The Ravelled Sleeve of Care

Louise popped the small tablets out of the foil, one by one. She laid them on the kitchen counter in a wavy line. The line stopped at the base of the coffee mug. “don’t do this.” She thought, but she was so tired. The blackness of sleep pulled at her. No more worries. No more stress. No more puzzles, just one long vacuum. Her coffee steamed gently in its cup.
“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy.” Emily’s sing-song voice recalled her. She tried to concentrate on her daughter. Jigsaw pieces were piled randomly on the table. Emily sat on a cushioned chair looking at her expectantly.
“Come on then, poppet. Let’s find the edge pieces.” Louise could hardly bear to touch them. She had done this puzzle hundreds of times.
The phone rang. She picked it up. It was Jane her neighbour, one of the worlds most organised women.
“Hi Louise, I just wanted to check everything is ok for shopping tomorrow.” The voice on the other end seemed unreal, too normal. Louise eyed the row of tablets. They seemed to stare back at her. She gave her head a quick shake.
“Yes that’s fine. The older children have an inset day, but Emily will be at school.”
Emily, realising her mothers attention had gone, banged the table.
“Aah-aah. Aah-aah. Aah-aah.” The course sound attacked Louise’s brain. The muscles around her neck clenched.
“It’s all right darling, I’m here.” She passed the little girl some puzzle pieces.
“Is Emily there today?”
“Yes. She should have been at school but I was supposed to take her to an appointment with the Occupational Therapist so I didn’t send her. Then the occupational therapist rang and cancelled the appointment.” Louise sighed.
“You know how much she hates school. I can’t take her now. She’ll have a huge tantrum. I couldn’t face it. We’re sitting here doing bloody puzzles.”
She forced a laugh but thought ‘Say you’ll come round. Say you’ll come and have coffee. Anything, just don’t leave me doing this on my own.’
“What are you up to?” she said.
“Painting the spare room. I’ve just come down for a break so I thought I’d ring.”
Louise felt her shoulders droop. The tablets loomed.
“Anyway I’d better get back to it. I’ll see you tomorrow then. OK.”
“Aah-aah. Aah-aah. Aah-aah.” Emily hit the table again. Some of the Jigsaw pieces flew to the floor. Louise put the phone down.
“Oh dear, Shall I pick them up” Her voice was bright. Experience warned her that If Emily thought her mother was cross the situation would escalate. As she moved around the table and bent down Emily threw the box at her. It hit her on the cheek. Her eyes watered. She stood up and smiled.
“It’s all right, sweetheart. Look I’ve got the pieces.” Louise handed them to Emily one by one. Her daughter started to piece them together. Louise moved back to the other side of the table. She picked up the coffee cup and took a sip.
“Right,” She heard herself say. “Pull yourself together. Concentrate on Emily.” At the same time she thought ‘Pull yourself together? What a platitude.’ Then. ‘Why am I thinking all these things at the same time? Why can’t I just stop thinking?’

