Sunshine, p.5
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       Sunshine, p.5

           Robin McKinley
Chapter 5


  "Blood spoor. Your feet will be bleeding again before we are halfway across the open area. " Was there the faintest tremor in his oddly echo-y voice when he said that? "Mine will not. And Bo's folk will not be at all happy about our escape, tonight, when they discover it. They will find the trail at once if they have blood spoor to follow. "

  I laid on a pause of my own. "Are you telling me that if I had decided to leave you behind, I wouldn't have made it anyway?"

  "I do not know. There might conceivably have been some reason you were able to escape - a faulty lock on the shackle, for example. Bo would have someone's. . . someone would pay severely for this, but it might end there. That we are both gone will mean that something truly extraordinary has happened. And it almost certainly has something to do with you - as it does, does it not? - and that therefore something important about you was overlooked. And Bo will like that even less than he would have liked the straightforward escape of an ordinary human prisoner. He will order his folk to follow. We must not make it easy for them. "

  This was the longest speech I had heard from him. It edged out his description of the supersucker he would have become on the blood of Onyx Blaise's daughter. "For a ma - a creature who is driven mad by daylight, you are making very good sense. "

  "Having an accomplice is. . . reviving. Any hope after no hope. Even in these somewhat daunting circumstances. "

  Daunting. I liked that too. That was as good as "clean of live things. "

  He moved toward me and held out his arms, slowly, as if trying not to scare me. There was a sudden, ghastly rush of adrenaline - my body was having some trouble keeping up with my mind's mercurial decisions - and I twitched myself sideways like I was moving a puppet. I put one arm round his neck - carefully, so I didn't stretch the dubiously clotted scab on my breast - and held the water bottle in my other hand. He bent and picked me up more easily than I pick up a tray of cinnamon rolls.

  It was not going to be a comfortable ride. It was rather like sitting on the stripped frame of a chair that has had all the chair bits taken away - there are just a few nasty pieces of iron railing left, and they start digging railing-shaped holes into you at once. Also, if this was a chair, it was made for some other species to sit in. Vampires do breathe, by the way, but their chests don't move like humans'. Have you ever lain in the arms of your sweetheart and tried to match your breathing to his, or hers? You do it automatically. Your brain only gets involved if your body is having trouble. Fortunately there was nothing about this situation that was like being in the arms of a sweetheart except that I was leaning against someone's naked chest. I could no more have breathed with him than I could have ignited gasoline and shot exhaust out my butt because I was sitting in the passenger seat of a car.

  I also had the weird sensation that he'd been several degrees cooler when he picked me up, and he'd matched his body temperature to mine. Speaking of matching.

  We left by the door Bo's gang had brought me through, across the ghostly hall, and out through the front door, which had been conveniently left ajar. What did I know about vampire deliberateness? I could barely recognize my vampire's breathing as breathing. But I had a notion that he walked not merely without hesitation but very deliberately into the blast of sunshine at the foot of the porch, and turned left, toward the trees on that side. I felt my harness take the strain. If there had been real straps involved, they would have creaked. It was a long way to the edge of the wood. It was perhaps just as well he was carrying me; the heat of the sun seemed to be making me woozy.

  Heat doesn't usually trouble me. One of the reasons Charlie had first let me help him with the baking when I was still small was because I was the only one of any of us who could stand the heat of it in the summer, including the rest of the staff. That was when Charlie's was still fairly small itself, and Charlie was doing most of the cooking, before he opened up the front so we could have tables as well as the counter and the booths along the wall, and before he built my bakery. The bakery now is its own room next to the main kitchen, and there are windows and an outside door and industrial-strength fans, but in July and August pretty much everyone but me has to get out of there and splash water on themselves and have a sit-down.

  But this was something else. The big curly ripples of power I'd felt when we stood in front of the window seemed bigger and curlier than ever, and were slowing the rest of me down, taking up too much space themselves, squeezing the usual bits of me into corners, till I felt squashed, like someone in a commuter train at six p. m. Even my brain felt compressed. That sense of wearing some kind of harness that had also managed to nail itself into my major organ systems was still there, but I began to feel that it wasn't so much carrying the burden as holding me together, so that the power ripples knew where the edges - the edges of we - were, and didn't break anything. I didn't feel frightened, although I wondered if I should.

