good things like visiting old people in hospital to ask them about their day. I have a degree in Philosophy, and I never murdered anyone. I swear.
I leave the abandoned shed where I left it and I carry on walking home.
Was that man stalking me? Or was he just a man walking by? Was he a man with a wife and kids who’ll be in tears tomorrow when they find out-
I carry on walking home. My hands are cold, that’s why they’re shaking. I unlock the first door to the flats with the key that’s digging into my thigh, and I then shut it so the place is sealed. I open the second door, walk up two flights of stairs and open my flat door with another key. I shut the door, hang up my gas mark and coat and… I forgot the knife. I left the knife in the shed. It’s covered in my fingerprints.
I have a shower and the blood and the man with the blood and the knife that’s in the shed wash down the drain with the water. I dry myself and get changed and go to bed. I close my eyes and let the darkness wash over me even though I left the lights on. I’m afraid that if I turn them off the eyes will latch onto me again and will start watching me again and oh God I murdered a man.
I murdered a man.
But tomorrow will be different, I reassure myself of this.
Because tomorrow there will be no man and all will be good again. I’ll have breakfast, and I’ll see my friends whose names I can’t remember right at the moment. But that’s okay, I just need to sleep.
I just need sleep.