No, I mustn’t think like that. They’re fine. I’m fine; safer than I’ve felt for a long time.
I press my face against the fabric bunched around me, ignoring the dampness there. How long have I been here? How long should I stay?
I strain my ears, searching for any trace of movement. No one must find me. But all I can hear is that repetitive beat: thump, thump, thump…
There’s no other sound at all.
My nostrils flare around a deep breath, the musty aroma of old wood sending shivers down my spine. I could be in my coffin... if not for that other scent, of dust, clinging to clothes that have hung, unused, for too long.
My nose twitches, as I think I catch another perfume—earthy and musk-tinted. The twitch becomes an itch, and I raise a hand to rub at it—desperate not to sneeze.
As I do so, my body weight shifts. The barest creak of timber, flexing beneath my feet, freezes me in place.
I switch to breathing through my mouth, aware of the dust-laden air flowing over too-dry membranes—praying I won’t cough. But soon the urge to clear my throat grows too strong, and I close my parted lips, dragging saliva onto my tongue, in the hope this will help.
It does, for a few minutes. Then that dreaded irritation returns, and I place my hands over mouth and nose, trying to mute the sound of my throat convulsing and my chest wheezing, as I struggle to expel each dusty breath.
Wood creaks again. Was that me, or did it come from beyond the panelling that hems me in on all sides?
As I try to listen, my heart beat seems to grow louder, almost painful. Thump, thump, thump. Each thud is like a scream, part defiance and part despair: I live! I am alive.
Tears roll from my eyes as a wave of helplessness rushes over me once more… I stick out my tongue, as if to stem the flood of warm saline, and then turn my face into the already damp clothes. How many tears have I shed? How many minutes of bitterness and disbelief are now nothing more than sodden wool and cotton?
“Where are you?”
The voice outside my prison shocks me. How did he get here? Why didn’t I hear him coming? What should I do? I can’t let him find me…
It’s too late.
A thin line of light appears, the outline of a doorway, as the world outside grows suddenly brighter. Footsteps, loud and insistent, approach. The line begins to widen, oh, so slowly; invading the darkness, stealing my safety, forcing me back to the here and now.
A figure silhouetted against the light, familiar—yet not, reaches in towards me with a muttered curse, and arms that cannot be evaded.
I don’t want to go. Not yet.
My fingers cling to the jacket next to me, the feel of its fabric soft yet scratchy. Tears fall faster as I’m pulled from my cocoon.
“No…” the word is nothing more than a moan of anguish.
“Dear God,” the voice replies.
“I’m alive,” I cry, through dry, swollen lips. “And I don’t want to be…”
A pause in time, and then the voice comes again. “I know, but… don’t say that. This isn’t the answer.”
I shudder, as the man draws me from the wardrobe, away from the place where my beloved husband’s clothes still hang. “I know,” he whispers, pulling me close, offering me the comfort of his embrace. “I miss him too, but you can’t keep doing this, Mum.”