  We reached the edge of the trees at last, and it was better at once in their shadow. I felt more alert, and lighter somehow, although I wouldn't have described the effect of the ripples as heavy. But that feeling of having all my gaps filled a little too full eased somewhat. I remembered what he'd said about daylight: I feel as if the rays of your sun are prizing me apart. The tree-shadow wasn't thick or reliable enough to protect us from the sun so the power was still moving through me, but I didn't feel I was about to overflow, or crack. I thought: okay. I can guard one vampire from the effects of bright direct daylight. I wouldn't be able to guard two. Not that this was a piece of information I was planning on needing often in the future.

  "We've crossed their line," said the vampire. "The guard ring is behind us. "

  "They'll know we have, won't they?"

  "They'll know tonight. We - do not pay attention to the daylit world. "

  "Will they know where?"

  "Perhaps. But I am following the traces from when they brought me here - and, so far, it is the same way they brought you - and without fresh blood they will have trouble deciding what is old and what is new. "

  "Uh. . . " This wasn't a topic I was looking forward to bringing up. "You know you and I are both, uh, wearing quite a lot of my, uh, blood already. Uh. Crusted. From last night. "

  "That matters very little," said the vampire. "It is only blood hot from a live body when it touches the earth that leaves a clear sign. "

  I reminded myself this was good news.

  He was silent for a while, and then he said, dispassionately as ever, "I had feared that even if you could, as you claimed, protect my body from the fire as we crossed the open space, that the sun would blind me. This did not happen. I am relieved. "

  "Oh, gods," I said.

  "As you say. But as you said earlier, I did not see myself receiving any better offers either. It seemed to me worth even that price against the almost certain likelihood of annihilation at Bo's hands. "

  I said, fascinated against my better judgment, "You thought I could navigate you through the trees somehow?"

  "Yes. I would not have been totally helpless. I can - detect the presence of solid objects. But it would not have been easy. "

  I laughed. It was the first time I had laughed since I had driven out to the lake alone. "No. I'm sure it wouldn't have been. "

  We went on some time then in silence. We had to stop once for me to have another pee. Gods. Vampires didn't seem to have bodily functions. I squatted behind him, holding one of his legs. While I was on the spot, so to speak, I had a look at his sore ankle. It still looked disgusting but I didn't think it looked any worse.

  It occurred to me several times that we were making much better speed than we would have with me walking barefoot. And while the iron-railing effect was pretty painful I have ridden in cars with worse suspension than being carried by a striding vampire. That liquid motion thing they do is no joke, and one-hundred-twenty (give or take) pound burdens don't dent it either. If the ankle was troubling him it didn't sh

  The cut on my breast hurt quite a lot but I had more important things to worry about. He carried me so smoothly that it didn't crack open anyway. Thankful for small favors. I felt that even our present momentous alliance might have been put under strain if I started bleeding on him again.

  I was keeping a vague watch on the sun through the trees over the lake, and also, with the power alive and working, I seemed able to sense it in some way other than seeing or feeling the touch of its light, and I knew when noon had come and gone. I had had a drink out of the water bottle a couple of times, and had offered it to my chauffeur, but he said, "No, thank you, it is not necessary. " He sure was polite after he'd decided not to have you for dinner.

  It was much farther back to my car than I'd guessed. Thirty miles, probably more. Maybe I still could have made it by myself before sunset, even barefoot. Maybe.

  But I wouldn't have made it much farther, and the car wasn't there.

  I'd explained where we were going when we had started out. The vampire had said nothing, but then he often said nothing, and he hadn't disagreed. I had the knife-key in my bra; we'd either find him a nice deep patch of shadow while I did my trick again, or he could keep his hands on my shoulders to maintain the Sun Screen Factor: Absolute Plus. I hadn't thought a lot beyond that. I guess what I was thinking was that a car equaled normal life. Once I got in my car and stuck the key in the little hole and the ignition caught, everything that had happened would be over like it had never happened, and I could just go back to my life again. I wasn't thinking clearly, of course, but who would be? I was still alive, and that was pretty amazing under the circumstances.

