Fight or Flight
A herniated disc and a concussion. In case you’re wondering, I got them separately. The disc came first; my back had been bad for a while and then suddenly – wham! – I sneezed and it felt like my spine had exploded. I collapsed into the foetal position on the landing and had to be helped into bed. That was two weeks ago and I’ve been here ever since, bar a trip to A&E after crawling to the toilet, just about managing to stand, then losing my balance and cracking my head on the stainless steel radiator.
A CT scan showed no haemorrhaging, but I was seeing double in one eye and swooned if I lowered my head. Between the dodgy disc and the dizziness, all I could do was lie on my side, necking Diazepam, listening to the radio and feeling very, very sorry for myself.
There wasn’t much of a view to be had, just the small window out onto the street, through the haze of a net curtain. There’s a large block of flats opposite, bit dodgy, and then a couple of poky little new builds that are surprisingly expensive.
The flats offer the better viewing; people come and go all day and night, scarcely a job between them it seems. There’s quite a nice neighbourly camaraderie between them I wouldn’t have expected, lots of young mums bonding over their kids, blokes coming to and from the pubs, matey back slaps, helping each other with cars and DIY.
It’s a different story with the poky little houses. Professional couples, no kids yet, two solid careers between them. They have very regular patterns; up early for a run or just cracking straight into the commute, home again at 7pm, carrying Waitrose bags and hammering on the Blackberrys while they walk. At the weekends, they’re a bit more visible, washing cars, poking about in the potted plants, ushering in friends on Saturday evenings clutching bottles of wine.
This particular Saturday, it was late and quiet. There was a low-level thrum of music coming from one of the flat, some kind of party going on. In the evenings I’d taken to lying in the darkness, with the net curtain pushed back, the radio playing softly in the background and looking out onto the street. The drugs made me drowsy and I couldn’t sit with my head up to watch TV so this was as exciting as it got.
The lights were on in the front rooms in some of the poky houses, nothing so trashy as loud music pouring out, but probably the Sauvignon Blanc was being passed around with wild abandon.
I was drifting off when the door at the house on the end opened and a woman dashed outside. This was unusual, the couple who lived at that house was my favourite, not at all pretentious like some of their neighbours; he was a bit rough around the edges, a little bit of a geezer, while she was elegant and very, very pretty with a bright, cheery smile that was a perfect foil to his amiable scruffiness. I liked that she could have had a polished City boy but had followed her heart instead.
Now though, she didn’t look poised or pretty, she looked scared. He came out of the house after her as she ran for the car, grabbing her by the wrist. Despite the agony, I pulled myself up on the windowsill and opened the window. “If you think you can just tell me that and go…” his voice was raised, but I lost the words as he pulled her close to him and turned his head away, so that he was speaking into her face.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She is placatory, raising her other hand, palm towards him. I can see the veins bulging in his neck from here. What the hell has happened to my perfect couple.
An alarm goes off. Time for my next set of pills, damn. I fumble with various foil packets and knock them back as quickly as I can but when I get to the window again, they’ve gone. I’ve moved too fast and my head starts to spin. Oh God. All I can do is lie flat on my back and cling on to the sheets while the rooms whirls like a washing machine.
It takes a few minutes before I’m able to turn on my side and prop my head on my hand to look outside. There’s a light on upstairs in their bedroom, the rest of the house is in darkness. Can I hear a loud banging noise or am I imagining it? Is it coming from the party?
Suddenly, I can see her, backing against the window, crying and calling out to someone. Him? There’s more noise and he’s in the room with her, waving his arms, furious, his face contorted with anger as she cowers away, her blonde hair pressed against the window, nearly obscuring my view.
I try to sit up, but the pain won’t let me. It’s hard to see anything. And I’m suddenly so, so tired, even though there’s adrenalin coursing all through my body. Fight or flight. Then I remember – I’ve taken my evening dose of pills and that includes an extremely strong painkiller designed to knock me out until the morning so I can have a break from the agony and let my body heal. If I hadn’t had a great big bang on the head I might have remembered that.
I can see her struggling against the window, trying to fend him off and I know I have to call someone, but I am slipping away. Into a dream of flashing blue lights and shouting.