The nurse has just left and with her all the warmth in the room. I close my eyes and try to hold onto her essence a little longer: soft brown eyes tenderly gazing into mine, the gentle way in which she tucks me in, how she twists the blinds to blot out the night sky, and how when she pauses at the door to turn out the light the glow from the hallway illuminates her outline making her look like an angel.
“I have a son your age,” she told me; “he’s mischievous too.”
Then she smiled and with her honey voice said: “Sleep well, for rest is the best way to heal.”
Rest, I’ve heard it said, does not come easily to the wicked, and so I lie here in the sterility of this hospital room, steel bars enclosing my bed, straps ensuring limited movement and will myself to see in the darkness, checking for invaders.
Did I mention how much I despise spiders? It was spiders that brought me here.
I have a habit of checking for the ungodly creatures before I allow myself to fall asleep; have spent many nights listening to the discordant sounds of my family’s chaos – Father’s voice a constant sharp command against the murmured apologies of my Mother, the cries of a sister – while scanning the floral patterned wallpaper for any deviance.
I love my room, had coveted it for a long time before it finally became my own. I love the uniformity of the white rows of flowers tenderly intertwined with a lattice of green leaves set against a sky-blue background. I love how the pieces flow together: perfectly lined up rows, hung to match up precisely so that the seams are not visible.
My bed is an old-fashioned three-quarter bed, with four posters and a majestic headboard all carved in finest maple. My bedspread, spun with cornflower blue and just a sprinkle of silver, shimmers like light dancing on water.
I used to sneak in, when the room had belonged to another – a sister, absent for much of my life, a ghost really. Why they kept it for her when she was never home, I couldn’t understand. I’d try the room on, slipping into its silence like donning a Sunday dress: feeling all special and grown up. I felt the certainty of sanctuary within its walls.
As second youngest, I was condemned to share a room with the baby – a pink room with twin beds pushed against the walls, facing the doorway. Heavy red corduroy curtains and spreads mirrored my anger as every day I was sentenced to an early bedtime, condemned to watch over my sister even though she was four years younger. I’d turn my back to her, pretend to be asleep so that she’d stop talking, pray that she’d give in to slumber. Most nights she’d awaken, screaming, and it was my job to quiet her, keep her from wandering in search of Mother, wary of Father’s certain wrath. Mostly, I’d lie awake despising myself for not intervening when the arguments moved into the bedroom next door and the sounds became physical, punctured by my mother’s moans.
Movement in the corner of my hospital room jolts me back to the present. Shadows! I think. Someone must have passed outside my door casting shadows on the wall. I know I am susceptible to flights of fancy – a trait that has landed me here – so I try to take measured breaths to calm myself.
Father had been here earlier, his gray-blue eyes pained when he looked at me.
I did it for us! I’d wanted to plead. I had to save our family!
Of course, the words wouldn’t come. Only grunts escaped my throat, and I found myself tearing up, a trait of weakness that only served to shame me.
He’d looked away, his eyes focused on some far off place. I wished he’d say something – even his anger preferable to silence.
At last, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a packet of sweets, and then realizing my state of compromise, shrugged and put them on the bedside stand.
“For when you’re better, then,” he’d managed, rising to go. He patted the bed, promised to return tomorrow, and then was gone.
No talk of Mom or my sisters. He abhors me, I realized. I am petulance now, no better than a pesky insect.
It was a speck of orange that had caught my attention that night. A tiny, almost imperceptible speck. Was I imagining it, I wondered. Surely not. Even as I held it securely in my line of vision, it started to grow, as if rising out of the depths of the wallpaper, which I then noted, was bubbling itself, a small corner coming lose.
I leaped from the bed and ran down the hallway, only to stop myself at the top of the stairs, remembering that we were not to disturb the adults. My heart racing I tried to think of a weapon – a shoe, a pillow – anything to catch the beast in its tracks – stop the onslaught.
I was soon to discover that the situation was beyond my control, for as I reentered the room a gust of cold, wet air accosted me. The wall itself it had disintegrated and the wallpaper, like the sail of a great ship, now billowed into the room, and for a brief moment I felt a glimpse of relief as the spider was no longer in view, a sentiment that was quickly extinguished when I noticed an army of orange bodied, eight-legged creatures approaching from the adjacent wall.
I needed help, but the dryness in my throat strangled any attempts at sound, and I found my body, no longer my own, soaring down the hallway into my parents’ room where I located my solution.
If water did not hamper the spiders, then surely fire would.
The nylon of the bedspread grabbed hold of the flame and the room exploded with a thunderous roar, a ball of orange flames dancing across the floor setting the curtains alight, the menacing wallpaper curling, receding in the heat.
I felt victorious in that moment, more alive than I can remember, spurred on by the intensity of the force…
And then there was pain – an excruciating, mind-blowing pain, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I don’t remember much after that except the fleeting thought that this was it – that I’d finally found the end I’d fantasized about so often.
But it was not to be. I have traded one nightmare for another, had not known the extent to which burnt flesh, like synthetics, bubbles and melts in a leathery disfigurement, leaving a shriveled monster in its wake.
I often wonder what might have happened had I let the storm overtake me that fateful day. Would I have been washed away on the back of some ice-cold frigate, sailing across oceans of treachery – a pirate’s captive, or a castaway – destination unknown, fearlessly surviving hand to mouth, a beggar child, abandoned, forgotten?
Or was it alien forces that threatened my childhood home: tiny robotic creatures – deployed missiles – seeking out their targets with precision and accuracy, bound for each one of us: a mission to infiltrate and displace all signs of humanity, body snatchers intent on taking over the world.
Sadly, instead, I lie here, a permanent fixture in this room, its buttery yellow walls the only consolation for the sterility of the furnishings. These walls are concrete, I imagine, and if I squint just the right way, I can imagine swirls in the yellow. A thin trail of moonlight casts shadows in the corner, and a for a moment I catch a glimmer of sparkle – an almost imperceptible thread of silk. The markings of a spider’s presence.
I try to sit up, but am rendered immobile by the straps that hold me in place. I may not be able to see the intruder, but know there will be no rest until it is obliterated.
Writer, avid reader, former educator, and proud grandmother, currently experiencing life through the lens of ME/CFS. Words are, and always have been, a lifeline. Some of the best adventures, I'm discovering, take place in the imagination.