  I hadn't thought about what I would do with the vampire after we got to the car either. As much as had occurred to me was that he could keep one hand on my knee while I drove, or something. Nobody put his hand on my knee except Mel, but just how "somebody" was a vampire? I didn't think I could shut even a vampire in the trunk, although the shade in there ought to be pretty total, and I wasn't sure what the parameters were anyway. I knew that a heavy coat and a broad-brimmed hat weren't fireproof enough and historians had long ago declared that the famous stories of knights in heavy armor turning out to be vampires weren't true either, so probably one layer of plastic car wasn't enough. But then what? Where do you drop off a vampire whom you've given a lift? The nearest mausoleum? Ha ha. The whole business of vampires hanging out in graveyards is bogus - vampires don't want anything to do with dead people, and the people they turn don't get buried in the first place. But old nursery tales die hard. (So much for Bram Stoker et al. , Miss Yablonsky's point exactly. )

  So I hadn't made any contingency plans. When we got to the old cottage I said, "Okay, here we are," and the vampire set me down, and I was standing on my own feet, and trying not to step on anything that would make me bleed. He was hovering, however, and it wasn't only because of the sun; I'm sure he would have picked me up again faster than blood could drip if it had come to that. He had one hand tactfully on my elbow. The light was no more than dappled where we stood. Funny how the claustrophobic regrowth of wilderness scrub can suddenly seem treacherously open and sporadic when you're thinking in terms of your companion's fatal allergy to sunlight.

  I knew where I'd left the car. It was a small cabin and the place you parked was right behind it. "It's not here," I said stupidly. For the first time I felt the ripples of power lurch, as if they might knock me over, as if they might. . . spill over the lip of me somehow, and be lost. I couldn't risk, no, I wouldn't risk. . . I turned round and seized him, wrapped my arms around him, as if he were a seawall and could turn back any vagrant tide, contain any unexpected breaker. His arms, hesitantly, slid behind me, and it occurred to me that our prolonged physical contact was probably no more pleasant for him than it was for me, if perhaps for different reasons.

  I took a few deep breaths, and the ripples steadied. I steadied. He was a good wall. Really very wall-like in some ways. Solid. Immobile. I realized I had my face pressed against what I knew from experience was an ambulatory body. . . that had no heart beating. Funny. And yet there was a buzz of. . . something going on in there. Life, you might call it, for want of a better term. I had never met a wall that buzzed.

  I let go. He let go, except for one hand on my shoulder. "Sorry," I said. "I thought I was losing it. "

  "Yes," he said.

  "If I had lost it, you'd have die - fried, you know," I said, to see what he would say. "Yes," he said. I shook my head.

  "My kind does not surprise easily," he said. "You surprised me, this morning. I have thus used up my full quota of shock and consternation for some interval. "

  I stared at him. "You made a joke. "

  "I have heard this kind of thing may happen, to vampires who linger in the company of humans," he said, looking and sounding particularly vampirish. "It is not a situation that has provoked much interest. And. . . I am not myself after a day spent in daylight. "

  I'm not feeling a whole lot like myself either, I thought. I was carefully not thinking about the instinct that had thrown me at him just now. Wouldn't grabbing a tree have steadied me at least as well? So what if maybe he fried? "So you are not surprised by the disappearance of my car. That makes one of us. "

  "I had thought it unlikely that Bo would allow so obvious a loose end to remain dangling. "

  "I'm sorry. Yes. That is - sense. But I don't know what to do now. "

  "We go on," said the vampire. "We must be well away from the lake before dark. "

  I was trying to bring my brain back into balance. Settling the ripples down seemed to have cost me a lot, and my brain didn't want to produce coherent thoughts. I was also, of course, so far beyond tired that I didn't dare look in that direction at all. "The lake?" I said.

