32 // CHAOS

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Deep in the darkness, I dreamt of her

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Deep in the darkness, I dreamt of her.

Maggie.

Her hair was ash-grey. Her face, once a canvas for someone who had been pretty in her youth, was like plaster dust, pale and flaking. Her body had been pushed inside the living room wall of our old council flat, until just her head and arms were still visible. She reached for me and as I watched, the print of the gaudy floral wallpaper crept along her upper arms and over her throat, until her skin was no longer skin, but dry, peeling paper. I wondered, if I picked at a loose corner and pulled, would she disintegrate? Crumble to nothing but dust in the air?

Her eyes – once the glazed-over eyes of a well-practised junkie – were wide and staring, alive with horror and fear. I liked her eyes like that. I liked seeing her pain. I liked knowing that she was suffering.

She reached for me again, fingers grabbing, clawing at nothing, and I pushed, not with my hands, but with the same thought in my head.

Again.

Again, and again and again. With each word, repeated over and over, she sunk a little deeper. Flesh and bone and muscle melded with brick and plaster.

Finally, when there was very little of Maggie Brogan left, she began to scream and, as she did so, birds of every shape, size and colour flew out of her mouth.

The macaw. The cockatoo. The rainbow-billed toucan. The scarlet ibis.

They flew in circles around me, filling the room with a stream of incandescent, bright colour, their triumphant song resounding in my ears and I stood in the centre of their storm, my arms held aloft, feeling the brush of their feathers upon my fingertips.

It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.

The birdsong and my mother's screams.

*

'Oh, little pig, little pig,' the voice whispered in my ear. 'Let me come in.'

Soft skin touched my face. A finger running gently down my cheek.

'Or I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in.'

Cool air – a sharp, hard blow of breath – hit my eyeballs and the darkness faded instantly. I gasped as everything came into focus in one fell swoop, with Juliette's grinning face the first thing my dry eyes saw.

The angle wasn't right. I remembered her being tall, one of those gazelle-like, willowy women who belonged on a fashion catwalk, and yet I was looking down at her as if I were the taller one. I blinked, and the small motion made my eyes feel gritty and sore. I wanted to rub at them, massage them with my fingers, but when I tried to move my hands, I realised I couldn't.

Juliette took a step back, evidently amused as I began to struggle against whatever held me.

In a panic, I looked around me.

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