The kitchen seemed huge this morning. Rice Crispies mingled with dog hairs on the floor. The worktops were smudged. Tea and coffee stains ran into one another around the kettle. ‘I need to tidy up.’ Louise almost went to the sink to get a cloth but didn’t dare. The threat of Emily’s tuneless “Aah-aah, Aah-aah, Aah-aah.” hung in the air. Once, a long time ago, Louise had screamed back. Emily had stopped for a blessed moment, but then sobbed. The noise was Emily’s way of relieving stress in a world she didn’t understand. Louise had to remind herself that none of it, not the noise, not the hitting, not the throwing, was directed at her. Emily had no other way of expressing herself. She was like a two year old.
In the puzzle, blue and gold reef fish swam among pink and green coral, a ship wreck was forming around a bare patch of table top. Tailless dolphins touched the top edge pieces with their noses, blowing bubbles as they went. Emily filled another space. She pointed at the hole next to it, tapping it with her finger.
“I’m trying to find it” sweetheart,” Louise turned the pieces over one by one. Emily spotted it first. “
“Well done, darling. Louise went round the table and rested her cheek on her daughters head. A tear slid onto the glossy hair.
“Aah-aah. Aah-aah. Aah-aah”
“Alright, Alright” Louise backed off. Her nose dripped and she went to the sink. She turned the tap on. She coughed to try and clear the lumpen sob from her throat. The icy water shocked the tears from her eyes. Through the open window she heard the hollow caw of a crow. When she looked up the spiteful black winter branches of the silver-birch trees stood out against the washed out sky. The world was still.
Ten thirty am. Hours and hours before the other children came home. Paul was upstairs marking books. Now and then she heard him cough, or blow his nose. ‘Man ‘Flu’, too ill to go to school but the marking still had to be done.
“Those books will be covered in germs.” Louise muttered it out loud. “So long as he remembers not to come near you, eh, Emily. We don’t want you catching it.” she sighed. ‘Even more seizures,’ she thought. “This just goes on and on.”
The puzzle was finished. Emily clapped.
“Well done.” Louise started to put it away. “What shall we do next?” Out of the corner of her eye she could see the tablets, still in a line on the worktop. ‘Don’t say puzzle, please don’t say puzzle.’ She put the lid on the box. Emily picked the box up, took the lid off and turned it over, the pieces made the sound of a rain stick as they landed on the table and spilled onto the floor.
“Want puzzle.” Louise put her head in her hands. “Want puzzle.”
“OK, I’ll pick up the pieces, and you can do the puzzle.” Louise’s voice was bright, she heard herself. Bright and sparkling. “Here we are. There you go. Lets find the edge pieces.” And she turned around, swept all the powder blue tablets into her hand. Stuffed them into her mouth and washed them down with cold coffee.

Louise stood absolutely still.
“Mummy, Mummy Mum-my.” Emily found three puzzle pieces all by herself and joined them. Louise sat on the edge of the table, leant forward and started turning the pieces over. ‘Should I be doing something?’ she lifted her head to look at Emily. ‘Should I call Paul?’
“Hold on a minute, Emily, I’ll just get Daddy.” Louise felt calm as she put one foot in front of another, ‘up the stairs. One. Two. three.’ She counted the fourteen treads. “Paul! Paul I need you to look after Emily.”
“I’m on the loo.”
“That’s funny. Just when I need you! Come down stairs.” Louise saw herself take one step at a time. Each footfall seemed to take an age. Back in the kitchen she noticed that the pine table seemed to have a lot of grooves and lines. They seemed black against the pale pine. She gave Emily another puzzle piece. Emily placed it in the correct space and clapped. Louise clapped back, and laughed. She rested her head on her hand and let her elbow slide forward on the work top. The foil tablet pack caught against the grey wool of her sleeve.
“Mummy’s sleeping!”
“No. Not asleep,” she said. “Just resting,”
“What did you want Lou, I’m only half way through the marking. I don’t want to get too near Emil.. Good God. Louise. What have you done?”
Paul came towards her with his arms outstretched. She felt him pull her backwards off the table into the chair. His hand was firm against her shoulder, she sagged against his leg.
“Louise sit up will you.” She heard the beep of the telephone being switched on.
‘I’ll just rest my head here for a minute.’ She thought as her head fell onto her arms
“Louise. What have you taken? How many tablets?” The voice wasn’t Pauls but it was too much effort to open her eyes
“I don’t know? This packet is empty.” That was Paul’s voice.” She went to the Doctors on Monday. She said the Doctor gave her Prozac and sleeping pills. The Prozac’s still here. Look she’s only taken one.”
“Louise, we are going to take you out to the ambulance.” The face looking at her looked like a beetle. The glasses were too round and the edges were too black. She heard the voice say “Christmas can be a really bad time!” She thought. ‘What?’
There were beeping noises and people milling around. She was in a submarine deep under water.
Bits of phrases caught themselves in her thoughts
“Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care!”
Paul and Emily were at the end of a bed. Louise was in the bed.

 

Shirley Gill

 

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