  He paused again, so I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like what followed. "Vampire senses are different from human in a number of ways. The one that is relevant in this case is that landscape which is all one sort of thing is. . . more penetrable to our awareness to the extent of its homogeneity. It is not the distance that is crucial, but the uniformity. Bo will be able to find us too easily within any of the woods of the lake because they are all the woods of the lake, even without blood spoor to follow. Once we are out of those woods. . . in some ways Bo will have more difficulty in tracing us than a human might. "

  A tiny piece of good news, if we lived long enough. Okay. The nearest way out of the woods was still the way we had been going - which must have been why the vampire agreed to it in the first place. The woods around the lake spilled into more woods and smaller lakes and some mostly deserted farmland before it came to any more towns. New Arcadia was the only city for some distance, and then there were a lot of smaller towns and villages spreading out from us, eventually themselves getting larger and closer together again till they became another city. But that was a hundred miles away.

  "Where are you going?" I said.

  "I am going where you are going till sunset," said the vampire. "Then you are going where you are going, and I am going where I am going. "

  I sighed. "Yes. No. I didn't mean to pry. Look, it is all very well that we have to get away from the woods, but that means going into at least the outskirts of the town. And while I can keep the sun off you, I can't make you look human. And let me tell you your skin color is strictly incredible, and you're not even wearing a shirt. And we don't have a car. "

  The vampire took this without a tremor. "What do you suggest?"

  "The only thing I can think of is to plaster ourselves with mud - especially you - stagger a little, and hit town at the tip of the north end, where the druggies hang out. You do look a little like a junkie, or you look a little more like a junkie than you look like anything else. Human. With any luck any junkies that have eyes left to see you with will be so creeped out by how much worse it can get than they realized that nobody will say anything to us. " I paused. "Then there's the poor but fairly respec
table area, and they won't like us, but if we keep moving they probably won't call the suck - the cops. What worries me most is that some bright spark might guess you're a demon. You manifestly can't be a vampire because you're out in daylight. But you aren't, as I say, at all persuasive as human. You could be a rather dim demon who doesn't realize how bad your passing for human is - and since we have to keep hold of each other someone might think you were kidnapping me - hell. And there's at least one highway we have to cross too. Double Carthaginian hell. I don't suppose you know that part of town at all?"

  "No. "

  "No. I don't either, much. Well, if they don't call SOF, we should be able to find the nature preserve my landlady's house is on the other side of. . . I have no idea how far all of this is though. A ways. We could have gone directly through town in my car. " I looked apprehensively at the sun, which was nearing midafternoon, and there were still a lot of trees between us and pavement.

  "Indeed you would not have been best advised to go directly through town in your car, not with me in it with you. Your family will have given the - the identification number to the police. "

  "What? License plate. Oh. Oh. I'm sorry. I hadn't thought of that either. "

  "I had not supposed you had brought me all this way to betray me at the last," he said.

  No. "But. . . it's likely to be well past sunset before we get to my apartment," I said, trying not to sound desolate. I am not too tired to go on, I was telling myself. Not finding the car is only a setback. It's not the end of the story.

  "I will see you home," said the vampire courteously, like a nice, well-brought-up boy seeing his date back to her house after dinner at the local pizza place.

  There was no reason that this should make my eyes fill with tears. I was just tired. "I didn't mean - oh - thanks," I said. I should have wanted him gone as soon as possible. I should have been longing for the sight of the sun touching the horizon - at least once we got out of the trees. But I wasn't. I was grateful that he was going to see me to my front door. Standing by the cabin and looking at the place my car should have been and wasn't, I didn't think I could do it without him.

  I was glad he hadn't fried.

  We went down to the lake in our little connected duo. I had grown sort of used to being carried, and because it was such an odd thing to be doing at all, the crucial, fundamental oddness of our necessary proximity was less noticeable. Walking side by side with my hand tucked under his arm was much odder and more uncomfortable. I also found that it made me feel more lopsided. It was probably only a function of being so tired, but having the power exchange, or whatever it was, only going on through one hand made me feel dizzy. I leaned on him not very voluntarily.

  The ground here was mostly dirt and moss with a little struggling grass or grasslike weeds, so my bare feet were not in much danger. When we got to the shore I chose the marshiest place I could find - I knew where to look, there was a little inlet just east of the cabin - and made him sit down in it, and then rubbed bog slime and mud all over him, including his hair. He was so skinny my hands went thump thump thump down his ribs. He put up with all of this with perfect stoicism. He put one hand round my ankle - so I would have both hands free - but I told him to use both ankles for balance. My balance.

