The last time her mother went outside was about six years ago, she can’t remember the exact date. It was definitely winter, the days were short and the darkness was endless in their two bed flat. Blackness crawled across the peeling wallpaper and bubbling paint by 4PM in the afternoon. The only barrier - a ceiling high window dripping from condensation and haloed with viscous mould.
When it comes to shutting yourself in, there's never any awareness of that fact. It’s not a decision anyone ever truly makes.
Dr. O Mahony would ask Emily on the phone about a year in:
“And you don’t know what triggered it?”
She was just fifteen the first time she was asked.
“Nothing triggered it” Emily would respond, exasperated.
Eventually there’s not enough lamps in the world to prevent the incoming gloom at 3PM on a Tuesday afternoon.
If you find yourself in a lightless and helpless situation follow this guide! In order to shut yourself in you need 3 things: 1. Someone to look after you.
Lucky for: Her mother - she had someone who could pick up her welfare money and pay bills in the post office, someone who could do the food shopping and answer the door bell.
Unlucky for: Emily. 2. A bank card.
If no clear source of income besides welfare and the sickness benefits have dried up - consider: a credit card. Endless money for online shopping once you don’t consider paying any of it back.
In order to shut yourself in for good you have to be very, very afraid. Watch the news every night. Picture yourself in the horrible scenarios happening around the world every moment of every day.
With newfound responsibilities (not including all the extras/annotations that go alongside main tasks not earlier disclosed such as): Lying to teachers/doctors
Forgoing having friends over to your home
Choosing medication over dinner
- Emily began to fail school and isolate herself.
Answering questions constantly becomes too tasking - so of course you become avoidant. Naturally!
“Your mother won’t be joining the parent/teacher meeting again this evening, Emily?”
“Why can’t we hang out in your house?” “Why do I never see your Mom around anymore?” “ x - 2 = 4, solve for X”
“Do you need a carrier bag?” “And you don’t know what triggered it?”
“Do you still love me?”
Imagine this: You put a man in a labyrinth. He follows the maze continuously in hopes of some unspoken promise of progression. When no signs of egress appear - at what stage does the man stop following the maze? How long until he gives up? Solve for X.
She was twenty one, a virgin, and working in a call centre in the outskirts of the city when she was approached and asked to go on her first date. She was huddled over a book in the far corner of the canteen under the sickly fluorescent lighting. He was tall, she remembered feeling shrunken meeting his eye and subconsciously trying to cover her Kinder Bueno wrapper with her elbow.
‘You mentioned in the smoking area you liked wine, would you like to go get a glass with me this weekend?’ he had asked, brightly.
She nodded densely to his invitation, and to his follow up queries until he left.
She had felt uncommonly light for the remainder of the day and found herself in the bathroom cubicle smiling nonsensically at the ugly vinyl flooring.
It was Friday night and she was getting ready - a bubble containing anxiety encasing her as she moved from room to room. She worried if she stopped pacing the bubble would pop and the mist of fear would become palpable. Her mother sat on her well worn armchair watching Coronation Street. “Where are you going?” her mother asked, not looking up. Her hair was greying at the sideburns - a DIY dye job pending.
“Going out to meet someone for a drink” was her response as she looked for her shoes in the kitchen despite them always having a home in her bedroom.
“How long will you be gone for? I thought we were watching I’m a Celeb tonight?” her mother's eyes now moved on her as she turned the volume off the television.
Emily hated when she muted the television - it always meant she was upset - it made Emily feel viewed too intensely. She became the star of a soap opera under her mothers glassy gaze.
“I could be back by then, if not we’ll watch it on repeat tomorrow, yeah?” she had offered, all nerves replaced with a pang of self reproach.
Her eyes went back to the screen, hands beginning to wring together on her lap- looking pitiful in a juvenile way.
“Yeah?” Emily repeated. She needed the assurance that it was okay to leave.
Her mother's eyes were still on the screen, Emily's question seeming to wash over her without seeping in.
“I spent an hour on my makeup,” she scolded.
Her words rose and fell around them again. A volley with no swing.
Emily walked over to the armchair to retrieve the remote.
“Will you be okay when I’m gone?” she demands, voice becoming shrill now.
By way of response her mother looks up at her from her lap - her eyes soft and threatening to spill.
Emily sits on the matching armchair by her mother's side as she texts an apology.
She sat on the steps of the apartment block and pulled down the back of her shoe. Her socks were ankle length so provided no barrier from the chafing against the back of her heel, a water filled blister had formed since that morning. She pulls the shoe back on and decides the blister is protecting her delicate skin beneath, cradling it from harm.
She smokes a Marlboro Gold but just half, then stubs the top against the concrete to extinguish the butt before returning it to the container. For later. She likes to save her cigarettes in order for an excuse to step outside. She gets blisters from walking up and down the flights of stairs in cheap shoes.
She remembers being very young and seeing a crow swoop from above and attack a pigeon in front of her. It pecked at it until it had removed its feathers and you could see the pale pink flesh beneath. As a child she felt it was something she shouldn’t have witnessed, not necessarily the violence but the exposure of the pigeon's tissue looking like an uncooked turkey. It felt like seeing your parents cry or nudity, something that should be covered or shielded from view.
A crow swoops from television pole wire onto the concrete square ahead.
What she found out about crows since then:
Crows often attack to protect their young.
Crows remember people’s faces.
Crows flock around their dead.
“Will you remember me? Who will flock around me at the end?”
She goes back inside.
Amy Mullane, 26 years old, born and residing in Cork, Ireland. BA in English from UCC. Most recently published in Strukturiss. She tweets @amy__mullane