  I was a little more artistic about my own ornamentation. I only had to look like someone who might be jiving with this freak in a nonmandatory way. So I rubbed mud into my hair and let it drip down one side of my face and over that shoulder. I primly kept the mud away from the cut on my breast. My mother's rules of hygiene were very clear about preventing dirt from entering an open wound, and I didn't have a Band-Aid to hand. It would have had to be several very large Band-Aids anyway. (I hoped mud on the vampire's injured ankle wasn't going to cause him any problems: that the clean-of-live-things trick was a general defense. ) Besides, the slash was probably good added verisimilitude and we could use all the help we could get. Verisimilitude of what? My lip was still swollen but it had stopped bleeding hours ago, and the metal tang of blood was no longer in my mouth. Hooray. I wanted to feel as little like a vampire as possible. I didn't like the sensation that the boundaries were getting a little blurry.

  I had spent a lot of time sitting by this same inlet with my grandmother. In the fifteen years since then it had changed its course and silted up. When we had sat here you could hear the small pattering stream that had created the inlet, but it was silent now. All I could hear was my own breathing, and the splat of my handiwork. There weren't even any birds.

  The vampire insisted, if you could call it insisting, that he would carry me the last stretch of woods to the first streets of the town. Homogeneity, he reminded me, and blood spoor. And I remembered how much faster we went when it was only him walking - and that it was another twelve or fifteen miles to the edge of town - and made no protest.

  He carried me right up to the crumbling cement of the end of the last street, and let my legs drop down gently on the disintegrating curb. I didn't have to pretend to lean on him to keep contact; I needed him to keep me upright. I put my arm through his and my hand on his wrist. We bumped gently at shoulder and hip. The power ripples sloshed a little as I adjusted to walking on my own feet again, but there was none of the sudden danger of losing my balance that there had been when I'd discovered the disappearance of my car. In fact the ripples now seemed to be slightly altering their shape and pattern to help me. The dizziness I'd felt when we walked down the inlet subsided.

  I had just enough sense left to put the now-empty bottle of water in a city litter bin.

  I don't ever want to have another journey like those last fifteen or so miles across town. I know I keep going on about how tired I was, but that last exhaustion was like a mortal illness, and I felt I could see my death a few hundred feet down the street ahead of us. I'm a pretty good walker, but I'm talking about normal life: Mel and I might hike fifteen miles around the lake looking for animals and trying to stay out of the way of Supergreens, but we would take all day at it, have several rest stops and a long halt for lunch, and go home tired and pleased with ourselves. We would also be wearing shoes. This was fifteen miles on top of all that had gone before, and I'd been running on empty for a long time already. It wasn't only my death I was seeing; I was beginning to hallucinate pretty badly. Lots of people get sort of gray, ferny, cobwebby mirages around the edges of their vision when they get overtired - and I'd had them before occasionally when we were shorthanded at the coffeehouse because everyone was sick but Charlie and me, and we were working sixteen-, eighteen-hour days day after day - but this was the first time the ferns and cobwebs had things moving around in them, not to mention the new, full-color palette. It was not an enjoyable experience. I did recognize what was going on, and went on peering through the fringes of my private picture show, and making out which way we should be going out there in the real world. I knew the layout of my city pretty well even if I didn't know all its details, and even at this final personal frontier I kept my sense of direction. It was, however, just as well that I was so numb I was barely aware of my poor feet. And it was a good thing that blood spoor was no longer an issue.

  The sun was by now moving quickly toward setting, which should have been a good thing; the pair of us were going to be less grisly-looking in twilight. No one accosted us. We saw a few people, but either they were already totally lit and away and having much better private screenings than mine (which several of them were animatedly discussing with themselves) and couldn't care less about us, or they took one look and crossed to the other side of whichever street we were on, and kept their eyes averted. I thought of asking the vampire if he was doing anything - if vampires can persuade, can they repel too? - but it was still daylight, if barely, so this didn't seem likely. Maybe my power-ripples were doing something. Maybe that was part of the adjustment they'd made at the edge of town. Maybe we were just lucky.

  In the middle of all this I had a fierce implausible longi
ng for my grandmother, who could have explained to me what I was doing - I was sure - and how I was doing it. As I started to slip over some kind of definitive last line, as I began to feel that the power-ripples were soon going to be all there was left of me, that my own personality was weakening, thinning, would blow away like the spidery gray stuff over my eyes, I suddenly, passionately, wanted to know what I was doing.

  It wasn't the vampire the people were avoiding, though. It was me. I was the one reeling and mumbling and off my head and probably dangerous.

  I was fading with the daylight. I had stretched myself too far.

  I got us to the edge of the park at about the moment that twilight turned into darkness, and he picked me up again without so much as a break in his stride, and plunged under the trees, into the night that was his element. I could feel the power-ripples moving faintly through me even though I no longer needed them for a sun-parasol. I thought, mistily, maybe they're trying to keep me alive. Nice of them. He must be trying too. Funny sort of thing for a vampire to do. . .

  It was all darkness around us, darkness and trees, and the vampire speeding through it. Feebly I murmured, "I have no idea where we are any more. "

  "I do," he said. "I can smell your house. "

  Perhaps I fell asleep. That would explain the dreams: that I was flying, that I was dead, that I was a vampire, that I was standing by the lake with my grandmother, and I had just opened my closed hands, but instead of a flower or a feather or a ring, blood welled up and spilled over the edges of my hands, and welled up and welled up, as if my hands were a fountain. But a fountain of blood.

  The vampire came to a halt. I blinked my eyes open and saw lights twinkling through a few trees, and made out the shape of my house. My house. We were on the far side of the garden. I could see the pale lavender of the lilacs by Yolande's sitting-room window. She was the sort of old lady who had a sitting room instead of a living room. And the lights on in it meant she was still awake, although usually she went to bed as early as a person who gets up at four a. m. to go make cinnamon rolls does. I wondered what time it was.

  The vampire said, "You will need a key to open your door. "

  He could leave me here. I could ask him to let me down, and then he could go. I could knock on Yolande's door, and, once the fright of having a derelict on her doorstep had worn off, after she had recognized me, she would let me in with her spare key. She would be appalled and sympathetic. She would call the coffeehouse and the doctor and the police. She would run me a hot bath and help me into it, and cluck over my wounds. She would not ask me any questions; she would know I was too tired, and she would recognize the signs of shock. She would give me hot sweet tea and orange juice, and human warmth and company and understanding.

  I couldn't face her.

  Slowly I moved, to pull the knife-key out of my bra. The vampire knelt, holding me in his lap. I leaned against him, closed my hands round the small heavy bit of worked metal. I called on the power of daylight. It came from a lifetime away, but it came. I felt something snap, as if my stomach had parted company with my small intestine, or my liver from my spleen; but when I opened my hands again, there was the key to my front door.

  The vampire picked me up again, gently. He walked round the garden. He went silently up the porch steps, which I could not have done. The steps all creaked and the porch itself creaked worse. He drifted, dark and silent as any shadow, to my door, and, still in his arms, I twisted the key in the lock, turned the handle, pushed the door a tiny way open, and whispered, "Yes. "

  He carried me upstairs and through the door at the top and into my front room, and laid me on the sofa. I didn't hear him stand up or move away, but I heard my refrigerator door open and close, and then he was kneeling beside me again. He slid an arm under my head and shoulders and raised me and stuffed pillows under me till I was half sitting, and said, "Open your mouth. "

  He dribbled a little of the milk into my mouth and made sure I could swallow it before he held the carton up steadily for me to drink. He cupped the back of my head with his other hand. What did he think he was, a nurse? I would have asked him but I was too tired. He got most of the carton of milk down me, eased my head back onto the pile of pillows and then started feeding me something in small scraps. After the first few, more of my senses came back from nowhere and I recognized one of my own muffins, left over at the end of that last day at the coffeehouse, several centuries ago. He was tearing off small bits and feeding them to me slowly, so I wouldn't choke. The muffin was still pretty good but three days old to a baker counts as over. I think he may have fed me a second one, still scrap by scrap. Then he held up the carton of milk again till I finished it. Then he pulled the pillows back out, except for one, and laid me down with my head on it.

  I don't remember anything more.

  I woke up I don't know how many hours later with the light streaming through the windows. It had finally reached the sofa where I was lying, and touched my face. I couldn't remember where I was - no I was at home - no, not my old childhood bedroom, this had been my apartment for nearly seven years - then why wasn't I in my own bed - why did I remember sleeping on a floor - no, that had been a dream - no, a nightmare - don't think about it - don't think about it - and at the same time I knew I had overslept and should have been down at the coffeehouse hours ago and Charlie would kill me - no he wouldn't - why hadn't one of them called to find out where I was?

  I tried to sit up and nearly screamed. Every muscle in my body seemed to have seized up, and I didn't think there was a single nerve end that hadn't shouted NO when I moved. I ached all over, inside and out. And furthermore I felt. . . I felt as if all my insides, the organs, the organ systems, all that stuff you studied in biology class and promptly forgot again, all those murky, semiknown bits and pieces, no longer had the same relationship to each other that they had before. . . before. . . silly sort of thing to feel, I must be delirious. My mind would keep drifting back - don't think about it - but how was I to make sense of where I was, at home, sleeping on the sofa, in broad daylight? And so sore I couldn't move. If - all that - was a nightmare, what had happened to me?

  I tried to sit up again and eventually succeeded. There was a blanket laid over me, and it fell off, and onto the floor.

  I was wearing a filthy, stained, dark cranberry-red dress that clung round me at the top and swirled out into yards and yards of hem at my ankles. I was barefoot, and my feet were in shreds, scratched and abraded and bruised and swollen. I had mud all over me (and now all over the sofa and the floor as well) and a long, curved ugly slash across my breast that had obviously bled and then clotted. Its edges ground against each other and throbbed when I tried to move. My lower lip was split and that side of my face felt puffy.

  I started to shiver uncontrollably.

  Painfully I picked up the blanket again, and wrapped it round me, and made my way into the bathroom by feeling along the walls, and turned the hot water on in the bath. The hot water was going to hurt, but it was going to be worth it. I poured in about four times as much bubble bath as I usually use, and breathed the sweet lily-of-the-valley-scented steam. Even my lungs hurt, and my breathing seemed funny, there was something about the way I breathed that was different from. . . While I waited for the bath to fill, I groped my way into the kitchen. I ate an apple, because that was the first thing I saw. There was an empty carton of milk on the counter by the sink. I didn't think about this. I ate another apple. Then I ate a pear. I moved into the light pouring through the kitchen window and let it soak into me while I stood staring out at the garden. In the welcoming, restorative sunlight, trying to keep my mind from thinking anything at all, I felt the tiny, laborious stirring of a sense of well-being: the convalescent's rejoicing at the first hint of a possible return to health. I would have a bath, and then I would call the coffeehouse. I didn't have to tell anyone anything. I could be too traumatized. I could have forgotten everything. I had forgotten everything. I w
as forgetting everything right now. My feet and my face and the gash on my breast would stop anyone from pressing me too hard to remember something so obviously terrible. Yolande must be out; otherwise she would have heard the bathwater running, and have come upstairs to find out if I was all right. She would have known that I've been missing, that on a normal day I would have been at the coffeehouse hours ago, not up here running bathwater.

  That I've been missing.

  That I've been. . .

  I didn't have to remember or think about anything. I could just stand here and let the sun heal me. I was relieved that Yolande wasn't here, asking questions, being appalled and sickened. Reminding me by her distress. I was relieved that no one would disturb me till I had finished forgetting.

  The bath should be full by now. Now that the sunlight had begun to do its work I wanted to be clean. I might have to use every bar of soap I had, and bring the scouring pads in from the kitchen. I was going to burn this dress, wherever it came from. It was nothing I'd have ever chosen. I couldn't imagine why I was wearing it. When I was completely clean again, and wearing my own clothes, I would call the coffeehouse, tell them I was home again. Home and safe. Safe.

  As I turned away from the window a square of white lying on the kitchen table caught my eye. It was my notepad, which usually lived beside the phone. On it was written:

  Good-bye my Sunshine.


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